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San Antonio and Monterrey researchers partner to advance sustainable manufacturing

Picture of the front sign of the Southwest Research Institute, a brick and stone column with the logo "SwRI" partially inside an oval. The sign is surrounded by grass and a tree stands in the forefront on the left of the picture.
Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute. Photo by Ian McKinney.
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Southwest Research Institute
The front gate of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

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The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), a San Antonio-based research nonprofit, has partnered with Tecnológico de Monterrey, a nonprofit university in Monterrey, Mexico, to research sustainable manufacturing practices. The partnership pulls in $250,000 from each institution to be spent on up to three joint research projects.

The research the two institutions embark upon is intended to advance sustainable manufacturing in both countries, who are each other’s largest trading partner. The first phase of the partnership will be focused on relationship building and developing proposals for the institutions to fund. From that point, additional outside funding and potentially years of research will be necessary before tangible outcomes would be produced.

Adam Hamilton, SwRI President and CEO, explained why his institution was joining the partnership.

“Sustainability is everyone’s responsibility,” Hamilton said. “We must invest in research to make progress and develop proactive solutions for environmentally friendly manufacturing.”

Hamilton also said that Tecnológico de Monterrey’s status as an excellent research institution and its interest in sustainable manufacturing made it a good fit for the partnership. Ultimately, he says the goal is to reduce emissions from manufacturing processes.

“These can be technical advancements, or practice advancements, policy recommendations or process modifications,” Hamilton said.

The two institutions will provide $75,000 each for up to three collaborative research projects.

SwRI is engaged in research in a number of industries, including biomedicine, defense and energy. In the energy sector, the research institute often works on oil and gas issues. Hamilton says his organization’s work on oil and gas and sustainable manufacturing are part of the same mission.

“Almost all of our oil and gas work is either totally or mostly related to reducing emissions, improving efficiencies and advancing new technologies that could be substitutes or replacements for fossil fuels as an energy source,” Hamilton said. “We are not an advocate for any particular industry.”

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Hamilton said the proposals SwRI and Tecnológico de Monterrey researchers submit will likely have low technical readiness levels (TRL). This means the proposals are about good ideas related to more sustainable manufacturing, but they haven’t yet been fleshed out or understood in terms of real-world engineering solutions. That’s why research outfits like SwRI fund research & development (R&D) to look into them.

“What we do is try to identify those early ideas and concepts that have potential but haven’t been developed,” Hamilton said. “And then you keep adding R&D funding to it until you get it to a point where it’s really ready to be implemented or commercialized.”

Turning ideas into products is not an easy task, and many don’t make it that far, according to Hamilton. The goal of partnerships like these, he said, is to find the ones that can and take them across the “valley of death,” from good ideas to products that can actually be used.

For now, Hamilton thinks SwRI’s partnership with Tecnológico de Monterrey is a small step toward a more sustainable world.

“Nowadays, I think all of us recognize that every issue is a global issue,” Hamilton said. “And we really need to involve global partners in the solution.”

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Josh Peck is the Technology & Entrepreneurship Reporter for Texas Public Radio.