EC funding brings research closer to market
The European Commission is close to agreeing ambitious plans designed to strengthen cooperation between commercial and public researchers in Europe. So-called Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs), part of the 2007-2013 7th framework programme (FP7), will pump billions of euros into several key sectors. First calls for research proposals are expected early next year.
Three of the six JTIs so far proposed are in areas of particular interest to chemists: innovative medicines; nanotechnology; and the development of fuel cells and hydrogen technology.
Dirk Beernaert, head of nanotechnology at the Directorate General for Information Society and Media at the European Commission, told Chemistry World that while current and past EU framework funding has emphasised research at the university or institute level, the JTIs will give industry a much bigger role. 'We are trying to place some research a bit closer to the markets,' he said.
No JTIs have been officially approved by the EU Council of Ministers, which represents national governments and has ultimate authority on final guidelines, with discussions still ongoing between the European Commission, industry representatives, the European Parliament and Council of Ministers. Most observers believe any lingering disagreements over such issues as financing, governance, and auditing will be overcome for four of the JTIs by December 22-23, when the Council of Ministers next meets. First calls for proposals from those four JTIs would likely be issued in the first quarter of next year.
Beernaert said he was '95 per cent certain' the nanotechnology JTI would get final approval before Christmas. He said the other three JTIs likely to be approved then are innovative medicines, the Clean Sky initiative (designed to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions by around 40 per cent), and the embedded systems (specialised computer components) initiative. Other JTIs were not as far advanced.
Technical guidelines and funding schemes for the JTIs vary, Beernaert explained, with some JTIs funded only by the EU and industry and others by the EU, industry and member states. For example, nanotechnology funding could reach 450 million from the EU,900 million from EU member nations, and more than 1.35 billion from industry, while the innovative medicines JTI is expected to be funded with
1 billion from the EU and a matching amount from industry.
Exact funding decisions, including sectors and timing, are still under discussion, emphasised Norbert Lehner, chairman of the support group of the European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council (ENIAC) which is working closely with the Commission to develop the nanotechnology JTI. 'Everything is still in planning,' he said. 'Nothing is concluded yet.'
Lehner believes initial calls in nanotechnology will likely be issued for research projects involving electronic design automation and an area he described as 'More than Moore,' which includes all technologies based on silicon but which do not simply scale with Moore's law. Beyond those two segments, he said other areas likely to be funded later would include equipment/materials and heterogeneous integration, which he described as 'the glue between the world of nanoelectronics devices, and systems that humans can interact with.' 'We believe ENIAC offers the best chance we ever had to combine all forces in Europe and to reach critical mass for research and development projects,' he said.
As for the innovative medicines initiative (IMI), Ian Ragan, co-chair of the IMI governance taskforce, said it would not involve development of new drugs, but instead will focus on development of new methodologies and tools to better predict the safety and efficacy of new drugs.
Ragan said chemistry would play a big role in JTI research to develop computational methods for predicting the toxicity of molecules. 'That is very high on our agenda,' he added.
Guidelines for the fuel cells/hydrogen initiative are still under discussion, Perrine Tisserand, a spokeswoman in Brussels for the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform (HFP), told Chemistry World. The goal is to have a final document ready in March or April for approval by the Council of Ministers, she said.
Under current proposals, the EU and industry would both contribute 450 million with additional contributions possible from member states. Research details, Tisserand added, are yet to be decided, but will likely be in four main areas: hydrogen vehicles and refuelling stations; sustainable hydrogen production and supply; fuel cells for combined heat and power generation; and fuel cells for early markets - including portable generators, specialty vehicles and micro fuel cells.