Funding for photonics-related projects under Horizon 2020, the European Union's new research and innovation program, will be spread across eight separate private-public partnership (PPP) programs that have been allocated €6.2 billion over the next seven years.
And since a major goal of Horizon 2020 is to support innovative small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), much of the photonics research and innovation will come under the themes of information and communication technologies (ICT) and "Leadership in Enabling Technologies" (LEIT), also known as industrial leadership.
The Photonics and the Factory of the Future (FoF) PPPs are set to play key and early roles in the new funding program, with the first calls released in December involving research on laser-based manufacturing, organic LED lighting, biophotonics, solid-state lighting, and other photonics technologies.
Indeed, proposals were due as early as 20 March, including one for a project worth €10-15 million that is aimed at increasing productivity at European factories, particularly those that use lasers in the manufacturing process.
Representatives from the European Commission's Photonics Unit and Photonics21 explained the photonics-related calls, award criteria, deadlines, and rules for participation in depth at a meeting in January in Brussels.
The EC has approved a total €80 billion budget (€70 billion in 2011 "constant" prices) for all research and innovation under Horizon 2020. It has allocated approximately €100 million per year for direct photonics research under the Photonics PPP.
That €700 million for the Photonics PPP will be matched over the years by a €2.8 billion investment from industry, for a total of €3.5 billion for ICT, biophotonics, micro-electronics, energy, lighting, sensing, and other applied photonics topics through 2020.
Photonics Public-Private Partnership "a crown jewel" in Europe
EC Commissioner Neelie Kroes has called the Photonics PPP "a crown jewel of Horizon 2020," with more than 1000 representatives from the photonics sector playing key roles in advancing Europe's competitiveness. The new Photonics21 Association will partner with the EC in the Photonics PPP and help define the research and innovation priorities in future calls.
Kroes emphasized to stakeholders at the Photonics21 annual meeting in late March the important role of photonics in the European economy — not just its basic technologies, but its power to enable other technologies as well. She said that public-private partnerships are an important tool for advancing the field most effectively.
And she encouraged the photonics sector to work with industry in such areas as healthcare and telecommunications to create innovations that make a difference.
The Photonics PPP should focus on research that "doesn't stay locked in a lab, but that leads to innovation in the market and has a real impact" on society, Kroes said.
"The message is sinking in about photonics and its significance," she said, adding that the technology is now cropping up in her discussions with Europe's political leaders. "It is not just a way to spend public money. It is targeted action that can link up value chains and bring a growth boost to more than repay the investment. [But] ideas need to become real products and real businesses."
While acknowledging the risk of innovation, Kroes said "public support can help you share those risks."
Photonics21 has welcomed the Photonics PPP as a "significant boost" for the sector and innovation in Europe overall.
"As a key enabling technology, photonics plays a pivotal role in the re-industrialization of Europe and expanding the industry share of the European economy beyond the current 16% by 2020," Photonics21 vice president Bernd Schulte has said.
Photonics enables computing, advanced manufacturing, and robotics
Photonics funding opportunities falling under the other PPPs will focus on areas that are typically enabled by photonics such as manufacturing, robotics, high-performance computing, and energy-efficient buildings. The eight new research partnerships are expected to leverage a combined €6.2 billion of public funds to attract up to €60 billion in additional private investments.
Photonics researchers can also expect to share in a portion of the €17 billion to be spent under the LEIT and ICT themes since photonics, as a key enabling technology, can play a direct and indirect role in building a skilled workforce and creating knowledge, competitiveness, and economic growth in Europe.
Funding amounts and topics under the ICT and LEIT themes in the calls opened in December 2013 include:
- €18 million for development of novel materials and systems for organic LED lighting, with a deadline of 23 April. The project seeks to secure and reinforce "industrial technology leadership and substantially increased market presence in lighting" through improved cooperation along the value chain.
- €28 million for photonics used in the screening of diseases and for sensing for safety and civil security
- €8 million for an open-system architecture for solid-state lighting
The laser-based FoF call for "process optimization of manufacturing assets" that is due in March seeks scalable cyber-physical system (CPS) architectures for adaptive and smart manufacturing systems.
Projects employing silicon photonics, graphene, robotics, optical interconnects, PVs, wireless networks, and fabrication of photonic integrated circuits (PICs) will also be funded.
Horizon 2020 replaces the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), which ran from 2007 to 2013 with a budget of around €55 billion. The new program is designed to deliver results that make a difference in people's lives. Officials stress that funding proposals should offer solutions for some of society's major challenges and include the expected impacts to be achieved .
Other changes in the new funding program include a single set of rules covering all the projects, simpler rules for grants, improved rules on IP, and the possibility of accessing business/management coaching and risk financing. The main form of funding is the grant, then prizes, then procurement.
With the first awards expected to be announced in September, the first Horizon 2020 projects are expected to begin 1 January 2015.
More information on Horizon 2020