Erno Vandeweert received his Ph.D. in Physics in 1997 from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. After 15 years of academic research in solid-state physics and nanoscience, he joined the European Commission in 2005 where he is currently a Research Programme Officer focusing on advanced materials for energy applications.
Christos Tokamanis is Head of the Advanced Materials and Nano Technologies Unit of the Key Enabling Technologies Directorate at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research & Innovation. Mr. Tokamanis trained as a chemical and material engineer and holds a degree in Business Administration. He worked in the chemical and electrical engineering industries before joining the European Commission in 1987.
Europe’s energy system is changing profoundly. The share of renewable and decentralised energy in the energy mix is foreseen to increase. At the same time, overall energy efficiency should improve well beyond the 2020 objectives. This poses exciting challenges for a massive roll out of low-carbon energy technologies and the large scale installation of energy efficient solutions. Advanced materials and manufacturing will be the key enablers to realise these goals. Not only will we need a wide range of advanced materials in sufficiently large quantities to modernise energy installations in the short and medium term, but we should also invest for the future: it can easily take between 15 to 20 years of R&I activity before a new material is developed and ready for market uptake, becoming an every-day component of an energy technology.
The markets are there!
In a recent study ordered by the European Commission1, close to 40% of the interviewed venture capitalists and private equity investors were willing to invest early stage or seed capital in advanced materials dedicated to the energy sector. Perhaps surprisingly, this was substantially higher than their willingness to invest in materials for applications in the ICT, transport, health or environment sectors which were also covered by the study. The total worldwide market value for advanced materials, estimated to be EUR 100 billion in 2008, is projected to grow to an astonishing EUR 1100 billion by 2050. The market share of advanced materials for energy applications is thereby expected to increase from EUR 7 billion (7% of the total market value) in 2008 to almost EUR 176 billion (or 16% or the total market value). Only advanced materials to tackle environmental problems such as air pollution or water treatment are expected to have stronger growth.
Advanced materials raise (and fulfil!) high expectations
The times that only a few materials such as steel, copper and concrete were the main components for energy technologies are long gone. The JRC identified no less than 60 metals which are vital for the different energy technologies covered by the SET-Plan2. And such advanced materials are known to drive innovation: some 70% of all technical innovations can be directly or indirectly attributed to the materials they use. The impact of advanced materials (measured as the fraction of growth that can be attributed to advanced materials) for the energy sector, is steadily growing from 10% in 1970 to an expected 70% in 20303. It is therefore no surprise that strategic research agendas for most energy technologies strongly depend on the performance of the materials to be used in future applications. In particular for the SET-Plan low-carbon energy technologies, the European Commission published recently a Technical Roadmap to establish exactly what materials are needed in order to drive the next generation power sources or to make buildings more energy efficient4.
From lab to industry to market
The willingness to invest and a solid research agenda alone are not enough to make these materials. Advanced materials and manufacturing are key enabling technologies in which Europe has a leading position in research but is also at the top of the patent ranking. However, a large gap appears between the technology base and the industrial uptake. In particular, long, capital-intensive development times in combination with substantial technology and commercialisation risks make it very difficult for a new material to make it from the laboratory to industrial scale production, and then to the markets. The European Commission can help companies to safely cross this critical development phase, also known as the Valley of Death.
To do so, almost one year ago, the European Commission launched Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation funding programme with a total budget of almost EUR 80 billion that will run for 7 years until 2020. Of this amount, EUR 17 billion is reserved in the Industrial Leadership pillar to invest in promising and strategic industrial technologies, to encourage businesses to invest more in research and to cooperate with the public sector, in order to boost innovation. In addition, more than EUR 5 billion is available to invest in R&I to promote the Societal Challenge on Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy. A significant part of this budget is, and will continue to be, used to advance materials technologies for energy applications. Technology-focused product development is funded to help companies drive their innovation from the early stages of development, through the validation and demonstration of concepts and prototypes or pilot lines, towards market acceptance. An integrated approach is adopted with careful consideration of standards and certification procedures. Initial business and exploitation plans ensure that supply chains are already at an early stage on the radar.
A substantial part of the Horizon 2020 budget is available for risk sharing and risk finance. The goal is to stimulate more investment in R&I, notably by the private sector. Increased funding for R&I is also available from the European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF). The JRC is performing a regional mapping exercise using the Smart Specialisation Platform. Both energy and new materials emerge as important specialisation fields in many European regions. Researchers are encouraged to seek synergies, such as cumulative funding, with national or regional funding programmes or ESIF, for instance, to create favourable circumstances to roll-out technologies at higher technology readiness levels.
This very complete innovation ecosystem has been fully available since the first calls of Horizon 2020. Call topics have been published for 2014 but also for 2015. Some calls which are currently still open for proposal submission are directly targeting material solutions for specific energy applications. Other calls focus more on upscaling the production of novel materials. Once sufficiently available at competitive prices, such materials could very well find their use in energy technologies. All information on the calls and the proposal submission process are available from the Commission’s Participant Portal http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/portal/desktop/en/home.html
Erno Vandeweert, and Christos Tokamanis,
Key Enabling Technologies, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission
1 “Technology and market perspective for future Value Added Materials”, final report from Oxford Research AS, available from http://ec.europa.eu/research/industrial_technologies/pdf/technology-market-perspective_en.pdf .
2 “Critical Metals in Strategic Energy Technologies”, R.L. Moss, E. Tzimas , H. Kara, P. Willis and J. Kooroshy, JRC Scientific and Technical Reports (2011).
3 “The Advanced Materials Revolution”, S. M. Moskowitz, John Wiley & Sons Inc, (2009).
4 “Materials roadmap enabling low carbon energy technologies”, European Commission SEC (2011) 1609.