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Membranes that can extract nitrogen components from fertilizer flows, nanocrystals for solar cells in windows, and remove ions from industrial flows. These are three of the fourteen Llift projects that are still starting this year. In total, approximately 4 million euros is available for these collaborations between research and business.

The projects have been awarded by NWO and match the top sectors Chemistry, Agri & Food, Energy and ICT. The Launchpad for Innovative Future Technology (Lift) is intended for public-private partnerships between at least one company and at least one knowledge institution. The summaries of the awarded projects in alphabetical order:

CO2 removal from air

Main applicant: Prof. Harry Bitter (WUR)
Consortium: Wageningen University, Shell Global Solutions International

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to remove CO2 from the air to tackle climate change and lay the foundation for a prosperous life for future generations? In this project, Wageningen University and Royal Dutch Shell will jointly carry out fundamental and applied research into materials that capture CO2 from the air in an efficient manner. An important goal of the project is the development of robust and affordable materials that tolerate constantly changing temperature and humidity and make it possible to capture CO2 from the air in the future.

Fields2cover: weighing in the field

Main applicant: Dr Sytze de Bruin (WUR)
Consortium: Wageningen University, AgXeed

The scarcity of labor and the associated increase in scale have led to increasingly heavier agricultural vehicles in arable farming, which are also pulling tracks across almost the entire field. The resulting soil compaction results in increased fuel consumption, greater greenhouse gas emissions and reduced yields. Fields2cover focuses on accurately planning passages for a relatively light self-driving vehicle in order to reduce environmental pressure and at the same time increase efficiency. The project develops functionality for complex plot shapes, hilly terrain and routing for multiple implements simultaneously. The developed methods are implemented in an open-source software library and extensively tested with an autonomous agricultural vehicle developed by AgXeed.

Porous electrodes with functional coatings

Main applicant: Dr Antoni Forner-Cuenca (TU / e)
Consortium: Eindhoven University of Technology, Nedstack fuel cell technologies

Although the surface properties of electrodes have a major influence on the performance of batteries, electrolysers and fuel cells, knowledge of how to optimize them is lacking. This project makes it possible to influence properties such as hydrophobicity and ion conductivity with electrografting, by means of a smart choice of materials and conditions, to greatly improve the selectivity and stability of fuel cells.

Google biomaps on the square nanometer

Main applicant: Dr. Ben Giepmans (UMCG)
Consortium: UMC Groningen, TU Delft, Delmic

The researchers are collaborating with new microscopy techniques to better visualize and understand structural / functional properties in medical biology and to create atlases of tissues. Recording a few square millimeters with the current workflow takes days. TU Delft and Delmic BV have built a faster microscope that can do the recording within an hour. In this project we will (1) optimize chemical process of tissue preparation for this microscope, including probes to identify biomolecules; (2) Generate the workflow from function in a living animal model (zebrafish) to the so-called FAST-EM analysis. The developed techniques will then be generally applicable to broadly implement ‘Google tissue’ in (medical) biology. More information:

Selection of vital healthy pigs based on functional variation in the genome

Main applicant: Prof. dr. Dr Martien Groenen (WUR)
Consortium: Wageningen University & Research, Topigs Norsvin Research Center

The selection of animals in pig breeding increasingly focuses on characteristics that are related to health and welfare. Genomic information plays an important role in this (so-called “Genomic Selection; GS)”. The accuracy of GS can be increased by using causal variants for these characteristics instead of anonymous variants as is now common practice. However, the majority of these mutations have an effect on gene expression and have not yet been identified. Within the project, artificial intelligence will be applied for the identification of these causal variants with special emphasis on health and well-being characteristics. The variants will then be tested for GS within a number of commercial pig lines.

Removing ionic impurities from water – can it be electric?

Main applicant: Dr Remco Hartkamp (TUD)
Consortium: TU Delft, Avsalt

Extracting ionic contaminants from water is a crucial step in the chemical and food industries. A common method for this is based on ion exchange materials, which can be equipped with a specific affinity for ions such as calcium, nitrate, or heavy metals. Nevertheless, ion exchangers must be regenerated regularly in order to restore the absorption capacity. Concentrated salts and acids are required for this regeneration.

The use of ion exchangers therefore often results in the production of significant amounts of waste. In this project we will develop an alternative for the selective removal of ions from industrial flows. The method is based on capacitive deionization, which uses electricity to transport ions through a porous electrode that separates waste stream and product. We study how best to adjust the properties of the electrode to remove specific ionic contaminants.

Luminescent nanocrystals provide power to windows

Main applicant: Dr Arjan Houtepen (TUD)
Consortium: TU Delft, Physee

Luminescent solar collectors turn windows into solar cells. Light is absorbed by dyes in or on the window and is directed to the sides where it is efficiently collected by small solar cells. The main challenge is to find dyes that absorb sunlight efficiently, emit light of the correct wavelength efficiently without reabsorption or scattering of the emitted light, which are stable and can be processed in or on the windows. Due to these many challenges, this perfect material has not been found so far. The researchers will develop nanocrystals that contain Mn5 +, because they potentially meet all the conditions.

