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ERA-NET Plus on Materials Research

Final Report Summary - MATERA+ (ERA-NET Plus on Materials Research)

Executive Summary:
The objective of MATERA+ (ERA-NET Plus on Materials Research) was the launching, management and follow-up of one Joint Call in the field of Materials (MATERA+ Call 2009). The goal of the Call was to launch transnational, interdisciplinary, innovative projects and to narrow the gap between basic materials research and industrial applications. The focus areas in the Call were: Multifunctional materials, Engineering structural materials and Bio-based and bio-inspired materials.
17 national and regional funding organizations in 13 countries participated in the MATERA+ project: Tekes/Finland, IWT/Belgium/Flanders, DGOEER/Belgium/Vallonia, AKA/Finland, MOST/Israel, MIUR/Italy, LAS/Latvia, FNR/Luxembourg, RCN/Norway, NCBR/Poland, DXIDI/Spain/Galicia, Basque Government/Spain/Basque, fmi+d/Spain/Madrid, OPET/Switzerland, TÜBITAK/Turkey, TSB/UK, MWZT/Slovenia.

The project started in 2009 by planning and defining the details for the call. The call was launched in March 2009. In May 2009, 117 pre-proposals were submitted including 560 groups in research and industry all over Europe. The pre-proposals were evaluated by national and regional MATERA+ funding organisations and 33 pre-proposals were invited to submit full proposals. The full proposals received in January 2010 were evaluated by independent evaluators and by a panel. 21 projects were selected for funding. The total public funding budgeted for these selected projects was 14,5 million euros. The EC financial contribution was 4,5 million euros and the national and regional contribution 10 million euros. The selected projects represent an intriguing and cutting-edge variety of materials research initiatives, such as nano-structured devices, high-strength light materials, organic materials for mobile electronics and new fire-retardant composites.

There are good examples of projects where high level scientific work have been carried out with IPR activities and plans for industrial implementation. It will take a couple of years before the real industrial impact can be evaluated. But already now it can be seen that the results will enhance sustainable development and industry competitiveness for the benefit of many industrial sectors in Europe like energy, transportation, construction and welfare. Interestingly, MATERA+ has successfully combined national and regional programmes in basic science with applied research and related industrial development in materials science and engineering.

MATERA+ was one of the first ERA-NET Plus projects in FP7 and also the first one for many participating funding organisations. It gave a good possibility to learn in practice more about the ERA-NET Plus scheme. According to the MATERA+ consortium, ERA-NET Plus has attractive features like the joint evaluation process, the possibility of ‘EC top up funding’ to fill funding gaps in the ranking list and stronger commitment of the participating funding organisations. On the other hand, more administrative work and less flexibility is recognised if compared with an ordinary ERA-NET project. Improvements implemented later on in the ERA-NET Plus procedures in FP7 and Horizon 2020 make the ERA-NET Plus scheme more attractive.

Project Context and Objectives:
2 A summary description of project context and objectives

2.1 Summary of project context
Materials research has a significant impact in a wide range of diverse areas such as the quality of human life, sustainable development, industrial competitiveness etc. Materials research is one of the cornerstones of the European economy, being critically important for innovations in many fields for example such as energy, environment, health and safety.

According to employment figures for R&D investment, the important industrial sectors in Europe include automotive, aerospace, chemicals, construction, electronics and energy, which rely on materials research and innovation in order to produce products with high added-value. Those sectors provide both direct and indirect employment to more than 10 million persons in tens of thousands of companies in the European Union.

The importance of materials is reflected in its prominence as a major focus area in many national and regional programmes and strategic activities. MATERA+ proposes to improve the coordination of national research activities and policies in the domain of Materials Research, while also reducing the fragmentation of research efforts made at national and regional levels.

Europe’s research in material science is currently facing strong challenges related to its weakness in transferring its knowledge to industry and the need to shorten the time-to-market of scientific outcomes. A continuous increase in the quality of research activities is also required if the best researchers are to be either retained or, attracted by, European organisations and companies.

The main objective of the MATERA+ proposal is to pool the necessary financial resources from the participating national and regional programmes and the Community and to launch a single Joint Call for Proposals (MATERA+ Call 2009) for research projects in the Materials field that to be evaluated and managed jointly by the participating programmes. This collaborative approach provides a better use of public resources, while the European Community contribution to the Joint Call budget stresses the high interest generated by this common action. The preceding ERA-NET project (MATERA Contract No 016102) and the three successfully carried joint calls in 2006, 2007 and 2008 build a good basis for launching a joint ERA-NET Plus Call.

