NWO announces grants awarded to fourteen LIFT (Launchpad for Innovative Future Technology) projects

NWO announces grants awarded to fourteen LIFT (Launchpad for Innovative Future Technology) projects

(PRESS RELEASE) THE HAGUE, 2-Apr-2020 — /EuropaWire/ — Fourteen LIFT (Launchpad for Innovative Future Technology) projects involved in developing smart membranes that extract nitrogen components from manure streams, creating nanocrystals for solar cells in windows, and finding ways to eliminate ions from industrial streams by means of capacitive deionization are scheduled to start in 2020.

These projects have been approved within the Science PPP (public-private partnership) fund. They are in line with the top sectors of Chemicals, Agri&Food, Energy, and ICT (IT). A total of approximately €4 million has been made available for these collaborative ventures between the worlds of research and business.

The summaries of the approved LIFT projects are listed below:

Removing CO2 from the air
Lead applicant: Prof. Harry Bitter (Wageningen University & Research)
Consortium: Wageningen University & Research, Shell Global Solutions International B.V.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could combat climate change by removing CO2 from the air? By this means, we could create the conditions needed to ensure a prosperous life for future generations. In this project, Wageningen University & Research and Royal Dutch Shell will jointly carry out fundamental and applied research into materials that can efficiently capture CO2 from the air. One of this project’s most important goals is to develop robust and affordable materials that can tolerate constantly changing temperature and humidity levels, and that will enable us to capture CO2 from the air in the future.

Fields2cover: roads across the fields
Lead applicant: Dr Sytze de Bruin (Wageningen University & Research)
Consortium: Wageningen University & Research, AgXeed B.V.
Labour shortages and the associated increases in scale have compelled arable farmers to use increasingly heavy agricultural vehicles, which leave tracks over almost every part of the field. The resulting soil compaction leads to increased fuel consumption, greater greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced yields. Fields2cover focuses on accurately planning operating routes for relatively light, self-driving vehicles. The aim is to reduce pressure on the environment while, at the same time, boosting efficiency. The project will develop the capability to handle irregularly-shaped parcels of land and hilly terrain, while simultaneously routing several mechanized devices. The methods to be developed will be implemented in an open-source software library. They will be extensively tested using an autonomous agricultural vehicle developed by AgXeed.

Porous electrodes with functional coatings
Lead applicant: Dr Antoni Forner-Cuenca (Eindhoven University of Technology)
Consortium: Eindhoven University of Technology, Nedstack fuel cell technologies B.V.
Electrodes’ surface properties are known to have a major influence on the performance of batteries, electrolysers, and fuel cells, yet we lack the knowledge needed to perfect them. Using smart choices of materials and conditions, this project will use electrografting to manipulate properties such as hydrophobicity and ion conductivity. This will yield huge improvements in the selectivity and stability of fuel cells.

‘Google biomaps’ on a square nanometre
Lead applicant: Dr Ben Giepmans (University Medical Center Groningen)
Consortium: University Medical Center Groningen, Delft University of Technology, Delmic BV
The researchers collaborating in this project will use novel microscopy techniques to better visualize and understand structural/functional properties in medical biology, and to create tissue atlases. Using today’s workflows, it takes days to record areas of just a few square millimetres. Delft University of Technology and Delmic BV have built a faster microscope that can do the job in less than one hour. In this project, we will (1) modify the chemical process used to prepare tissue, to optimize it for this microscope, and use probes used to identify biomolecules; (2) generate workflows that start with a specific function in a living animal model (zebrafish) and end with FAST-EM analysis. The techniques developed in this project will be generally applicable, making it possible to implement ‘Google tissue’ in biology (and medical biology) right across the board. More information: www.nanotomy.org.

The selection of vigorous, healthy pigs based on functional variation in the genome
Lead applicant: Prof. Martien Groenen (Wageningen University & Research)
Consortium: Wageningen University & Research, Topigs Norsvin Research Centre
In the pig breeding industry, animals are increasingly selected on the basis of characteristics related to health and well-being. Genomic information (‘Genomic Selection’ or GS) plays an important part in this. The accuracy of GS can be improved by using causal variants for these characteristics, rather than the anonymous variants that are commonly used today. However, the majority of these mutations impact gene expression and have yet to be identified. The project will use artificial intelligence to identify these causal variants, with special emphasis on the characteristics associated with health and well-being. The variants will then be tested for GS in a number of commercial pig lines.