Custom membranes

Main applicant: Prof. dr. ir. Kitty Nijmeijer (TU / e)
Consortium: Eindhoven University of Technology, Pentair X-Flow

With our Western way of life, we use four times more materials and raw materials than are available on earth. Moreover, we produce enormous waste flows. This project develops a simple, generic method with which it is possible to make ‘membranes to measure’. The properties of these membranes can be influenced and controlled by applying different, very thin selective layers to a porous support. This makes it possible to produce membranes that are specifically suitable for, for example, the purification of industrial waste water, the recovery of valuable substances from aqueous streams or the production of clean drinking water. We can close the water cycle with custom membranes.

No time to waste

Main applicant: Prof. dr. ir. Kitty Nijmeijer (TU / e)
Consortium: Eindhoven University of Technology, Darling Ingredients International, Agrifirm, Van Drie Group, De Heus Voeders, Agra-Matic, ForFarmers Nederland

The recent nitrogen ruling from the Council of State locked the Netherlands: no expansion of airports, roads and homes and 100 instead of 130 km / h on the highway. The urgent need to reduce nitrogen emissions became painfully clear. The agricultural sector is responsible for more than 40% of these emissions, mainly from animal manure. In this research, we use Lego chemistry to develop smart membranes that can selectively extract nitrogen components from aqueous fertilizer flows. This allows the nitrogen emissions from the houses to be considerably reduced. In addition, this makes it possible to offer the valuable minerals from fertilizer flows in the correct, crop-specific ratio, which also minimizes their flushing to ground and surface water.

Swirling around of sticky particles

Main applicant: Prof. dr. ir Ruud van Ommen (TUD)
Consortium: TU Delft, BASF

In powders whose granules are very small, these granules naturally have a strong tendency to stick together: they are cohesive. In the chemical industry, catalyst powders are used to make chemical reactions run faster and cleaner. Sometimes this also requires highly cohesive powders: this can lead to problems in the production process. We are going to investigate ways to make these types of powders whirl around, for example using a pulsating gas flow, or by vibrating the device. This study is performed with both experiments and simulations.

Improve the protein factory!

Main applicant: Dr. ir. Arthur Ram (LEI)
Consortium: Leiden University, WeissBioTech

Soil fungi, such as Aspergillus niger, play a crucial role in the recycling of plant residues in nature. These residues are broken down by an arsenal of enzymes that are secreted. By genetically adapting Aspergillus and cultivating it in bioreactors, we can also make specific enzymes in large quantities. Agricultural waste streams are used as a food source. As the chemical industry is becoming increasingly dependent on biomass as a raw material, the need for suitable biocatalysts is increasing. In this project, an improved, high-producing Aspergillus host strain is designed to produce and utilize biocatalysts from Aspergillus or other sources in existing and new applications. Using advanced and smart genetic techniques, it becomes efficient, easy and fast to produce and market these enzymes economically.

Robust sensors for the agricultural and food sector

Main applicant: Dr Louis de Smet (WUR)
Consortium: Wageningen University, Stichting imec Nederland, PlantLab Groep, Metrohm Nederland

Chemical sensors are routinely used for measuring ions in water in the agricultural and food sector, among other things, and in medical applications. The current, often still expensive and relatively large sensors, have a lifespan of only a few months, partly due to degradation of certain sensor components and pollution. In this project, researchers from Wageningen University, imec-OnePlanet, PlantLab and Metrohm use chemistry to slow down degradation processes and combat pollution using new polymer materials. By integrating these molecules in ion-selective microsensors in an advanced way, the researchers expect to obtain robust sensor platforms capable of measuring various ions simultaneously.

A certifying translator for smart contracts.

Main applicant: Dr Wouter Swierstra (UU)
Consortium: Utrecht University, IOHK

Smart contracts is a collective name for the code that is executed on a blockchain. Binding agreements can be made using smart contracts, without the intervention of a notary, a bank or any other third party. Due to the strong cryptographic guarantees, however, such a smart contract cannot be modified once it has been signed by the participants. That is why it is extremely important that such a smart contract is correct and properly executed. In this study, we will prove that the smart contracts of the Cardano blockchain are correctly translated into executable code, which can then be credited to the blockchain. In fact, we will provide each smart contract with formal proof – verified by the computer – that the code executed on the blockchain behaves the same as the corresponding smart contract.

A pinch of promoter at a catalyst works wonders

Main applicant: Prof. dr. ir. Bert Weckhuysen (UU)
Consortium: Utrecht University, Umicore & Co

Auto catalysts for passenger and freight transport can become more efficient if they are able to remove carbon monoxide from exhaust gases at a low reaction temperature. Catalytic experiments show that with the help of specific promoters the precious metal platinum becomes hyperactive for the oxidation of carbon monoxide. This research project aims to better understand how these promoters can do this job with the help of advanced characterization methods, carried out under realistic operating conditions. The acquired physico-chemical insights and developed spectroscopic methods are generic and therefore applicable to many platinum-based catalysts in the chemical industry.