New €65m challenge fund to drive digital and green innovation in Ireland

8 Aug 2022

Image: © Tierney/

Eight challenges for projects focusing on green transition and digital transformation will be managed by SFI, two of which are now open for applications.

The Government has announced €65m in funding for research projects in Ireland that drive innovation in the areas of green transition and digital transformation.

Funded by the EU and managed by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the National Challenge Fund was launched today (8 August) by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD.

It consists of a total of eight research challenges, three focusing on digital transformation and five that seek to help Ireland meet its 2050 climate goals.

Selected projects will receive funding of between €500,000 and €2m in four phases, as well as training and additional support from SFI.

Two of these challenges are now open for applications with a closing date for submissions of 31 October.


The first of these is the 2050 Challenge, which will fund projects aiming to develop “transformative and forward-looking” innovations for Ireland to become carbon neutral and resilient by 2050.

The Future Digital Challenge, meanwhile, will fund projects working to address “the challenge of realising transformational societal and economic impact from disruptive digital technologies”.

The other six challenges, to be opened for applications at later dates, focus on areas such as a healthy environment, clean energy, sustainability, resilience to future environmental, social or economic shock events, and strengthening relationships between people and the Government.

‘This programme is about giving researchers a framework and giving them support’

“These areas are among the greatest challenges our country and our world faces. This fund will help each and everyone us by navigating the best way forward,” Harris said.

“When we launched our new strategy Impact 2030, I outlined the need to put research and innovation at the heart of addressing Ireland’s social, economic and environmental challenges. The National Challenge Fund is a tangible example of this strategy in action.”

Harris encouraged researchers interested in applying to consider the 18,000 submissions from the public on the future of Irish science as part of the Creating Our Future campaign, the results of which were published last month.

A new approach to funding

Dr Ruth Freeman, director of science for society at SFI, told that the National Challenge Fund is “a big step in a journey we’ve been on for about the last four years”.

SFI has been looking to tackle a range of societal problems through challenge-based funding. Earlier this year, it shortlisted 10 research teams to develop solutions to challenges for use across the Irish Defence Forces, and then picked seven teams to develop tech innovations to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Freeman explained that the latest fund is “a new slant” that changes the way researchers are funded in Ireland.

“This programme is about giving researchers a framework and giving them support. It’s not just funding – we give them supports in terms of training and assistance,” she said.

“We help them with issues like getting out to the stakeholders and to the doors of the right people. Because training as an academic doesn’t necessarily equip you with those skills around innovation design thinking.”

Each challenge incorporates four stages and researchers will receive further funding at each stage of the process. They will be evaluated by an independent, international panel of experts and awards for each phase will be made from 2022 to 2026.

Freeman said that SFI will do “absolutely everything we can to support them through this journey” and find the visibility researchers need to make a difference.

“It’s about making a difference as quickly and effectively as we can because these issues are critical. We need to deal with them now. So, it’s very timely that this is launching now.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic