Trinity materials science research projects secure European Innovation Council funding

Awards represent Trinity’s first success under Horizon Europe funding programme
Life

15 December 2021

Two research projects coordinated by principal investigators from Trinity College Dublin and Amber, the science foundation Irelandentre for advanced materials and bioengineering research, have secured recommended funding from the European Innovation Council (EIC) via its highly competitive Pathfinder Open competition. The two awards represent Trinity’s first successes in Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation.

The awards have a total recommended funding value of over €6 million, with around €2 million expected to go to the Trinity teams. 

The funding will support projects ThermoDust and SSLiP, which will allow for the respective development of innovative new materials for use in additive manufacturing (ThermoDust), and in mechanical systems where a reduction in friction will extend the life of machines and make them more efficient (SSLiP). 

 

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This project will see researchers solve a thermal management problem currently standing in the way of countless industries. The team proposes to develop a radically new material – ThermoDust – with outstanding heat-transport performance that will outperform the current means of heat dissipation and make major impacts in ICT, electric vehicles, and aerospace.

The team includes Dr Rocco Lupoi (assistant professor in Trinity’s School of Engineering; Amber and I-Form, the SFI research centre for advanced manufacturing) as principal investigator; and Professors Valeria Nicolosi (Trinity’s School of Chemistry; Amber and I-Form) and Shuo Yin (Trinity’s School of Engineering) as co-investigators.

Dr Lupoi said: “There is a great need for innovative materials in many different industries, but thermal management is the great hurdle that needs to be cleared as materials development is hindered by a relative lack of success in heat removal. For example, large data centres spend a considerable proportion of their total energy consumption running their cooling systems, while the evolution of many electronics is also being stymied by the ‘thermal control problem’. 

“We will use multidisciplinary techniques to develop a radically new material called ThermoDust and intend to showcase it with proof-of-concept applications in the sectors of electronics, EV vehicles and aerospace. Ultimately, we believe this project will establish Ireland and Europe as a leader in heat management and pave the way for innumerable new products and innovations that will be more efficient and sustainable than current alternatives.”

SSLiP: Scaling-up SuperLubricity into Persistence

This project will see researchers take a recently discovered phenomenon called superlubricity – where solid, atomic-sized 2D materials can slide across one another experiencing virtually no friction – and scale it up to macroscopic dimensions suitable for use in manufacturing and transportation technology. Many powerful incentives exist to reduce friction in mechanical settings, with a significant reduction in energy consumption and wear and tear chief among them.

The team includes Dr Graham Cross (associate professor in Trinity’s School of Physics and AMBER) as principal investigator; Prof Stefano Sanvito (Professor of Condensed Matter Theory in Trinity’s School of Physics and Amber); and Dr Zahra Gholamvand (Trinity’s School of Physics and Crann) as co-investigators.

“Reducing friction in mechanical systems will have enormous economic and societal impact,” said Dr Cross. “Not only will the lifetime of conventional machines increase and their energy use decrease, but it will also make envisioned yet unrealised mechanical systems possible where the contact between moving parts currently suffers from excessive force, wear, and degradation. Examples of the latter might be machinery in extreme temperature environments or the vacuum of outer space.

“It is estimated that a 20% friction reduction in combustion engines will save €120 billion per year, and enable a reduction in CO2 emission of 290 million tons. This is critical for future technologies since drastic improvements in energy efficiency and low carbon CO2 emission are key objectives to most roadmaps for long-term sustainable transportation. All in all, our work will make its mark in the global journey to sustainability and help us meet the challenges of the European Green Deal.”

Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Linda Doyle, said: “These awards represent a tremendous success for Trinity’s research community. The funding process is extremely competitive – only 6% of all applications in the latest round were successful and only three awards came to project coordinators in Ireland – which means only the very best research proposals with the potential to make landmark societal impacts are given the go-ahead.

“We are very proud of Rocco and Graham, and their research teams, and look forward to seeing how these projects develop. The research has the potential to make significant economic and sustainability impacts, and will open doors to exciting future technologies.”

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