This MATERA+ Joint Call was designed to fund transnational, interdisciplinary, innovative R&D projects related to materials science and engineering, from basic research to application-oriented research including innovation. An important expected outcome of the MATERA+ Call is to shorten the time-to-market of scientific outcomes and to narrow the gap between research and industry.
The thematic focus areas of the Joint Call are based on the strategic national/regional interests of the participating funding agencies. The joint thematic topics are: Multifunctional materials, Engineering structural materials, Bio-based materials and bio-inspired materials.

The Joint Call is carried out according to the EC ERA-NET PLUS Call practices: The Call application process will have two stages, the first Stage for Pre-Proposals and the second for Full Proposals. The Pre-Proposals will be evaluated according to relevant national/regional criteria, resulting in a list of projects selected for the second Stage. During the second Stage Full Proposals will be evaluated by external experts and a final ranking order will be determined by an independent panel. The funding decisions will be made on a national/regional level while respecting the ranking order from the international panel.
The MATERA+ Consortium consisted originally of 20 programme owners and programme managers with a committed budget for the Joint Call and resources for the coordination work. According to the original plan, the total national/regional financial contribution for the Joint Call is a minimum of 16 million Euros. The requested Community contribution (6 million Euros) is to be used for the topping up of the national and regional contributions of the Joint Call budget. A limited amount of the Commission contribution is reserved for the management of the Joint Call during the first phase of the project.

2.2 Objective
The objective of MATERA+ is to launch, manage and monitor a Joint Call in the field of materials. The MATERA+ Call aims to fund trans-national, multidisciplinary, innovative R&D projects related to materials science and engineering, from basic research to application-oriented research. The proposed projects must clearly demonstrate trans-national, collaborative R&D with a significant degree of innovation, scientific and technical challenge. The project consortia are challenged to demonstrate “value chain” or “innovation chain” spanning from basic R&D to industrial innovation. The jointly selected strategic thematic Call topics are: Multifunctional materials, Engineering structural materials, Bio-based materials and bio-inspired materials.

The implementation of the Call follows modalities similar to those used for the last transnational Calls organised by the preceding MATERA project. The ERA-NET Plus scheme includes practices not yet exercised. To allocate the final evaluation to external experts and to accept their scoring list as binding is a major step for most of the funding agencies involved. This will require adjustments at a regional/national level to existing project selection procedures. The Call is expected to generate a higher volume proposals compared to previous MATERA Calls, requiring a more sophisticated approach to manage the increased workload. The ERA-NET Plus top-up funding for the research project as financial EC contribution is available for the first time within this consortium.

The Call will be opened in March 2009. The funding decisions on national and regional level are scheduled to be made in spring 2010. The projects selected for funding will be monitored on annual bases. Impact assessment will be carried out at the end of the MATERA+ project. The project is divided in five Work Packages: WP1 Coordination, WP2 Preparation of the Joint Call, WP3 Implementation of the Joint Call, WP4 Project Monitoring and Impact Assessment, WP5 Management.

MATERA+ initiative is mainly addressed to provide support, through a common transnational Call, to mid-sized (normally under 1 million Euros) high quality research projects. The European added value of transnational cooperation will be stressed through research partnerships involving academic and industry groups typically from 3 to 5 countries.

Even when both basic research and applied projects are considered for funding, MATERA+ will prioritise those research groups which present high quality proposals linked to innovative companies which are entering emerging markets or that are looking for novel approaches and applications.
An important outcome of the MATERA+ Call will therefore be the narrowing of the gap between basic materials research and the actual introduction of the resulting knowledge to solve applied problems. This means that new innovative ideas which can be transferred to industry and applied over the short-term (less than 5 years) or mid-term timescales will be prioritized in the research endeavours supported by MATERA+.

This approach should also serve to open doors and increase the attractiveness of materials research for European scientists, as well as to provide support for new research groups and small or young companies (such as spin-offs from research organisations) coming forward with fresh ideas or looking for emerging applications.

Project Results:
3 A description of the main S&T results/foregrounds
3.1 Implementation
The MATERA+ project was successfully carried out according to the Description of Work (DoW) and the five Work Packages. The call schedule and the evaluation processes fixed the timing and activities carried out in the Work Packages.

