NWO and industry invest 28 million euros in innovative research

8 November 2018

From today onwards, more than 75 researchers can work on new innovations together with industry and civil society organisations. That will happen within six large research programmes that were given the green light today. The research programmes focus on the development of stronger lettuce varieties, new robotics for food production, advanced imaging techniques to detect vascular diseases, clean chemical processes for the storage of green energy, smarter optical measuring techniques, and deeper knowledge of the use of bubbles in maritime applications.

Within six new research programmes, researchers will collaborate closely with companies and civil society organisations. Over the coming years, they will jointly develop technologies that are to result in scientific and industrial breakthroughs. At the heart of the research are major societal needs such as more sustainable food production, more efficient healthcare and less environmental burden.

Working across disciplines

The research programmes are being funded from NWO's funding instrument "Perspectief for the top sectors". Each year, NWO awards Perspectief funding to five or six new research programmes that fit within the top sectors. These are areas in which Dutch industry and research centres excel worldwide and want to strengthen their leading position. With Perspectief, NWO challenges researchers and other parties to set up new lines of research that overarch the boundaries of scientific disciplines. Through this large-scale and joint approach, the research partners can achieve far more than if they were to work individually.

Societal and economic value

‘With this multidisciplinary approach, participants do more than just working on the scientific and societal problems’, says Anke Stekelenburg, who coordinates the Perspectief funding at NWO. ‘The participants also make important contributions to the Dutch economy, and with the research results, they strengthen the international competitive position of our country.’

Research budget

The six research programmes that can now start have a joint budget of 28 million euros. 19 million euros is from NWO’s Perspectief funding. The other 9 million euros is being invested by companies and other organisations that are participating in the research programmes. With the total budget, 57 PhDs and 19 postdocs will work on the research during the next six years.

Tenth anniversary Perspectief

NWO Domain Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) realises Perspectief on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. Today, NWO celebrated the 10th anniversary of Perspectief during the NWO AES innovation festival Teknowlogy, which was held in the Rijtuigenloods in Amersfoort. The research programmes awarded funding were announced during this event.

Programmes awarded funding

A better understanding of bubbles in maritime technology
AQUA – Water Quality in Maritime Hydrodynamics
Air bubbles in water attenuate underwater sound and reduce the friction under a ship, as a result of which less fuel is needed. Although the behaviour of air bubbles in freshwater is known reasonably well, bubbles in saline seawater behave very differently. In this programme, the researchers will compare air bubbles in different types of water, varying from freshwater to natural seawater, to gain a better understanding of how bubbles can be used to manage friction, sound propagation and cavitation. The ultimate aim is to be able to predict how the composition of water influences the air bubbles.

Programme leader: Prof. Detlef Lohse (University of Twente)
Participants: AkzoNobel, Damen Shipyards Group, Delft University of Technology, IHC A.P. Møller-Maersk, Royal Netherlands Navy, MARIN, Maritiem Kennis Centrum, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, STX-France, TNO, University of Twente, Wärtsilä

Building molecules using sustainable electricity
Electrons to Chemical Bonds (E2CB)
By 2050, the Dutch chemical industry wants to emit ninety percent less carbon dioxide than it does today. Electrochemistry, producing molecules using electricity, can kill two birds with one stone. It will not only reduce CO2 emissions but also make it possible to store excess supplies of electricity from sustainable sources, such as the wind and sun, in chemical bonds. At present, however, few electrochemical processes are known that can be used on an industrial scale. 

The EC2B programme seeks to change this. The consortium will focus on the entire chain: from materials research at the nanoscale through to different types of reactors at the macro scale. The researchers want to develop new scalable electrochemical processes to produce methane, liquid hydrocarbons and ammonia, among others, and to convert biomass into useful chemical building blocks.

Programme leader: Prof. Bernard Dam (Delft University of Technology)
Participants: Avebe, Brightlands, Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology, Hyet, Leiden University, Nuon, Proton Ventures, Shell, Smartport, Tata Steel, TNO, University of Groningen, University of Twente, Wageningen University & Research, Yara

Flexible robotics for food production
Cognitive Robots for Flexible Agro Food Technology (FlexCRAFT)
Food production must be as hygienic, efficient and sustainable as possible. Furthermore, fewer people are willing to do tedious and heavy work in warm greenhouses or in refrigerated rooms where chicken products are processed, for example. Robots can provide a solution to this problem if they can deal with the considerable variations in shape, size and hardness of different food products. This is still challenging. The programme FlexCRAFT will develop new robot technology for such purposes as the automatic harvesting of tomatoes, for example. The robotics developed must also help with the processing of foodstuffs. Examples of this include the processing and packaging of chicken products, but also neatly packaging bags of crisps and packets of biscuits in boxes of varying sizes.

