VSB-Technical University of Ostrava (VSB-TUO), in cooperation with the University of Ostrava (OU) and other partners, is launching the REFRESH project to respond to the region's problems and contribute to its thriving economic, energy, and environmental transformation. The project also involves IT4Innovations National Supercomputing Center.

To fulfil its mission, it will leverage the research results of excellent scientific teams to develop new technologies for key areas such as sustainable energy, novel materials, and robotics and automation in industry. An integral part of the project will be to assess the societal and economic impacts of the transformation and create the conditions for the rapid transfer of results into practice. REFRESH has received funding of CZK 2.5 billion from the Fair Transformation Operational Programme and is the largest project in the history of VSB-TUO.

REFRESH is based on a unique concept of interconnected living labs where cutting-edge research is carried out in close contact with companies and in accordance with the requirements of end users. Based on this approach, VSB-TUO and the Moravian-Silesian Innovation Centre, supported by the leadership of the Moravian-Silesian Region, have created a strategic vision for the transformation of the region called SMARAGD (SMARt And Green District). The REFRESH project is a key tool for its implementation.

“Living labs are the platform for multilateral cooperation. They will respond to major societal problems and provide solutions. The aim is to provide the conditions for the inflow of young people, top scientists and investment into the region, as well as the foundation of new companies and start-up projects and the introduction of innovations into the production processes of large enterprises and companies. This will significantly strengthen their competitiveness on a pan-European scale. We will bring new energy and opportunities to the region, show the perspective to young talented people, and contribute to the transformation of the region into a smart and green region,” said Igor Ivan, REFRESH's Director and VSB-TUO Vice-Rector for Strategy and Cooperation.

Novel materials, hydrogen technologies, and digitalisation

The four interconnected living labs aim to develop materials and technologies aimed at green energy and reducing the carbon footprint, as well as to put into practice new methods of digitalisation and robotisation of industrial processes and automation in transport. “The research teams will also respond to the growing demand for new materials in the energy sector and other industries that still use expensive, geopolitically unavailable, or hard-to-recycle raw materials. An integral part of the project will also be the development of unique technologies for addressing old environmental burdens, cleaning pit water, and generally revitalising post-coal landscapes,“ said Radek Zbořil, Head of the Materials & Environment Lab and one of the main coordinators of the project.

Researchers will also explore new ways of using alternative energy sources, hydrogen technologies, and innovative energy storage methods in modern battery systems. “The energy sector's transformation towards sustainable low-carbon technologies is a key step towards a modern and resilient society. This is precisely where the Energy Lab's research will be directed, with systematic research into methods and technologies for the energy recovery of alternative fuels, including research into energy conversion and management, as well as analysis of the impact of research results on society and the environment,” said Stanislav Mišák, Head of the Energy Lab and Director of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Technologies (CEET) at VSB-TUO.

IT4Innovations National Supercomputing Center and the Centre for Energy and Environmental Technologies lead the Energy Lab's Digitalisation and Energy Transformation research programme.

“The research programme aims to accelerate decentralisation and decarbonisation processes in the energy sector, as well as expand the community energy concept. Thanks to the activities of the project, the Moravian-Silesian region, as well as other regions of the Czech Republic, will see a massive increase in the installed capacity of renewable energy sources, high-capacity electricity storage facilities, significant development of electromobility and, last but not least, the development of hydrogen technologies as a means of seasonal energy storage. We also anticipate a partial development of hydrogen use in transport. The activities will also include developing software tools that will simplify introducing the described technologies into industrial practice,” added Tomáš Kozubek, Scientific Director of IT4Innovations.

Another of the living labs - Industry 4.0 & Automotive Lab - will also be closely linked to the industry. “As part of our research programmes and activities focused on innovation, we will fundamentally accelerate the introduction of digitalisation with applications of artificial intelligence, robotics, and additive manufacturing technologies in industrial plants. We are introducing new means of automation in transport, for example, in the form of smart parking and anti-collision systems in public space,” said Petr Šimoník, Head of the Laboratory and Vice Dean for Cooperation with Industry at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, VSB-TUO.

Engineers and natural scientists connect with social scientists

Monitoring changes in the region through the lens of social sciences and humanities will be an important part of this. “For example, the situation in traditional industries, including Liberty Ostrava, shows that the region will need social and organisational models for new competencies and technologies. The transition to a low-carbon economy may be faster than expected. We want to help harness its potential and at the same time prevent the "geography of discontent" from limiting the region's development,” explained Ondřej Slach, Head of the Social Lab and Vice-Rector for Strategy and Cooperation of the University of Ostrava

The project's total cost is CZK 2.625 billion, of which one billion is for new equipment. In addition to IT4Innovations National Supercomputing Center and the recently opened Center for Energy and Environmental Technologies - explorer (CEETe) at VSB-TUO, other state-of-the-art facilities will be added: laboratories focused on fuel cells and battery storage, the most powerful national microscopy centre, a training ground for the development of autonomous vehicles and one of the largest university 3D printing centres in Central Europe. More than 100 new, primarily international scientists will be involved in research in the living labs, and much of the university's current 12,000-plus students will use the unique infrastructure.

Cooperation with companies and public administration

“Education, entrepreneurship, innovation, and cooperation between the public administration and the private sector and universities are values that can significantly accelerate the transformation of our region. In the REFRESH project, all these areas are interconnected, and the Moravian-Silesian Region is also developing several other strategic projects aimed at making our region attractive and thereby appealing to new talents and investors. We are aiming to strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of our region and to contribute to stopping the outflow of people, which unfortunately continues to affect us,” added Jan Krkoška, the Governor of the Moravian-Silesian Region.

The two universities have committed to generate revenues of CZK 450 million by collaborating with industrial partners in the project. VSB-TUO actively cooperates with more than 500 companies, many of which are interested in actively participating in the living labs research. VSB-TUO will also collaborate with German colleagues from the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft to transfer the results into practice. This world-renowned research institution is a partner of the REFRESH project, which runs according to a set schedule.

The EU-co-funded Just Transition Operational Programme addresses the negative impacts of the shift away from coal in the most affected regions. In the Czech Republic, in addition to the Moravian-Silesian Region, it also concerns Karlovy Vary and Ústí nad Labem Regions. The support aims to enable the regions to address the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the transition.


Projekt REFRESH – Research Excellence For REgion Sustainability and High-tech Industries, reg. No. CZ.10.03.01/00/22_003/0000048 is co-funded by the European Union from the Just Transition Operational Programme.