Removing ionic contaminants from water – can it be done electrically?
Lead applicant: Dr Remco Hartkamp (Delft University of Technology)
Consortium: Delft University of Technology, Avsalt AB
The process of extracting ionic contaminants from water is a critical step in the chemical and food industries. This usually involves the use of ion-exchange materials, which can be tweaked to create a specific affinity for the ions of calcium, nitrate, or heavy metals, for example. Nevertheless, ion exchangers need to be regenerated regularly, to restore their absorption capacity. This regeneration process involves the use of concentrated salts and acids.

Thus, the use of ion exchangers often leads to the production of significant amounts of waste. In this project, we will develop an alternative method for selectively removing ions from industrial flows. That method is based on capacitive deionization, in which electricity is used to transport ions through a porous electrode that separates the waste stream from the product. We will explore ways of tailoring the properties of the electrode to remove specific ionic contaminants.

Windows powered by luminescent nanocrystals
Lead applicant: Dr Arjan Houtepen (Delft University of Technology)
Consortium: Delft University of Technology, PHYSEE
Luminescent solar collectors transform windows into solar cells. Special dyes in (or on) windows absorb the incoming light and guide it to the sides, where it is efficiently collected by tiny solar cells. The main challenge is to find dyes that can absorb sunlight efficiently, that emit light of the correct wavelength efficiently (without subsequently reabsorbing or scattering that light), that are stable, and that can be incorporated into (or onto) windows. That’s a mountain of challenges to overcome – which is why we haven’t found this perfect material yet. The researchers plan to develop nanocrystals that contain Mn5+, as these could potentially satisfy all of the above conditions.

Tailor-made membranes
Lead applicant: Prof. Kitty Nijmeijer (Eindhoven University of Technology)
Consortium: Eindhoven University of Technology, Pentair X-Flow
Our Western way of life is consuming four times as many resources as are available on Earth. And that’s not all – we are producing enormous waste flows. The goal of this project is to develop a simple, generic method for producing ‘tailor-made membranes’. These membranes’ properties can be influenced and manipulated by applying separate, ultra-thin selective layers to a porous support structure. This approach can be used to produce membranes that are specifically suited to applications such as the purification of industrial waste water, the recovery of valuable substances from aqueous streams, or the production of clean drinking water. Such ‘tailor-made membranes’ will enable us to close the water cycle.

No time to waste
Lead applicant: Prof. Kitty Nijmeijer (Eindhoven University of Technology)
Consortium: Eindhoven University of Technology, Darling Ingredients International, Agrifirm, Van Drie Group, De Heus Voeders B.V., Agra-Matic B.V., ForFarmers Nederland B.V.
The Council of State’s recent ‘nitrogen ruling’ slammed on the brakes throughout the Netherlands. It brought airport expansion, road building, and home building to a grinding halt. In addition, the motorway speed limit was cut from 130 km/hr to just 100 km/hr. The urgent need to cut nitrogen emissions became painfully clear. The agricultural sector is responsible for more than 40% of these emissions (mainly from animal manure). Our research will involve the use of ‘Lego chemistry’ to develop smart membranes that can selectively extract nitrogen components from aqueous manure streams. In this way, nitrogen emissions from animal enclosures can be substantially reduced. Furthermore, the valuable minerals extracted from manure streams can be formulated into ideal, crop-specific fertilizers, thus minimizing any runoff into groundwater and surface water.

Whirling sticky particles around
Lead applicant: Prof. Ruud van Ommen (Delft University of Technology)
Consortium: Delft University of Technology, BASF
The tiny grains of fine powders naturally tend to stick together – they are cohesive. In the chemical industry, powdered catalysts are used to make chemical reactions faster and cleaner. In some cases, the powders needed are highly cohesive, which can lead to problems in the production process. We will explore various ways of getting these types of powders to whirl around, using a pulsating flow of gas, for example, or by vibrating the device in which they are contained. This study will involve both physical experiments and simulations.