The 17 funding organizations, in 13 countries involved in the MATERA+ project were: Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes/Finland), Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT/Belgium/Flanders), Ministry of the Walloon Region (DGOEER/Belgium/Vallonia), The Academy of Finland (AKA/Finland), Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport (MOST/Israel), Ministry of University and Research (MIUR/Italy), The Latvian Academy of Sciences (LAS/Latvia), The National Research Fund (FNR/Luxembourg), The Research Council of Norway (RCN/Norway), The National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR/Poland), Consellería de Economia e Industria. Xunta de Galicia (DXIDI/Spain/Galicia), The Industry, Innovation, Trade and Tourism Department of the Basque Government (Basque Government/Spain/Basque), Fundación madrimasd para el Conocimiento (fmi+d/Spain/Madrid), Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology (OPET/Switzerland), The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK/Turkey), Technology Strategy Board (TSB/UK), Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology (MWZ/Slovenia). The Icelandic Centre for Research (RANNIS/Iceland), Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI/UK/Northern Ireland) and Institute for the Development of Madrid Region (IMADE/Spain/Madrid) withdrew from MATERA+ because they were not involved in the funding of the selected trans-national projects.

3.2 Main results
3.2.1 Preparation of the joint Call (WP2)
For launching the call a set of call documents was prepared. Even though the main call principles were already fixed in the DoW the details still required a thorough work out. The set of call documents consisted of flyer, guidelines, FAQ, pre-proposal form, pre-proposal evaluation form, full proposal form and full proposal evaluation form.

An electronic proposal handling tool was developed for efficient proposal submission, evaluation and finally for monitoring of the selected projects. e-Intelligent S.L. was selected as the sub-contractor to develop the electronic tool.

To promote the call a dissemination plan was defined. The most effective call promotion took place on national and regional level via the normal dissemination channels and events by the participating funding organisations. The call was also published in ‘Material Today’ as requested in the ERA-NET Plus rules.

Naturally, MATERA+ website (www.materaplus.net) was used as the MATERA+ level dissemination channel. The website included the call documents and also the link to submit the proposals in the electronic submission tool. An on-line partnering search tool was also built in the website.

3.2.2 Implementation of the joint Call (WP3)
Pre-proposals

In the first stage of the Call, 114 pre-proposals with almost 560 partners were received. Industrial involvement was good, 41% of the partners were from industry. The total requested funding was about 90 million Euros.

Based on the national and regional evaluations, 34 pre-proposals were selected to be invited to the second stage (173 partners, 41% from industry, requested funding 25 million Euros). The selection in the first stage was tight showing that fitting the different national criteria is challenging. Based on the internal survey, it can be concluded that funding organisations were satisfied with the pre-proposal stage. Nevertheless, some concerns have been expressed on the rather long time frame. To shorten the procedure is a challenge for the next calls.

Full proposals
In the second stage, 33 full proposals were received. The requested funding was 24,3 million Euros. The evaluation process with a remote evaluation and a panel meeting followed. EC selection criteria were used:
• Scientific and/or technological excellence
• Quality and efficiency of implementation and management
• Potential impact.

First, three external experts were jointly selected to evaluate the proposals on-line via the electronic tool. After that in a panel meeting, six jointly selected experts evaluated and ranked the proposals utilising the results of the remote evaluation. At the end, there were 21 projects which were above the threshold (3/5) and were proposed to be funded. An independent observer participated in the panel meeting and confirmed the fairness of the evaluation process.

After the panel meeting, MATERA+ Management Group endorsed the selection list and agreed on the use of the EC financial contribution for the selected projects. The 21 selected projects included 106 partners. The funding approved was 15,4 million Euros including 5 million Euros as EC contribution and 10,5 million Euros national and regional funding.

Almost half of the project partners were from industry. Especially, the big share of SMES (26%) can be regarded as a successful outcome. The balance between research organisations and enterprises was good and reflected well the goal to narrow the gap between research and industrial applications.

The selected projects represent an intriguing and cutting-edge variety of materials research initiatives, such as nano-structured devices, high-strength light materials, organic materials for mobile electronics and new fire-retardant composites. Interestingly, MATERA+ successfully combined national and regional programmes in basic science with applied research and related industrial development in materials science and engineering.

