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Building an Ecosystem for the up-scaling of lightweight multi-functional concrete and ceramic materials and structures

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LightCoce (Building an Ecosystem for the up-scaling of lightweight multi-functional concrete and ceramic materials and structures)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

During the last decades a trend towards the use of lightweight materials in constructions and infrastructures, as well as for the aerospace, automotive and defence industry is observed. Lightweight durable components are easy to transport, handle and install and demand less operational energy reducing substantially their environmental footprint, as well as the relative costs. Among other materials, concrete and ceramics are on the focus of interest due to their wide range of applications and their durability. Based on end applications lightweight attributes must be coupled with enhanced properties and multifunctionalities, such as high wear and mechanical strength, self-sensing, self-cleaning properties, which can be achieved with the addition of nanoparticles (NPs) to formulations. Lightweight and nano-enabled materials represent today a growing market covering different sectors. Europe is leading research efforts in this domain with several RTDs and high-tech SMEs engaged in fine tuning formulations, solving several technological bottlenecks and manufacturing new products. Although, various open innovation platforms exist in domains such as Digital Innovation Hubs, when it comes to material science, the connection and distributed exploitation of Pilot Lines (PLs) suffer due to several barriers. Pilots are bulky and expensive facilities, which in most of the cases require upgrades to be modular and flexible in application, validating new processing techniques while optimising process parameters, from uniform dispersion and distribution of nano-particles within the materials to the association of dissimilar materials. There is also a local dimension and cultural barriers associated with the fact that most of the users are SMEs. For this reasons, although various new technologies related to lightweight concrete and ceramics have been developed, the majority of these efforts remain on a lab or in restricted pilot level with limited exploitation capacity for further industrialization due to a number of reasons.
The main objective of the LightCoce project is to cover the gap in the upscaling and testing of multifunctional lightweight concrete and ceramic materials by providing open access to SMEs and Industry to Pilot Lines (PLs) through a one stop shop ecosystem consisting of upgraded Pilot Lines (including three clusters of PLs; Concrete, Conventional Ceramics and Advanced Ceramics), characterisation & testing facilities, process modelling, quality assurance and monitoring, and standardisation, safety and innovation management services that will be accessible to the clients at fair conditions and cost. The ecosystem will be reached from customers through a single-entry point.
The value proposition of LightCoce is based on four main elements of high value for business and in particular SMEs, namely access to Pilot Lines and associated technology and competence (including IP and talents), access to network, access to finance and access to international markets. In this framework, the overall objective of LightCoce is to create the European wide reference network of PLs for the development, expertise, technology validation facilities and transfer services to industry and SMEs for advanced materials applications ranging from constructions materials, and infrastructures, to high tech applications in automotive and aerospace industry.
Several challenges of the targeted markets are difficult to be cost-effectively addressed without advanced materials, taking into account also the lightweight and durability dimensions and the disruption to business. The validation of viable solutions in full scale within the project will allow to set-up effective demonstrators which are key in conservative sectors. This will create awareness in industry and society and will initiate a virtuous loop which may ultimately trigger market take-up.
The effort during the first reporting period of the project was dedicated to the setup of the ecosystem groups, which included the upgrading of the pilot lines, along with the integration of monitoring and quality control systems, and the fine-tuning of the cross-sectorial services, so as to be prepared for the provision of services to the industry. In particular, the five pilot lines have been set up and are ready to operate,while peripheral systems were installed targeting to the nanomaterials homogenisation. Process monitoring and quality control systems have been integrated with the ultimate goal to maximize performances and reproducibility of manufacturing processes, while ensuring high industrial productivity. All cross sectorial services offered by the ecosystem, as well as characterisation facilities, have been organized to be fully operational during the validation phase.
Additionally, the administrative and operational activities towards the setup of the LightCoce ecosystem have been carried out during the whole duration of the first reporting period. The organization structure of the single entry point that will operate the LightCoce ecosystem has been specified, with the aim to provide a unique production environment, but also help end users have a holistic solution as clients, allowing them to test all aspects from properties to regulatory aspects and
from safety to dedicated business plans for the end users, all in one place. Assessment of pricing policies and investigation of additional funding sources have been initiated, while the data management plan has been developed.
With respect to the progress beyond the state of the art, most advancements determined are expected to be achieved once the LightCoce ecosystem is established and operating. The major advancement during the first reporting period has been achieved with regards to the LightCoce pilot lines, since real time monitoring and quality control systems have been integrated, along with peripheral systems to enhance the nanoparticles' dispersion, where required, so as to ensure the control of process parameters to result in reproducible processes and products with high quality.

Once the LightCoce ecosystem is established and ready to operate, it is expected to have the following impacts:
- Open and upgraded facilities at the EU level for the design, development, testing, safety assessment, and upscaling of lightweight, nano-enabled and multifunctional materials and components, easily accessible to users
- Attract a significant number of new SME users, with at least a 20% increase for existing test beds
- Increased access to finance for investing in these materials or in applications
- Improved industrial process parameters and faster verification of materials performance for highly promising applications
- improvement in industrial productivity, reliability, environmental performance, durability, and reduction of life-cycle costs of these materials
- Indirect reduction in energy consumption across sectors using lighter materials in their products and processes
As already mentioned, the first reporting period focused on the preparation of the LightCoce ecosystem, the operation of which will be validated, re-adjusted, if required, and demonstrated through the test cases brought by the industrial partners of the consortium (from month 22) and the new test cases that will reach the ecosystem through the open call at month 30.