Improve the protein factory!
Lead applicant: Dr Arthur Ram (Leiden University)
Consortium: Leiden University, WeissBioTech GmbH
In nature, soil fungi such as ‘Aspergillus niger’ play a critical part in recycling plant residues. These residues are broken down by a plethora of secreted enzymes. Specific enzymes can be produced in bulk by cultivating genetically modified Aspergillus in bioreactors. Here, agricultural waste streams serve as a food source. The chemical industry’s growing dependence on biomass as a raw material has boosted demand for suitable biocatalysts. This project will develop an improved, highly-productive Aspergillus host strain. This will be used to produce biocatalysts from Aspergillus or other sources, for use in existing and novel applications. Smart, advanced genetic techniques will be used to produce these enzymes efficiently, easily, rapidly, and profitably, and to market them.

Robust sensors for the agricultural and food sector
Lead applicant: Dr Louis de Smet (Wageningen University & Research)
Consortium: Wageningen University & Research, Stichting imec Nederland (imec Nederland Foundation), PlantLab Groep B.V., Metrohm Nederland B.V.
In medical applications and in industries such as the agricultural and food sector, chemical sensors are routinely used to measure the levels of ions in water. Today’s state-of-the-art sensors are relatively large and often very expensive. They have a service life of just a few months, partly due to the degradation of certain sensor components and to pollution. In this project, researchers from Wageningen University & Research, imec-OnePlanet, PlantLab and Metrohm will be using chemical techniques to curb degradation processes and combat pollution through the use of novel polymer materials. The researchers will use advanced techniques to integrate these molecules into ion-selective microsensors. This will pave the way for robust sensor platforms that are capable of simultaneously measuring a wide range of ions.

A certifying translator for smart contracts.
Lead applicant: Dr Wouter Swierstra (Utrecht University)
Consortium: Utrecht University, IOHK
‘Smart contracts’ is a collective term for the code that is executed on a blockchain. Smart contracts can be used to create binding agreements without the intervention of a notary, a bank, or any other third party. However, the strong cryptographic guarantees involved mean that, once it has been signed by the participants, a smart contract cannot be modified. For this reason, it is extremely important for smart contracts like this to be correct and properly executed. In this study, we will prove that the smart contracts of the Cardano blockchain are correctly translated into executable code, which can then be added to the blockchain. In fact, we will provide each smart contract with formal — computer-verified — proof that the code executed on the blockchain behaves in the same way as the associated smart contract.

A pinch of promoter works wonders for catalytic converters
Lead applicant: Prof. Bert Weckhuysen (Utrecht University)
Consortium: Utrecht University, Umicore AG & Co. KG
The catalytic converters used in passenger cars and goods vehicles would be much more efficient if they were able to remove carbon monoxide from exhaust gases at a low reaction temperature. Experiments with catalysts have shown that specific promoters can make platinum (a precious metal) hyperactive for the oxidation of carbon monoxide. This research project will use advanced characterization methods and real-world conditions in an attempt to better understand exactly how these promoters achieve this. The physicochemical insights gleaned by this project, and the spectroscopic methods it develops, will be entirely generic. This means that they can be applied to numerous platinum-based catalysts in the chemical industry.

About LIFT
The Launchpad for Innovative Future Technology (LIFT) is one of several public-private partnerships within the Science PPP fund. LIFT is designed to stimulate public-private partnership between at least one company and one knowledge institution. While the applicants submit a full project proposal at one go, a LIFT project can be implemented and funded in one or two phases. The first phase involves a smaller cash-business contribution than the second phase. The total scale of these projects ranges from €150,000 to €300,000. The business community jointly covers 20% of the costs, while the Dutch Research Council (NWO) pays the remaining 80%. LIFT was a funding programme available within the Science PPP fund for new initiatives that further the roadmaps of a number of top sectors – Chemicals, Energy, Agri&Food and ICT (IT) – as part of the 2018-2019 Knowledge and Innovation Contract. This was the last round of the Science PPP fund: it has already been agreed that the programme will not return as part of the 2020-2023 Knowledge and Innovation Contract.

Further details about the Science PPP fund can be found at https://www.nwo.nl/en/research-and-results/programmes/ENW+PPS+Fund. To find out more about the public-private partnership opportunities within the 2020-2023 Knowledge and Innovation Contract, go to https://www.nwo.nl/en/research-and-results/programmes/nwo/knowledge-and-innovation-covenant/index.html.

For more information, please contact:

Spokespersons NWO
Olivier Morot o.morot@nwo.nl
t.: +31 (0)6 53 17 53 77
Poppy Savenije p.savenije@nwo.nl
t. +31 (0)6 83 89 37 13

Outside hours, the spokespersons can be reached via
t. +31 (0)70 344 07 29

Source: NWO


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