The financial contracts with the applicants were signed according to the national and regional procedures and schedules. Most of the selected projects started in fall 2010. In some funding organisations, internal changes in the procedures were required to implement the ERA-NET Plus activities. Unfortunately, in some cases this was quite challenging and slow causing delays in launching the selected projects.

Based on the internal survey, the consortium was satisfied with the evaluation process.

3.2.3 Monitoring and impact assessment (WP4)
Monitoring
The monitoring of the selected projects took place on two levels. On national and regional level the local funding organisations followed the progress of their projects using their normal monitoring procedures. On MATERA+ level, a monitoring module was built in the electronic tool. The coordinators of the selected projects were requested to give on-line progress reports annually.

The selected cross-national projects were successfully carried out mainly as planned. The tight ERA-NET Plus schedule (max 5 years) caused some challenges. It is too early to say what the real impact of these projects will be on industry. But already now there are promising indications of high level scientific work with IPR activities and plans for industrial implementation.

Impact assessment
Two surveys have been performed in MATERA+ to monitor the impact of the joint call initiative.
The first survey was done in 2011. The general purpose of this survey was to get feedback from participating funding agencies. The second survey was done in 2013 with the general purpose of getting feedback from the leaders of the selected projects.

In general, the funding agencies are satisfied with the participation in MATERA+. The ERA-NET Plus scheme is a good tool to increase cooperation and understanding between national/regional funding organisations and programmes in spite of the increased bureaucracy involved in managing the EU top up funding. The ERA-NET Plus instrument includes improvements in the evaluation and selection procedure when comparing with the preceding ordinary MATERA project to MATERA+.

Based on the survey done among the leaders of the cross-national projects, industrial products are the most frequent output of the projects (50% of all projects), followed by fundamental knowledge how to meet crucial societal challenges (22%) and generic fundamental knowledge (17%). In respect to expected industrial products of the project, the frame for commercial implementation is less than 3 years, actually shared equally with less than one year. Also, it was stated that the project leader is crucial to establish the project and to attract new partners not yet cooperating. The money involved in the call has a tremendous additionally for realization of the projects. And finally, the ERA-NET+ initiative lead to permanent new R&D cooperation within, and outside the EU framework.

All these findings support the overall ambition of MATERA+ to promote cooperation and networks to be established between European researchers and companies specialized in the field of material sciences and engineering.

3.2.4 Coordination and management (WP1, WP5)
The management structure of the MATERA+ project consisted of the Management Group (= all participating funding organisations), Coordination Team (= WP leaders) and the Coordination Office. The collaboration was active and fluent from the beginning based on the cooperation in the previous MATERA project.

The following meetings were organised:
Management Group Meeting (kick off), 28 October 2008, Brussels, Belgium
Working Group Meeting, 20-21 January 2009, Rome, Italy
Working Group Meeting, 3 March 2009, Brussels, Belgium
Management Group and Selection Meetings, 1-2 September 2009, Istanbul, Turkey
Working Group Meeting, 26-27 January 2010, Bilbao, Spain
Panel and Management Group Meetings, 24-25 April 2010, Helsinki, Finland
Management Group Meeting, 31 May 2011, Budapest, Hungary
Working Group Meeting, 18 June 2012, Copenhagen, Denmark
Management Group Meeting, 12 September 2012, Bucharest, Romania
Management Group Meeting, 22 January 2014, Liege, Belgium

The interim and periodic reporting to the EC was done according to the schedule defined in the DoW. Several requests for amendments to the grant agreement and administrative challenges related to the new ERA-NET Plus instrument in FP7 required more resources and time than originally estimated.

Potential Impact:
4 The potential impact
The anticipated impact of MATERA+ in the long run is improvements in the quality of human life, improvements in the area of sustainable development and improvements in the competitiveness of the European industry. The importance of materials as an enabling discipline for these improvements is widely recognised. Some of the most important industrial sectors in Europe such as automotive, aerospace, chemicals, construction, electronics and energy, rely on materials research and innovation in order to produce high added value products. Those sectors provide direct employment, not to mention indirect jobs, to more than 10 million persons in several tens of thousands of companies in the European Union. Many European countries obtain significant results out of materials research in areas such as Macroscale materials, Biomaterials, Nanomaterials and Smart materials. These European countries are as highly competitive on a world scale with others such as the U.S.A. and Japan when the rate of publications per million inhabitants is considered.

