Research team to receive big payout
The group will receive 16.9 billion won for transfer of a magnesium alloy-making process to the private sector.
A group of scientists at a government research organization are in line for a financial windfall for developing a new process to make advanced compound metals used in everything from laptop computers to automobiles.
The Korea Institute of Industrial Technology (Kitech) recently announced that a 10-member research team led by 38-year-old Kim Se-gwang will get a total of 16.9 billion won ($15 million) for the successful transfer of the technology to the private sector. A midsize company called HMK has agreed to pay the institute 28.2 billion won for access to the technology, which involves making magnesium and aluminum compounds in a safer, more environment-friendly way. The money the researchers will receive amounts to 60 percent of that total.
HMK will pay 5 billion won in a lump sum and the rest in phases over the next 15 years.
It ranks as the third-largest deal for the transfer of technology from a government research institute to the private sector in Korea.
According to regulations governing technology transfer, at least half of the proceeds of such deals should be funneled to researchers. Most individual institutions also have more specific rules for compensating researchers. Kitech, for example, grants its researchers 60 percent of the proceeds.
The new process for developing magnesium compound metals could be a game-changer in the industry. Magnesium weighs only one-fourth as much as steel but is six times as hard, making it ideal for portable electronics such as mobile phones and notebook computers as well as automobiles.
But magnesium also carries the risk of explosion and can rust easily when it comes in contact with water, so it has to be mixed with other metals to create alloys. Until now, harmful gases like sulfur hexafluoride and sulfur dioxide had been used to produce magnesium alloys. Sulfur hexafluoride - dubbed a “super greenhouse gas” - could accelerate global warming, while sulfur dioxide is harmful to humans and corrodes steel products.
In developed countries, the use of these gases is increasingly prohibited. So many nations are competing to develop new ways of making compound metals. Kitech said Kim and his researchers are the first to develop such technology, which incorporates calcium oxide in the compounding process to create a protective layer, eliminating the risks of corrosion and explosion.
“It is epochal technology that can maintain the characteristics of magnesium alloy and at the same time do away with the use of harmful materials,” a Kitech official said.
Lead researcher Kim will be responsible for distributing the 16.9 billion won in incentives to his team, Kitech said. If there are more than five researchers, it is customary for a team leader to get 60 percent of the total, which would amount to roughly 10 billion won.
The biggest technology transfer deal to date involved the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, which sold code division multiple access, or CDMA, technology to the private sector for 330 billion won in 2004. The Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science developed touch screen technology in 2008 and received 32.5 billion won from a local company.
Although the magnesium and aluminum deal is the third-largest in terms of contract size, the Kitech researchers will get what are expected to be the biggest payouts.
By Choi Hyeon-chul [firstname.lastname@example.org]