Valeria Nicolosi, a research professor at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), has scooped €150,000 funding from the European Research Council (ERC) for a one-year nanotechnology project that will home in on enabling new 2D-based nanomaterials to one day potentially pioneer ultra-thin, flexible supercapacitors for energy storage.
Italian-born Nicolosi, who works between both the nanoscience institute CRANN at TCD, and the university’s chemistry and physics schools, is the only Irish-based researcher to receive funding from this latest round of ERC grants.
In all 33 scientists from 15 countries around the EU received €150,000 grants from the ERC, in its latest funding round for proof-of-concept projects.
Speaking from Brussels today, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science said that the ERC’s ‘Proof of Concept’ initiative has already helped more than 140 researchers to test the market potential of their ERC-funded frontier research.
“Bringing the best ideas to market is what will keep Europe competitive, and that in turn means jobs," she said.
A glimpse into the nanomaterials research principal investigator Valeria Nicolosi is pioneering at CRANN at Trinity College Dublin
In an interview with Siliconrepublic.com earlier this year, Nicolosi detailed why she picked Dublin to continue her research into nanomaterials (which are one atom thick) .
She departed University of Oxford, where she was working on nanomaterials, to move to Trinity so as to tap into the facilities and collaborate with other researchers in the field, particularly at CRANN.
Nicolosi, who was born in Sicily, but who left Italy 12 years ago, said today she was "thrilled" when she heard the news of this ERC award.
The funding, she said, will help her bridge the gap between her ‘blue sky’ research and to innovate something that industry can use.
Her project ‘Ultrasonic spray deposition: Enabling new 2D based technologies (2D-USD)’ is focusing on looking at the economic and technical feasibility of using one-atom-thick materials so as to develop the aforementioned supercapacitors.
And the potential industry impact?
To use such supercapacitors for energy storage.
“It will allow me to bring this project to the next level, from fundamental to more applied horizons," explained Nicolosi, adding that it would enable her to carry out a full economic and technical feasibility study.
"Ultimately, it will provide a platform to link my findings with industrial targets."
Energy and climate change
More images depicting Prof Valeria Nicolosi’s nanotechnology and materials science research at CRANN and TCD
As a result of climate change, and the finiteness of fossil fuels, society, industry and scientists have been working on ways of moving towards more sustainable and renewable resources.
Industry and innovators have been pioneering renewable energy production from sun and wind – think solar photovoltaic panels, or offshore and onshore wind farms, for example.
Coupled with this, the auto giants, as well as tech start-ups such as Tesla, have been battling it out to come up with electric vehicles or hybrid electric vehicles with low CO2 emissions.
As well as this, energy storage systems like batteries and supercapacitors are starting to play a larger part in the energy mix.
According to some nanotechnologists, the key to supercapacitors’ performance improvement is to use materials that have a high surface area are mechanically robust, strain-resistant, electrochemically stable and electronically conducting. One of the key things is that such materials would have to be resistant to extreme temperature (-60°-+120°C).
Such two-dimensional nanomaterials are ideal candidates that fulfil all these requirements at once, said Nicolosi.
Pan-European funding organisation: set up by EU in 2007
As for the ERC grants for proof-of-concepts they are open to scientists who already hold ERC grants.
The funded projects cover research fields spanning neurosciences, engineering, and architecture and human rights.
One research project, for instance, is exploring ways to develop a tablet PC, which could be used by both clinicians and family members to detect consciousness after coma in real-time.
Another project is homing in on the commercialisation of flexible and stretchable electronics to equip energy-efficient and eco-friendly vehicles.
The age of innovation
Prof Helga Nowotny, president of the ERC, said this morning that despite the small part of the ERC budget that’s directed into the ‘Proof of Concept’ scheme, it represents an "important step" towards innovation.
“It encourages links between ideas that turn up in fundamental research and the opportunities offered by taking them further towards market.
“The increase in demand for these grants is a positive signal showing that ERC-funded researchers are ready to contribute towards societal benefits.
This mindset and openness is needed in Europe," she said.
This call and the next
In all a total of 145 proposals were submitted to the call from the ERC, with submitted projects having a circa 24pc success rate.
The budget of the entire call is €10m, of which nearly €5m goes to this first round.
The funding is for up to one year per project.
The second and final deadline of the ‘Proof of Concept’ 2013 call for proposals, open to ERC grant holders, is 3 October 2013.
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