Europe’s research networks play a crucial part in developing low-carbon technologies. This is because they connect ideas, efforts and expertise from all over the continent. The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) framework funds networking activities organised as part of science and technology networks spreading across Europe and beyond.
Such networks, also known as COST Actions, have played an important part in advancing research and advising on low-carbon policies for over 30 years. These communities connect and coordinate research efforts all over Europe and beyond, filling in the gaps between technology and policy and helping low-carbon technologies reach the market. They connect researchers, government authorities, industries, SMEs and citizens alike.
Looking at the whole EU funding landscape, COST Actions cover a wide variety of science and technology topics and are meant to help experts get together and collaborate on issues they consider relevant to their field. They do so by organising activities to share and compare results and experiences: workshops, conferences, scientific exchanges, training schools or communications efforts engaging different audiences.
The driving factors of every COST Action are the challenges it identifies and needs to address, which highlight the very need for pan-European collaboration. Highly interdisciplinary, COST networks focusing on solutions for low-carbon technologies take a look at the bigger picture and engage specialists from different fields. They try to find common ground and propose ways towards low-carbon, smart cities and regions.
Most challenges are naturally technological. Researchers in COST Action StableNextSol, a network of more than 470 leading European and international experts from 35 countries and 22 companies representing the photovoltaic industry, are trying to understand the degradation mechanisms behind state-of-the-art Organic and Perovskite Solar Cells. Finding the causes for lifetime decay would eventually help build more stable and predictable devices for building integrated and outdoor applications. Organic and Perovskite Solar Cells are set to become a real alternative for next generation photovoltaics. Their lightweight, colourful and flexible characteristics make them adaptable to a wide range of applications and designs. Their biggest upsides are low production costs and high-power conversion efficiency, already around 22 %.
“Besides their solvable stability and minor safety issues, a future challenge is integrating the technology into tandem structures with Silicon, CIGS or similar solar cell technologies. Tandem configurations enable the Perovskite solar cell to capture the blue and green photons in the solar spectrum, while the Silicon solar cell captures reddish light. This results in power conversion efficiency that can easily surpass the 30 % mark”, says Dr Monica Lira-Cantu, the Action’s leader.
Retrofitting is another challenge identified by Action Smart Energy Regions (Smart-ER). In order to enhance the energy efficiency of apartment buildings, network members presented case studies of passive retrofitting that would reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions by 65%. In order to make these solutions more attractive for owners, the network also recommends introducing municipal incentives and bank loans with lower interest rates, all of which would ease the financial burden.
By addressing the bigger issue of reaching a low-carbon approach at regional level, Smart-ER presented a series of essential actions for a faster transition to low-carbon European regions. The network recommends industry to go for bottom-up, demand-driven solutions to reduce carbon emissions, since these projects often happen at community level. Another solution would be engaging organisations that can drive change by negotiating with top-down decision-makers and encouraging grassroots initiatives. Other recommendations include simplifying procurement procedures, and improving communication so that policy-makers and the public better understand the importance of low-carbon solutions and reduce the fear of risk taking.
Improving existing materials used in energy efficient applications is another challenge that COST Actions are facing. In the case of biobased materials for sustainable construction, their competitiveness raises the issue of durability at minimal maintenance costs. The conditions that such materials need to meet refer to their mechanical resistance, stability, fire safety, hygiene, health, the environment, use safety, noise protection and energy consumption. COST Action “Performance of bio-based building materials” addressed the issue by running a round robin test that collected material performance data in different climatic conditions. Because wood degradation is the most common reason for structural failures, network members also published guidelines for preventing the decay of wood and plant fibre, as well as focusing on how the material behaves in service. The correct use of bio-based materials is essential to achieving the required service life and performance. The Action will lead to the publication of the book “Performance of bio-based building materials” in summer 2017.
Certainly, finding common ground is a crucial requirement to advance research, but it does not occur naturally. Networking activities in COST Action “Hybrid Energy Storage Devices and Systems for Mobile and Stationary Applications” helped achieve a common understanding of the requirements behind hybrid energy storage devices and systems used in transport and energy applications. The network developed a new type of hybrid energy storage device by combining Li-Ion and traditional batteries with supercapacitators. The Action also identified innovative materials, ways to improve existing materials used in building energy storage devices, and new approaches for developing hybrid intelligent energy storage devices.
Looking at the citizens’ role in implementing evidence-based policies, network WINERCOST is focusing on social acceptance as a main hurdle. Researchers in the network started off by gathering existing expertise in offshore and onshore wind energy. Now they are developing ways to transfer that know-how and technology into the built environment. Their networking activities are intended to communicate and encourage policy-makers (mayors and other local authorities) and citizens to accept and invest in Built environment Wind energy Technologies (BWT). This dialogue involving the public, local decision-makers, industry and research will also help the network overcome the other issues – structural, noise levels, high costs, or unclear regulation. Network participants have also started evaluating government policies in various European countries, and the way these policies help strengthen citizens’ acceptance of zero-carbon technologies.
“What the future holds is a mix of emerging and existing technologies – a hybrid solution, actually”, says Dr Evangelos Efthymiou, member of WINERCOST. Understanding where we can use these technologies and their impact on our quality of life is key to a low-carbon Europe.
This article was supplied by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology). COST is a funding agency for research and innovation networks. COST Actions help connect research initiatives across Europe and enable scientists to grow their ideas by sharing them with their peers. This boosts their research, career and innovation.