Funding boost allows Europe to extend green tech program

Farnborough Air Show » 2006
November 15, 2006, 6:47 AM

The European Union plans an ever more ambitious seventh framework program for research (FP7) that will encompass a longer period (seven years versus five previously) and include new approaches including a joint technology initiative (JTI) project led by the industry.

EU support for aeronautics research has grown both in scope and value since its introduction within the scope of the second framework program (FP2). From initial focus on specific technology areas, the programs have expanded to enable research in subjects with broader industrial interest and with wider public and community appeal.

The funding has also grown tremendously, according to Liam Breslin, head of aeronautics at the European Commission’s directorate general-research, from ?66 million ($83 million) for the pilot phase in 1990 to ?840 million ($1.1 billion) for the FP6 (covering the years 2002-2006).

“This is substantial budget for the Commission which illustrates the European Union’s interest for a key sector in the European economy (that is, air transport as whole), which employs three million people,” Breslin said. According to the EC, European industry already spends 15 percent of its revenues on R&D.

The EC and the industry share funding of each research project, with 50 percent of the funds coming from the Commission. Some projects are large scale, such as VITAL, whose goal is development of “an efficient, low-noise aero engine” for which it received ?51 million ($64 million). These projects are known as IPs (integrated projects) while smaller scale projects are called STREPs (specifically targeted projects). Others, called NOE, are aimed at creating network of excellence; for example, in the area of wind tunnels.

Projects gather together countries as well as regions. This will be even more true for FP7 which will focus on involving the 10 new EU members, some of which–like Poland and the Czech Republic–already have clear aerospace ambitions.

Apart from the large companies, the program also seeks a wider participation from small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), universities and research centers. “We try to strike a balance between the participation of the industry and SMEs and academia, the goal being to reach a 55:45 proportion of the allocated budget,” Breslin told Aviation International News. “More than 160 quality projects have been funded, as have 21 IP subjects of significant importance, such as NICE TRIP, which is looking at tilt-rotor technology.”

ACARE Goals

The importance of EU-funded research framework programs for both community and industry is articulated in the ACARE (Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe) strategic research agenda documents, which focus on satisfying air transport needs while strengthening EC competitiveness.

The SRA identifies a broad range of technical areas for R&D, with priority goals ranging from reducing the cost of air travel to increasing its efficiency to reducing its environmental impact to security.

Those involved hoped the overall research budget proposed by the EC would reach €73 billion ($91 billion) over a seven-year period (2007-2013). But the budget approved by the EU Council of Ministers and European Parliament was reduced to €45 billion ($56 billion), of which €4.9 billion ($6.1 billion) will go to transport and €1.2 billion ($15 billion) to space (for example, to Galileo). Breslin noted that the EC research budget is under close scrutiny of the World Trade Organization which decides, for example, whether or not to include illegal subsidies, in the context of the ongoing Airbus-Boeing battle.

“For FP7, we expect to start with the same level of money as for FP6, and then we will gradually come up with the big funding,” explained the EC official. This time the program will include some upstream research and the new JTI structure, which will take research forward with the use of technology demonstrators.

Four specific themes will be covered by FP7: transnational cooperation (including with non-EU countries like Russia and Ukraine); basic research into areas such as mathematics or modeling without specific applications; training young people; and boosting the industry’s R&D capacity, that is, improving research infrastructure.

JTI for Green Research

A joint technology initiative is a new instrument created by the EC for FP7 to allow large-scale and long-term public and private research partnerships to implement the ambitious priorities of the strategic research agenda. By definition, a JTI is a project of such scale that it will require substantial public and private investment, amounting to several hundred million euros.

For example, the “Clean Sky” JTI is an industry-driven, seven-year research program aimed at developing more innovative and environmentally friendly products that could radically reduce the impact on the environment of air transport while strengthening the competitiveness of the European aeronautics industry. Its purpose is to demonstrate and validate the technological breakthroughs that are necessary to reach the environmental goals set by ACARE.

Clean Sky will integrate emerging technologies in a multidisciplinary approach and test the innovative concepts in operational conditions ensuring the availability of technologies for the new generation of products. In addition to the wider economic benefits–conservatively estimated to be around ?300 billion ($375 billion)–the project is expected to accelerate the delivery of the ACARE environmental goals.

The Clean Sky JTI group is composed of nine leading manufacturers: AgustaWestland, Airbus, Alenia Aeronautica, Dassault Aviation, Eurocopter, Liebherr Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, Safran and Thales. They serve mainly as integrators of aircraft (fixed- and rotary-wing) together with engines and systems/equipment.

The industry effort will be packaged into six platforms (smart fixed-wing aircraft, green regional aircraft, green rotorcraft, systems and engines for green operations and eco-design) each led by an integrator company. These companies will ensure the ultimate delivery of a number of integrated test vehicles.

Although the final outcome of this program is not yet clear, it is expected that new materials, composites and nanotechnologies will play an important role in providing intelligent airframes and wings needing very little maintenance, according to Breslin.

Potential partners attended a Clean Sky JTI workshop in Brussels in early June. “We have carried out some initial socioeconomic assessments on Clean Sky earlier this year,” explained Jack Metthey, director of the transport at the EC directorate general-research. “ACARE has also been consulted and the plan is to launch an independent cost benefit analysis.”

This European initiative will engage a large consortium of partners and will require a broad contribution from SMEs, universities, research centers and the industry as a whole. The JTI is scheduled to be formally launched next year and to start activities in early 2008.

Provided the European Parliament approves the new research plan of the Commission (which should be the case, according to Breslin), first call for research funding will be issued at the end of the year, with deadline for bids next spring. So, in the EC’s view, now is the time for industry to prepare to engage in FP7.

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