Developing pioneering technologies and making them attractive for industry: the Helmholtz Association is channelling more than €20 million from its Initiative and Networking Fund into helping scientists quickly move their projects from research to application.
Fifteen projects have been funded since the launch in 2011, and now independent assessors have recommended that a further three should receive support: a system that can produce high-precision maps, an effective process for generating heat in solar tower power plants, and an active pharmaceutical ingredient that could be used in the treatment of ischemia in the future.
The Helmholtz Association believes these three developments have huge potential for achieving successful commercial application and making a significant contribution to society.
We could soon be in a position to measure the world more accurately, use solar energy more effectively, and take a new approach to treating the effects of ischemia, an acute arterial disorder that restricts blood flow. Even after producing successful research, many projects often lack validation, i.e. evidence that their findings are of interest to industrial partners or that they can lead to a spin-off. In its current selection round, therefore, the Helmholtz Validation Fund is supporting another three pioneering projects to help them get their results to market. The three research projects, DriveMark, CentRec and RỌScue, are receiving a combined total of some €3 million in funding.
Funding to bring research to market
The road from scientific findings to a market-ready application is long. The Validation Fund provides scientists working at Helmholtz centres with support in the form of advice and financing during this initial phase. “This instrument allows us to push application-oriented research findings far enough for them to achieve an increase in value and become commercially viable,” says Rolf Zettl, managing director of the Helmholtz Association. He explains that there are various ways of proving that a project is ready for market. These include conducting tests to demonstrate its applicability, scaling up the production process, or delivering results from pre-clinical trials. The Helmholtz Validation Fund, says Zettl, is an important instrument for enabling the transfer of highly relevant technologies.
Three very promising projects
DriveMark – A system that uses image and radar data to generate high-precision street maps and facilitate autonomous driving.
Hartmut Runge and his team from the German Aerospace Center are hoping their DriveMark system will vastly improve the way digital maps are produced. In addition to reducing the costs involved, the scientists also believe their solution will open up new possibilities for navigation that could revolutionise autonomous driving. Today, high-precision street maps that reflect the exact course of the road are considered crucial for autonomous driving, since every centimetre counts when a machine is in charge. However, producing coordinates that are accurate enough is currently an arduous task that has to be done site by site, on location and with the help of a special receiver. The DriveMark system is different in that it is highly automated and generates precise coordinates for large areas. It is based on a technology for correcting disturbances that atmospheric and environmental effects can cause to radar satellite signals.
At http://www.helmholtz.de , Runge explains why our current navigation systems are no longer suitable for the road and transport concepts of the future.
CentRec – Solar energy generation using innovative particle receiver technology.
Lars Amsbeck and his team at the German Aerospace Center are planning to develop a rotating receiver system with ceramic particles as heat carriers for use in solar tower power plants. Their aim is the commercial production of heat that can compete with liquid fuels in sunny locations.
Solar thermal power plants use a series of mirrors to concentrate direct solar radiation. The new process uses near-black ceramic particles as the energy carriers and storage media. The particles can be heated to as much as 1000°C, and a patented centrifugal receiver makes it possible to efficiently control the material flow. A simple, direct storage solution means the system can operate around the clock. The technology has particular potential in industrial settings where temperatures in excess of 400°C are needed. In these scenarios, solar energy in the form of hot air can replace expensive energy carriers such as liquid fuels or electricity. Electricity generation is another possible area of application, since the high temperatures could be used drive steam and gas turbines.
RỌScue Therapeutics – Innovative medicines for the targeted treatment of ischemia-reperfusion injuries.
Within the RỌScue Therapeutics project, Marcus Conrad and his team from Helmholtz Zentrum München are researching medicines for treating tissue damage that can occur when blood flow is restored after a period of ischemia (a condition that restricts the blood supply). Insufficient blood flow to tissues is especially common in conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, but it can also be caused by surgical interventions such as a kidney transplant. Ischemia and the subsequent restoration of the blood supply (reperfusion) can produce large quantities of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are harmful to the human body. Although this has an enormous impact on patient health, drugs that would allow doctors to provide targeted treatment are still lacking. The active ingredient that the RỌScue Therapeutics team are investigating in pre-clinical trials could give cells greater protection against ischemia-reperfusion injuries and thus maintain tissue function. With a view to driving forward the development of this potentially valuable drug, a spin-off company and a collaboration with a pharmaceutical firm are both in the pipeline.
The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy; Earth and Environment; Health; Key Technologies; Structure of Matter; and Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With 37,000 employees in 18 research centres and an annual budget of approximately €3.8 billion, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation. Its work follows in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).
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Jan-Martin Wiarda | Helmholtz-Zentrum
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