The Netherlands is the second biggest exporter of agro-food products worldwide and the third biggest supplier of technology for the agro-food sector. This programme will contribute to strengthening the competitive position of the Netherlands in these sectors.

Programme leader: Prof. Eldert van Henten (Wageningen University & Research)
Participants: 3DUniversum, ABB, AgriFoodTech Platform, Aris BV, BluePrint Automation, Cellar Land, Cerescon, Delft University of Technology, Demcon, Eindhoven University of Technology, Festo, GMV, Houdijk Holland, Marel Stork Poultry Processing, Maxon Motor, Priva, Protonic Holland, Rijk Zwaan, University of Amsterdam, University of Twente, Wageningen University & Research

Knowledge strengthens lettuce
LettuceKnow: Science-Based Improvement of Salad
How can you ensure that lettuce and other healthy leaf vegetables also grow well during dry, hot conditions such as those of last summer? And how can you enable them to thrive in silted soil, under the pressure of pathogens or in multilayer cultivation under LED lighting? The programme LettuceKnow uses lettuce as a model crop for scientific research into the optimal genetic composition of the leafy vegetables and other so-called composites, such as sunflower and chicory.

In this programme, six large vegetable breeding companies are working together with twelve research groups and the Centre for Genetic Resources. The researchers will combine knowledge of genetic variants and their activity in more than 500 mostly wild lettuce lines using advanced phenotyping, bioinformatics and machine-learning techniques. That will enable them to determine how genetic differences determine growth and resilience. The researchers will subsequently use this knowledge to develop healthy, strong lettuce varieties that can cope with changing climate conditions, plant diseases and new cultivation conditions.

Programme leader: Prof. Guido van den Ackerveken (Utrecht University)
Participants: Bejo Zaden, Centre for Genetic Resources, ENZA Zaden, Leiden University, Rijk Zwaan, Syngenta, Takii & Co. Ltd., UMC Utrecht, Utrecht University, Vilmorin & Cie, Wageningen University & Research

More insight from light
Synoptic Optics
Optical techniques can be used to obtain information about the size, structure and composition of an illuminated object. However, most optical techniques only observe changes in a few specific properties of the light, such as intensity or degree of polarisation. Within the programme Synoptic Optics, researchers will develop methods to analyse all properties of light simultaneously. Smart algorithms and signal-processing techniques will ensure that more extensive measurements can be realised just as quickly as conventional methods. The researchers will also develop a new optical source to rapidly measure all properties of light with thousands of wavelengths at the same time. 

The programme is aimed at several specific applications that vary from measuring food quality and air pollution to detecting minuscule changes in materials for the semiconductor industry.

Programme leader: Prof. Paul Urbach (Delft University of Technology)
Participants: Airbus, Bronkhorst, Cosine, Delft University of Technology, Demcon, Eindhoven University of Technology, Grass Valley, Holoeye, Holst Centre, Leiden University, Lionix, MenloSystems, Nexperia, Radboud University, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, Settels Savenije, Sioux, TNO, University of Twente, Utrecht University, VDL, VSL

New 3D ultrasound technique improves the diagnosis of vascular diseases
Ultrafast Ultrasound Imaging for Extended Diagnosis and Treatment of Vascular Disease (ULTRA-X-TREME)
Vascular problems can be life-threatening. Examples are strokes (CVAs) caused by atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries, or lethal ruptures of the aorta if the vessel wall becomes weakened. At present, doctors generally only measure the diameter of the vessels affected to determine the risk of this happening. However, the predictive value of such measurements turns out to be limited. Many people therefore unnecessarily undergo risky treatments. Furthermore, dangerous cases are missed.

This programme will develop new highly accurate ultrasound techniques to produce 3D images of the vessel walls and blood flow. The researchers will develop new imaging sensors, contrast fluids and analysis techniques to more accurately determine whether treatment is necessary.
The consortium behind ULTRA-X-TREME includes hospitals, industrial partners and the best Dutch research groups in the area of ultrasound techniques and the biomechanics of blood vessels.

Programme leader: Prof. Chris de Korte (Radboudumc and University of Twente)
Participants: ANSYS, Bracco Suisse S.A., Catharina Hospital, Delft University of Technology, Dutch Society for Vascular Surgery, Eindhoven University of Technology, Erasmus MC, Harteraad, Mindray, Philips Electronics Nederland, Pie Medical Imaging, Radboudumc, Rijnstate Hospital, TOMTEC Imaging Systems, University of Twente, Vermon S.A., Verasonics

Source: NWO