Environment & Engineering

Finding favour in China

Published May 25, 2017

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Beijing Jiaotong University is already reaping rewards for Victoria, including access to some of the highest echelons of the Chinese Government. 

In January, Dr Rod Badcock, principal engineer at Victoria University of Wellington's Robinson Research Institute, joined 2016 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Sir Fraser Stoddart and other officially designated ‘foreign experts’ for a gala dinner and symposium in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. 

His invitation from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang expressed “heartfelt gratitude” for the work he is doing in the country. The evening was preceded by a day-long event where the experts were invited to identify solutions to problems and opportunities to be explored. 

The recommendations were forwarded to China’s central leadership and heads of department, with great importance attached to them, according to the country’s State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA)

Rod’s recommendation highlighted the important role New Zealand’s superconductivity capability (through Robinson and the companies it works with) has to play in addressing China’s energy issues. 

Rod was a frequent visitor to Beijing Jiaotong in 2016, supported by SAFEA to conduct joint research and supervise PhD students in the School of Electrical Engineering.Under the MOU, Beijing Jiaotong PhD students also work with him and the Robinson team back at their laboratories in the Gracefield Innovation Quarter in Lower Hutt.

Rod has been appointed a foreign expert under SAFEA’s Thousand Talents Plan, which funds positions for international innovators from academia and industry. In this role, Rod will continue his visits to Beijing Jiaotong for three more years. 

Robinson has received many valuable introductions through Beijing Jiaotong and, with the assistance of Victoria commercialisation office Viclink, several projects are now up and running. These include developing technology for superconductor transformers on high-speed trains and developing devices that could help cut the heavy energy use of Beijing’s subway system by 40 percent.

“One of the things we’ve found with the foreign experts programme,” says Rod, “is that while they would like the overall product to be manufactured in China, they don’t care if the technology—the sub-systems, parts and components—is coming from New Zealand. In fact, they quite like it. That’s where our strength lies.” 

The other side of the coin is that China has the ability to test and manufacture on a scale not possible in New Zealand. 

“We’re linking in through the foreign experts programme and it’s starting to open other doors, deepening our relationship with China,” says Rod. 

His visits to Beijing Jiaotong can last anything from a few days to a month, and it is now so much a home from home he even keeps his own folding bike there to ride around the city.