The unique feature of the MATERA+ activity is to bind together national and regional programmes on basic science, applied research and industrial related development in materials science and engineering. Thus new impulses and findings from science to appraisals of industrial utilisation can be introduced much more quickly than in any other on-going materials research related network. Most of the MATERA+ partner organisations have research collaboration with research groups outside Europe. Thus MATERA+ cooperation offers very good mechanisms of bringing new ideas for industrial utilisation almost world wide.

The impact of this ERA-NET Plus project is complementary to the impact of the previous MATERA project (ERA-NET on Materials). Most of the national and regional programme owners and managers involved in the MATERA+ proposal have worked together since early 2005 through the MATERA project launched in FP6. The fact that an annual set of calls in the materials field has been continued since 2006 provides a basis for deep trans-national links involving policy-makers, agencies and other stakeholders in the materials research field. Thus, broadening and deepening this cooperation as an ERA-NET Plus project has been a next step in the further development of joint activities with anticipated positive impacts on the European Research Area. The acquaintance and trust between the partners built a strong foundation for a successful ERA-NET Plus project. The cooperation and annual calls have continued successfully in the M-ERA.NET project which started in 2012.

MATERA+ intends to improve the coordination of national research activities and policies in the domain of materials research, looking forward to reducing fragmentation of research efforts made at national and regional level. By cross-learning and good practice exchange between the participating agencies both regional/national and joint procedures can be improved to build a stronger European research field for materials. By joining the national and regional interests, the use of the public resources will be more effective. For the researchers and enterprises the improvement of the public research programmes offers opportunities to reach financial support for project size, cooperation frame and topics which are not covered by other European schemes. For the small and medium size companies who are active in the field of materials MATERA+ offers an attractive way to start R&D cooperation with the European partners because of the local, familiar funding agencies and procedures.

From a European perspective, the MATERA+ consortium covers quite a large European area including many main policy makers both on the national and regional level in this field. In order to broaden the European impact, one of the tasks is the promotion of the MATERA+ towards relevant policy making and programme financing organisations not yet participating in MATERA+. The goal is to enlarge the geographical cooperation frame and to extend it to countries outside the current consortium. For the organisations outside Europe this network offers one contact point through which many programme owners and managers in Europe can be reached. In 2012, a new ERA.NET project on materials, micro and nanotechnology was launched (M-ERA.NET). It is the next step taken to continue, improve and enlarge the European cooperation between national/regional strategic programmes. M-ERA.NET has a good European coverage with 36 funding organisations and also partners outside Europe.

The MATERA+ Joint Call focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to materials research and on the synergies derived from cooperation at an international level. The objective is to launch, manage and monitor trans-national, multidisciplinary, innovative R&D projects related to materials science and engineering. MATERA+ will thus help reinforcing the impetus in collaboration between research groups and companies from different countries, supporting their views and strategies for development in a multi-lateral and international environment. This is an encouragement to researchers and enterprises to cooperate at a European scale, supporting the creation of viable networks of collaboration. Even when both science and applied projects can be considered for funding, MATERA+ will give priority to those research groups presenting high quality proposals linked to innovative companies which enter emerging markets or are looking for novel approaches and solutions. Thus MATERA+ aims to have a strong impact on European industries and economy, helping them becoming more and more competitive.

4.1 Main dissemination activities and exploitation of results
As an ERA-NET Plus project, the results of MATERA+ fall in two categories: the production of scientific and applied knowledge and the improvement of coordination between national/regional programmes and policies.

The exploitation and dissemination of the scientific and applied knowledge produced in the R&D projects funded by MATERA+ will be on the responsibility of the respective projects. The funding organisations involved will require and monitor carefully that the exploitation and dissemination activities will be carried out effectively. To support the dissemination, the list of the selected trans-nationaI projects with basic information is on the MATERA+ web-site.

The experiences and lessons learned on carrying out an ERA-NET Plus project have been distributed further to other ERA-NET consortia. Best practices will be implemented also in the M-ERA.NET project.


List of Websites:
5 The address of the project public website
Information on MATERA+ and the trans-national projects is available on the website www.materaplus.net.

For further information on the MATERA+ project, please, contact:
Sisko Sipilä
Chief Advisor, MATERA+ Coordinator
Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation
tel +358 1060 55845
email sisko.sipila@tekes.fi