R&D

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Modernisation and Quality

High-tech materials for aerospace, polymer compounds for the transport sector, sports equipment for top-level competition, works of architecture and design are some of the examples of the potential and excellence of cork. The increase in the quality of the cork stoppers and product innovation have also been in the front line.

The cork industry is today one of the most advanced and innovative industrial sectors. It has managed to cross its ancestral know-how with modern knowledge and technologies.

500 million euros have been invested in research and development over the last 10 years, which has made cork one of the most studied raw materials, ever. The result is evident in different areas. In addition to all the studies and advances in the traditional sector of stoppers (Fight against TCA), research in the sector has given rise to benchmark works of architecture and design, sports equipment of top-level competition, high-tech materials for aerospace, composite polymers for the transport sector. The heavy investment in R&D, applying the most advanced technologies in the different stages and processes, opens the door to innovative and more and more surprising products.

187 projects were approved between 2007 and 2014 under the NSRF – National strategic reference framework, totalling an eligible investment of 146 million euros. These projects were set up by companies of the cork industry, other entities with ties to industry or companies in other sectors but whose projects had application to the cork industry or involved the use of cork. APCOR submitted 6 projects which account for 18.5% of the investment. The projects submitted under NSRF and related to cork represent 1.3% in total, and 1.4% of nationwide investment.

Research

How to improve the quality of cork, how to get more profitability and standardize cork, how to exploit the technical features of cork to find new applications, how to … the world of research is endless. Here are some examples.

  • Sequencing the cork oak genome, create a DNA chip
    In 2009, the world discovered that research was under way to sequence the genome of the cork oak and create a DNA chip of the Portuguese economy’s most important tree. Gather the largest number of genes expressed in the cork oak brings together genetic information to condense into a chip. This research will allow us to draw conclusions about the behaviour of the cork oak in certain conditions, to predict disease, understand the sudden death syndrome and eventually accelerate its growth. It is a kind of newborn’s test for the cork oak. At that time, the research announced involved the Chemical and Biological Technology Institute of the Lisbon Nova University the National Engineering, Technology and Innovation Institute (INETI), Foundation for science and technology (FCT), among other entities.
  • Increase the volume of cork
    A team of Portuguese researchers created a new method that allows the volume of cork to be increased by about 85%, without changing the characteristics of this material and making its use more sustainable. The process consists of inserting water into the cork and using microwaves to increase the volume of cork granules. The idea was one of three finalists for the European Patent Office’s 2013 European Inventor Award, in the Industry category. It was the first nomination of Portuguese inventors for this award.

Cork moistened with water and exposed to microwave radiation can expand by 40% to 85% of its original size. The characteristics of this 100% natural material are thus reinforced in a process that just expands the cork cells, without changing the structure and without any chemical degradation, and maintaining the properties that give it interesting behaviour in several areas. This patented method makes it possible to expand cork in a short space of time and with the least amount of energy, which of course has an impact on the industry.

Portuguese investigators have unearthed another impressive ability of cork, i.e. its “growth” when the cells are subject to a certain humidity and temperature increase by radiation. Helena Pereira, professor and researcher at Instituto Superior de Agronomia (ISA) of the Lisbon Technical University, and António Velez Marques, professor and researcher of Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa, of Lisbon Polytechnic Institute, coordinated this research which will certainly lead to new applications for cork. The uniformisation of the raw material improves the performance and reliability of the material’s performance in very demanding industries such as the manufacture of insulators for space purposes.

  • Other studies can be found here.

Research and training-related organisations

  • Cork Technology Centre (CTCOR) is a laboratory that develops research in the following areas: environment, energy, technical and technological innovation, strategy, and safety standards, among others.
  • Cork Industry’s Vocational Training Centre (CINCORK) this organisation develops training programmes for both young people entering working life and for company workforces, covering a wide range of areas.
  • Bureau Veritas Founded in 1828, the Bureau Veritas Group is the world leader in Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QSHE) services and serves customers in the major economic sectors. With an international network of more than 580 offices and 11,000 highly qualified employees in more than 150 countries on all continents, the Group has proven experience and capacity on a global scale in specialist services in the fields of conformity assessment, consultancy, training and outsourcing. In the cork industry it is responsible for awarding the International Systecode Certification.
  • IPROCOR (Instituto del Corcho, la Madera y el Carbón Vegetal) it is located in Spain’s Extremadura region and it promotes and researches new technology and applications for three raw materials: cork, wood and coal.
  • The Australian Wine Research Institute – AWRI it isa private company owned by the Australian wine industry which is mainly devoted to scientific research and the development of this sector.
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