Science for Peace and Security Programme – Opportunity for Serbian scientists

Laboratory; Photo: Pixabay

People in Serbia do not know much about the research that could reduce the price of biofuel on the world market by as much as 20 percent in the next three years, which is carried out by Serbian scientists in Belgrade.

However, it is a known fact that in Serbia, the financial resources allocated for scientific work are extremely small and that scientists often cannot provide those that are necessary for carrying out the research, and are therefore forced to leave the country and start their research abroad.

Serbia thus loses potential millions of euros that it could gain if it invested money in science and innovation, and thus kept young scientists in the country.

The mentioned research for the development of commercial production of biofuels from the microalgae is carried out within the framework of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS) at the Institute for Multidisciplinary Research at the University of Belgrade, in cooperation with the University of Manchester from the UK and the University of Baylor from the United States.

“Microalgae live in freshwater and marine systems and produce half of the oxygen on the planet. Biomass derived from them is the only viable source of biodiesel that can cover the transport needs. This production already exists, but the problem is that the price is still higher than biodiesel. Most of the parameters that affect this are biological – microalgae should make more fat or more biomass, and we have an idea how to do it,“ says the director of the project Ivan Spasojević for B92.

For this three-year research project, NATO has provided funds worth € 400,000, of which €150,000 will be invested in the equipment that will remain in the possession of the Institute after the end of the research. Serbia would thus get a reinforced scientific infrastructure.

“This project will enable us all that we need – equipment, supplies and scholarships for the most talented young researchers,” says Spasojević.

Other than the ecological and financial aspect, this research project is important because it will include eight Serbian scientists.

In addition to the projected decline in the price of biofuels by one fifth, it is expected that the results will encourage the development of green technologies in the energy sector, which means that the successful completion of this research could start production of biodiesel from microalgae in Serbia.

In this case, the project could contribute to increasing the use of renewable energy sources, which is part of Serbia’s national strategy.

However, this story, as well as many other’s that are being carried out within the framework of the Science for Peace and Security Programme, are not well known in Serbia. The question which arises is – should we look for the reason of silence in the fact that the cooperation of Serbia and NATO has remained a controversial issue or that Serbia still has “far bigger problems to tackle than science”?

“Information regarding the opportunities that are offered by the SPS are obviously available to the public, given that Serbia has been involved in the implementation of numerous projects under the aforementioned program since 2007. At the same time, I could agree with the statement that the general public does not know much about this program and other programs, as well, and I do not think it knows enough about the overall cooperation between Serbia and NATO,“ says Acting Assistant Foreign Minister for Security Policy Branimir Filipović.

Since 2007, Serbia has been included 35 program activities of the Science for Peace and Security program, which are carried out in three different segments – multi-year projects, training and advanced research workshops. Each part is implemented in several priority areas of this program, such as environmental safety, anti-terrorism activities, cyber defence, energy security and many others.

When it comes to the multi-year research and development projects, they are focused on capacity building and provide training to young scientists in projects which have concrete application, such as the research on biodiesel, while advanced training programs provide training from specialists from NATO member states to staff from countries that are NATO partners, in the areas of security and those which are of common interest.

On the other hand, advanced research workshops provide a platform for discussion and information exchange aimed at finding a solution to contemporary security challenges.

All these activities in which researchers from NATO member states and partner countries cooperate, bring mutual benefit to all parties, either in the form of advancement in the field of science and technology or in the form of additional training for people, with the aim of ensuring peace and security.

So far, Serbia has benefited a lot from this program. It is important to note that when cooperating in each activity, scientists make significant cross-border contacts and have the opportunity to work on projects that are important for the entire region – such as the project related to the seismic activity of the Western Balkans.

“We have a great experience with our Serbian partners who are involved in several important projects,” says Head of NATO Liaison Office in Belgrade, Cesare Marinelli.

“The NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme contributed to the preparation of seismic activity documents for the countries of the Western Balkans, the improvement of the protection of water resources of the Sava River, and Serbian and German scientists, for example, are working on the development of robots for decontamination and demining with the name T-Whex”, explains Marinelli.

Although it has been estimated that Serbia has become more active in the past years in the framework of this program, it is necessary to submit good project proposals, so that Serbian scientists could continue to cooperate with other scientists.

The main areas of cooperation include cyber defence, defence against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks, the fight against terrorism, and environmental safety. Project proposals can be submitted within these areas and they must be managed by people from at least one of the member states or NATO partners.

“In order to increase the number of projects we are participating in, it is very important that our side prepares good proposals and projects in these areas,” points out Filipović.

It is not just about financial resources that can be obtained but also professional cooperation, explains Marinelli, adding that the project is promising, not only for Serbia but for NATO, as well.

“The program is becoming step by step more visible, and I see an increase in project proposals. However, I would like to see more proposals, especially from the Universities,“ states Marinelli.

“I want to point out that recently our party has proposed several projects for which NATO has a great deal of understanding. These projects should not be proposed only by state institutions because the program is open to initiatives of scientific and other institutions,” states Filipović.

The Science for Peace and Security Programme is just one of the ways that Serbia can influence the development of science and security cooperation with other countries.

“We are working for the same goal, for prosperity, security and development,” says Marinelli.

Through this type of cooperation with NATO, it strengthens its own capabilities in the field of science and security and enables young and qualified people to stay and work in their own country, until it decides that it is worth it to invest in science.