EU Funding Call

New call for photonics-related research and innovation proposals.

01 October 2014

Faster, more energy-efficient data centers, new laser-manufacturing techniques, and photonic integrated circuits are the primary focus of a new call for photonics-related research and innovation proposals from the European Commission (EC).

Part of the Horizon 2020 “industrial leadership” pillar, the call for photonics projects falls under the more general theme of information and communication technologies (ICT).

ICT 2015 has a total budget of €561 million and the window for proposals opened on 15 October. The deadline for submitting proposals is 14 April 2015.

Under the photonics KET (key enabling technology) section of the call, the EC states that “major science and technology progress and research and innovation investments are required for sustaining Europe’s industrial competitiveness and leadership in photonic market sectors where Europe is strong.”

Europe also needs to strengthen its manufacturing base in photonics and better exploit the innovation capacity of the more than 5000 existing photonics small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and more than 40 innovation clusters and national platforms, according to the EC.


The EC wants to fund application-driven developments of core photonics technologies with a focus on some specific areas. One of those is “exascale” data centers, where the goal is to develop optical components to drive a tenfold reduction in power consumption and cost.

The rising energy demands of data centers is regarded as a serious issue in Europe, while in the US companies like Apple are deploying dedicated solar farms to help power their centers in a more sustainable way.

According to the UK’s Carbon Trust, data centers represent one of the main growth areas of energy consumption – perhaps as much as 10% per year – and are responsible for as much as 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

The photonics KET call asks for “low-cost, energy-efficient photonic devices supporting radically new system and network architectures driven by the emergence of exascale cloud data centers.” It specifies that actions should focus on optical inter- and intra-data-center transmission, switching, and interconnects, facilitating terabit-per-second interface speeds and petabit-per-second network throughput.

(For more on optical technologies for telecom and datacom, see article on silicon photonic integration.)


The second key area is laser-based manufacturing, with a focus on high-throughput production. It calls for: “High-power, high-efficiency laser sources (both continuous wave and pulsed); novel technologies and devices for beam delivery and for processing of multiple beams from laser source arrays; high-performance optical devices and systems; fast synchronization of laser-source and high-speed scanning devices.”

The third highlighted application is photonic integrated circuits (PICs), with the EC document stating that actions may also cover electronic-photonic integration, as well as heterogeneous and hybrid integration technologies for PIC-based high-performance or high-density modules.

In support of one of Horizon 2020’s key aims – bridging the so-called “valley of death” between laboratory development and commercial exploitation – the call stresses the need for strong industrial commitment to the projects.

The EC document states that all actions should cover the value/supply chain and be driven by “user needs and concrete business cases supported by strong exploitation strategies.”


Photonics technology also appears prominently in the “Cross-cutting KETs” element of the ICT 2015 call.

It highlights opportunities in the healthcare and food sectors and is specifically targeting a pilot production line for manufacturing organic LEDs on flexible substrates, another for mid-IR microsensors, and a foundry service for making complex PIC designs.

For full details of the photonics KET and cross-cutting KETs, visit the EC’s participant portal. Specific information on the new ICT 2015 call for proposals was released 15 October.


Along with the new Horizon 2020 calls, the EC has updated its work program for research and innovation; presented the new “Fast Track to Innovation” (FTI) pilot actions; and announced €6 million in inducement prizes to reward technological breakthroughs of high relevance to society.

The prize competitions are expected to start in late 2014 and early 2015 and cover three thematic areas of research, including optics and photonics under ICT.

Inducement prizes offer incentives and rewards for challenges that have not yet been achieved. They define set criteria for a technological challenge and the first person, company, or team to offer a feasible solution is awarded a considerable financial prize ranging from €0.5 million and €3 million.

The prizes will be for:

  • Health (‘Reduction of the Use of Antibiotics Prize’ and the ‘Food-Scanner Prize’)
  • The environment (‘Reduction of Air Pollution Prize’)
  • ICT (‘Collaborative Sharing of Spectrum’ and the ‘Optical Transmission Prize’)

The new FTI pilot actions will support small consortia of three to five organizations with strong business participation to give promising ideas the last push before entering the market.

Substantial industry involvement in FTI actions will be mandatory to ensure quick market take-up. ‘Quick’ is defined as within a three-year period after the start of the FTI-action.


More than 17,000 proposals have already been submitted for the first Horizon 2020 calls that were announced in December 2013.

The demand actually outweighs the available funding nine times over, marking an increase from the 7th Framework Program (FP7) and a higher level of competition, according to the EC.

The Commission has noted a particular increase in applications from industry. For example, business applications to the ‘industrial leadership’ and ‘societal challenges’ pillars of Horizon 2020 represent 44% of the total compared with 30% under comparable areas of FP7.

SME participation is particularly strong, with over 5500 SME applications to the Horizon 2020 calls on encouraging leadership in enabling and industrial technologies and nearly 2700 applications for funding under the new €3 billion SME instrument.

Some €7 billion is allocated to Horizon 2020 calls during 2015.

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