3 million euros to TU/e from NWO and industry for projects on Innovative Research

NWO and several industrial partners awarded 28 million euros to six research projects on Innovative Research, of which four include researchers from TU/e. Their research will focus on new robotics for food production, clean chemical processes for the storage of “green electricity”, smarter optical measurement techniques and advanced imaging techniques to diagnose vascular diseases.

The NWO Innovative Research grant is meant to strengthen the connections between academia and industry. Thanks to the 28 million grant scheme awarded last Thursday, six large collaborative projects will be financed for the next six years. Four of the granted research programs include major contributions from TU/e scientists, for a total budget of approximately 3 million euros (2 million from NWO, and 1 million from industry). The awarded projects including TU/e partners are the following (in alphabetical order):

Cognitive Robots for Flexible Agro Food Technology (FlexCRAFT)

Robots have long entered the world of agro-food production and processing. However, current robotic technology is not able to deal with the large variations in shape, size, and softness of agro-food products nor the variation in environmental conditions and tasks that are typically required within the agro-food chain. The scientific challenge of the FlexCRAFT project is to equip robot technology with active perception, planning, control, gripping and manipulation; capabilities needed to deal with the aforementioned conditions in a robust way. These capabilities will be integrated in pilot projects in greenhouse production, food processing, and food packaging. The FlexCRAFT program relies on a strong multi-disciplinary consortium of experts in both research and development and a user group with leading industry. At TU/e, research will be performed within the Department of Mechanical Engineering by prof. Herman Bruyninckx, associate professor René van de Molengraft and prof. Maarten Steinbuch.

Electrons to Chemical Bonds (E2CB)

To stop climate change we need to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions. Renewable electrical energy sources such as wind and sun have the potential to do so. However, the full implementation of solar and wind energy implies security of supply throughout the entire year, which can be obtained only by large scale energy storage. Electrochemistry, or the making of molecules with electricity, makes it possible to store surpluses of electricity from sustainable sources, while, at the same time, reduce CO2 emissions. At present, however, there are few electrochemical processes that can be used on an industrial scale. The EC2B program wants to revert this trend. The researchers want to develop new scalable electrochemical processes to make, among others, methane, liquid hydrocarbons and ammonia, and to convert biomass into useful chemical building blocks. Emiel Hensen, professor at the Inorganic Materials and Catalysis group of the department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, will specifically investigate the electrochemical reduction of CO2 and CO (carbon monoxide) to liquid products such as hydrocarbons, oxygenates in water.

Synoptic Optics

Optical techniques can reveal something about the size, structure and composition of illuminated objects. Most optical techniques, however, only look at changes in a few specific properties of the light, such as the intensity or the rotation of the polarization. Within the Synoptic Optics program, researchers will develop methods to analyze all the light’s properties simultaneously. Smart algorithms and signal processing techniques will ensure more extensive measurements and still be as fast as conventional methods. In addition, they will develop a new optical source to quickly measure all properties of light with thousands of wavelengths simultaneously. The program will embrace a number of specific applications, ranging from measurement of food quality and air pollution to the semiconductor industry. At TU/e, research will be led by Job Beckers, assistant professor within the Elementary Processes in Gas Discharges group in the department of Applied Physics. 

Ultrafast Ultrasound Imaging for Diagnosis and Treatment of Vascular Diseases (ULTRA-X-TREME)

Rupture of abnormal plaques ("atherosclerotic plaques") within blood vessels and rupture of vessel walls due to the formation of large bulges (“aneurysms”) are among the leading causes of stroke and sudden death. To date, prevention of plaque and aneurysm rupture is based on the measurement of the restriction of the vascular lumen or of the blood vessel’s diameter by ultrasound. Many acute events are, however, not predicted by these criteria making the current screening practice highly inadequate. Thus, several patients still undergo unnecessarily risky treatments while dangerous cases are missed.The ULTRA-X-TREME project aims at the development of innovative, fully 3D ultrasound methods to quantify blood flow and measure the blood vessel wall and plaque properties at unprecedented resolution and in combination with patient-specific biomechanical models. Within the ULTRA-X-TREME consortium - which includes the best Dutch research groups on ultrasound, hospitals, and industrial partners - Richard Lopata, associate professor at the Cardiovascular Biomechanics group of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, will lead the research on ultrasound-based and model-based clinical decision support for improved and personalized diagnosis. Clinical pilots will be performed in collaboration with Marc van Sambeek, part-time professor in the same group and vascular surgeon at the Catharina Hospital Eindhoven.