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[BEIJING] The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has opened its laboratories to small and medium sized enterprises so they can enhance their innovation capacities — and ride out the global financial crisis.

CAS announced in March that more than 100 research institutes under its supervision must provide free analysis and testing services for such companies to help them "upgrade their industrial structure" and "provide technological assistance for them to counter financial risk".

CAS's Lanzhou Institute of Chemical Physics (LICP) is one of the institutes providing the pioneering service. LICP — a research centre specialising in new materials — started to provide commercial testing services to local petroleum and chemical companies in the 1990s.

Ren Wei, an analysis technician at LICP, told SciDev.Net that the institute's income from such clients totalled one million Chinese yuan per year. PetroChina Lanzhou Lubricating Oil Research and Development Institute, one of the companies using LICP’s services, was paying about 100,000 Chinese yuan a year for composition analysis of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen samples.

Following the CAS stipulation, LICP will now provide 11 services for analysing materials including infrared spectral radiometry, X-ray fluorescence, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. These free services will use about five per cent of LICP's resources.

Xu Meijuan, the scientific research management director of the PetroChina's institute, welcomed the CAS initiative. "It's a good thing, as it saves costs. It will also promote the bilateral cooperation between the research sector and enterprises," she told SciDev.Net.

CAS has ordered that its large facility-sharing platforms — ten equipment centres, of which eight have been completed — should also be opened to private enterprises.

Tian Haojiang, a staff member of CAS's Beijing National Centre for Technology Transfer, told SciDev.Net that 1,020 large facilities within eight centres were available from the end of April. They cover a wide range of disciplines including nanotechnology, bioscience, biodiversity, marine sciences and earth sciences. He said that companies, high-tech or not, are welcome to use them.