The new Torch Innovation Precinct at UNSW promises to inject at least $100 million of new research funding into Australia’s innovation system through new partnerships with Chinese companies and industries that will facilitate the commercialisation of Australian research.

The Torch Innovation Precinct at UNSW was officially opened at a gala dinner in Sydney on Tuesday night, attended by senior Australian and Chinese officials, academics and business leaders. Modelled on China’s highly successful Torch program that co-locates businesses, universities and research organisations within dedicated science and technology parks to drive innovation, the Torch precinct at UNSW is the first outside China.

UNSW President and Vice Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs described the Torch precinct at UNSW as “a shared platform for the future”. He said it would significantly boost Australia’s research capacity through major investments from Chinese companies with the capacity, capital and market access needed to translate Australian research breakthroughs and technologies into new products, processes and services.

“The Torch precinct represents a major advance for Australia’s research and development landscape. It gives not only UNSW but also Australia unparalleled access to China’s innovation system as China seeks to transition from a manufacturing base to become a high-tech, world leader,” Professor Jacobs said.

China has recently taken the global lead in patent applications and its annual research and development spending of US$200 billion is second only to the US. Since 1988, China has developed 150 Torch precincts nationwide – with some 50,000 tenant companies – that now generate 7 per cent of GDP, 10 per cent of industrial output and 16 per cent of export value. Deloitte Access Economics has estimated the Torch precinct at UNSW could boost Australian GDP by $1.1 billion in its first decade alone.

The Director General of the Torch program for China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, Zhang Zhihong, said China’s plans to build a sustainable economy based on innovation meant “we need to be more open in our co-operation internationally – the Torch initiative at UNSW is well aligned with this vision. I am confident that our joint efforts will lead to the commercialisation and industrial application of Australian research, bringing innovation to a higher level for both Australia and China,” he told the gala dinner.

The Torch program matches Chinese businesses with researchers whose findings or inventions might otherwise face financial and practical barriers to further development and application, addressing one of the most significant challenges for Australia’s researchers who are often forced to move off shore or risk their findings being confined to a drawer in the patents’ office. While the Torch precinct is located at UNSW, other Australian universities will be sought out as partners and research collaborators to extend its benefit nationwide, Professor Jacobs said.

The gala dinner was attended by a delegation of 50 leading Chinese businesses, government officials and universities. The first joint laboratory to be established under the program – the $10 million UNSW and Hangzhou Cable Joint Laboratory – will be officially opened at UNSW on 18 August. It will support the development of ground-breaking UNSW research that overcomes costly leakages of power in the transmission of electricity, to reduce power costs and associated emissions.

Phase 1 Torch projects worth $30 million have already been established in advanced materials, biotechnology, energy and environmental engineering, and a further $20 million worth of contracts for research into cancer drugs, water quality, photovoltaics and further work on advanced materials are expected to be signed in coming months. Professor Jacobs said the precinct expected to attract over $100 million in new industry research funding within the next decade, but this was likely “just the tip of the iceberg”.

Representing the NSW Government, Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts, said: “The Torch initiative comes at a key point in Australia and China’s bilateral relationship as both nations pursue innovation-led economic growth and following the signing last year of the historic China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.”