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Monday, 07 February 2022

ERC Proof of Concept grant awarded to Prof. Daniel Maspoch and Dr Klaas-Jan Tielrooij

by Virginia Greco

With €150,000 each, the SAFE-ON and COOLGRAELE projects will further develop the pioneering research carried out thanks to previous ERC funding and plan the transference of their technologies to the industry and, thus, the market.

The winners of this term’s Proof of Concept Grants of the European Research Council (ERC) have been announced this morning. Among the 166 researchers who will receive funding are ICREA Prof. Daniel Maspoch, leader of the ICN2 Supramolecular NanoChemistry and Materials Group, and Dr Klaas-Jan Tielrooij, leader of the ICN2 Ultrafast Dynamics in Nanoscale Systems Group.

SAFE-ON, the project led by Prof. Maspoch, will focus on enhancing a newly patented antimicrobial coating technology in order to bring it to the market. COOLGRAELE, Dr Tielrooij’s project, aims to demonstrate thermal management in electronic devices and components through graphene electrons and design a business creation plan related to this technology.

Worth €150,000 each, the ERC Proof-of-Concept grants are meant to help researchers bridge the gap between the results of their pioneering work and the early phases of its commercialisation. The Proof of Concept grant scheme, which are part of the EU's research and innovation programme Horizon Europe, is open only to researchers who are or have been previously funded by the ERC through one of the other schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced or Synergy grants. 

It is noteworthy that, among the winners, there are 48 female grantees. The proportion of women among both applicants and grantees increased from last year. The next funding round is coming soon: the deadline for the first of the three rounds of 2022 is on 15 February.  

SAFE-ON Project (Prof. Daniel Maspoch)

Infectious diseases are a rapidly growing threat to humanity. For instance, the current COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, has already killed over 4.5 million people since 2019 and is taking a devastating socioeconomic toll around the world. Similarly, nosocomial infections are among the major causes of death and increased morbidity, causing thousands of deaths every year in Europe. Recently, the use of antimicrobial coatings has garnered increasing interest as a simple prophylactic strategy to combat these infectious diseases. In this Proof of Concept project, we will advance a new patented antimicrobial coating technology, called SAFE-ON, into the pre-commercial stage, with the aim of demonstrating its breakthrough innovation potential and approaching its arrival to market.

The first part of this project encompasses optimization of SAFE-ON technology as highly efficient, smart antimicrobial coatings. This entails the preparation of two antimicrobial coatings based on commercial formulations used in catheters and door-handle covers (one based on hydrogels and the other on silicone), and subsequent testing of their antimicrobial capacity. It also involves preparing the first two SAFE-ON prototypes: one coated catheter and one door-handle cover. The second part of SAFE-ON will be dedicated to intellectual property (IP) and market aspects needed for the pre-commercialization of this new technology for antimicrobial coatings. This study will include a freedom-to-operate analysis and a market study to identify the antimicrobial coating producers that could ultimately serve as manufacturing partners.

In this project we will design, fabricate and evaluate two innovative prototypes incorporating our iodine delivery platform, with the aim to assess the commercial viability of antimicrobial SAFE-ON coatings, accelerate their market entry and, ultimately, commercialize and further develop antimicrobial coatings and other biocide products based on our technology.

COOLGRAELE (Dr Klaas-Jan Tielrooij)

Devices such as mobile phones, computers, and batteries have become an integrated part of our society. An important challenge in such devices and device components is to avoid overheating by using suitable thermal management. Currently, this typically relies on heat dissipation by electrons in metals such as copper. More recent approaches have explored heat dissipation by phonons in graphene and related materials, which can have a thermal conductivity that is an order of magnitude higher than that of typical metals. In this project, we aim to demonstrate thermal management technology, where heat dissipation takes place by graphene electrons, rather than phonons. This is a promising approach, as the thermal conductivity of graphene electrons can be another order of magnitude larger than that of graphene phonons, as we recently demonstrated in our ERC-funded research. Furthermore, it allows for direct electronic heat dissipation without the intermediate step via phonons.

The two main objectives of this project are i) to demonstrate graphene-electron-based heat dissipation in relevant electronic devices; and ii) to develop a business creation plan related to this technology. These objectives will be addressed by an experienced and multidisciplinary team consisting of scientists, technologists and business developers. On the technical level, we will fabricate and characterize three specific proof-of-concept demonstrator devices. On the commercial level, we will work on intellectual property protection, leverage our network of partners from relevant industries, and design a business creation strategy. There will be constant feedback between the technical level and the commercial level of the project, in order to establish how the technology will create the most added value adapted to the market needs, and thereby create most value for society.


About the ERC 

The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four main grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. Since 1 November 2021, Maria Leptin is the President of the ERC. The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel.