Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - PRONANO (Promoting technology transfer of nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies)

Executive summary:

PRONANO project aimed at validating new practices to remove the major barriers that prevent results out of scientific research projects on nanotechnology field from reaching market applications: market barriers (insufficient analysis related to markets potential or cost and revenue estimates), technology barriers (poor performance adaptation in front of better existing technical solutions), financial barriers (lack of understanding the investor requirements and 'information asymmetry' between 'technologists' and potential investors), managerial barriers (lack of team experience with development of business models and financial plans leading to the underestimation of time to market and financial requirements).

Managed by experienced innovation consultant firms and venture capitalist from several European countries and involving European and national nanotechnology networks and platforms, PRONANO promoted existing results of scientific research projects available in European Union (EU) research centres that had not yet been exploited, through assistance to the entrepreneurial teams connected to such research work.
% First, existing research results were identified and screened for evaluation of their commercial potential. The technical information was completed by a business-relevant analysis of technological competitive markets, road maps to financing and management issues leading to draft business plans. Then, potential entrepreneurs and investors were associated to this process and coached by technology transfer and innovation professionals including specialists in venture capital/ private equity financing and banking instruments. The most promising nanotechnologies among the identified research results were made ready to be developed into business proposals for start-up companies or licensed for sale to industry.

During the first half of the project the PRONANO team evaluated, with a defined first evaluation process, 50 research teams with very promising nano-results crediting excellent potential to commercialisation. The main objective of that first half period was achieved as more than 30 chosen teams for promoting were distributed among the technology transfer professional project partners for the coaching process.

Even though the removal of all the micro barriers is beyond the scope of the project, it is within its scope to highlight the most significant ones and, by selecting a number of dedicated projects, to demonstrate how it is possible to bring selected RTD outputs fully or partially into the exploitation and commercialisation processes.

As final results and impact, some 10 coached technology business opportunities have reached final decisions on commercialisation/financing/acquisition by the end of the PRONANO contract. This coordination and support action (CSA) has facilitated raising about 17 times its own EC contribution in investments into the technology business opportunities successfully coached. In other words, PRONANO got some 10 commercialisation success cases out of the 50 technology business opportunities initially identified and assessed, leading to a 20 % commercialisation success rate. Additionally, some other five coached technology business opportunities are pending success cases in the pipeline for end 2012 / early 2013.

PRONANO ultimately aimed at closing investment deals to prove the approach successful (completing full financing rounds to venture capital investors/established businesses, or licensing agreements). Lessons learnt during the project and policy recommendations have been discussed and fine-tuned both with other CSA funded under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) addressing the barriers for commercialisation of nanotechnologies and with representatives of policy makers and stakeholders. They have also been made public through the dissemination channels set up by the CSA 'Nanofutures' and other dissemination platforms.

Project context and objectives:

nanotechnology has the ability to become the most promising technology advance for this century. It offers a huge potential of applications and economic benefits significantly contributing to the European economy. Europe holds a strong position in nanosciences that needs to be translated into a real competitive advantage for European industry through nanotechnologies. In order to promote the step change in industrial performance that is needed and to develop a research and technological development (RTD) intensive European nanotechnology related industry, two aspects are strongly required:

1. the exploration of new concepts and approaches for sectoral applications, including the integration and convergence of emerging technologies at nanoscaled
2. the uptake of nanotechnologies in existing industrial sectors

The main role of nanotechnologies will be to enable both the manufacturing of new, higher performance 'nano-enabled' services, products, components, devices and systems across a range of applications and the development of totally new manufacturing processes.

In the nanotechnology sector, technology development cycle is still largely driven by public funding, since:

1. time between research and commercialisation is estimated to be three to 10 years. Venture capitalists and other sources of funding find this time factor to be a detriment.
2. the so-called 'valley of death' is the often fatal interlude between scientific results of the researcher and initial funding for proto-typing and commercialisation. The commercialisation of nanotechnology scientific investment has little relationship to the hi-tech dot.com, software commercialisation paradigm. This is a serious gap between research and commercialisation that must be addressed by government agencies and the venture capitalists.

As general objective, the PRONANO support action aimed at testing and validating new practices to remove the major barriers that prevent results out of scientific research projects on nano field from reaching market applications: market barriers (insufficient analysis related to markets potential or cost and revenue estimates), technology barriers (poor performance adaptation in front of better existing technical solutions), financial barriers (lack of understanding the investor requirements and 'information asymmetry' between 'technologists' and potential investors), managerial barriers (lack of team experience with development of business models and financial plans leading to the underestimation of time to market and financial requirements).

In order to achieve the general objective, the next operational objectives have been covered by the present PRONANO support action:

1. to identify the specific barriers for larger private investments in the nanotechnology field
2. to adapt and implement a methodology capable of overcoming the key barriers that still prevent nanotechnology research laboratories from turning scientific research results into commercially viable innovations
3. to network and converge all the stakeholders relevant for technology transfer and commercial exploitation (i.e. research, industry, investors, finance experts, technology transfer professionals) which will help overcoming the above barriers
4. to promote the uptake of new technologies or developments in the nano field through private investment into a start-up structure
5. to promote the uptake of new technologies or developments in the nano field through licensing by European companies
6. to make both project deliverables and lessons learned during this project widely available to the whole set of European players in the field.

Hence, the PRONANO support action ambitions have given the opportunity to nanotechnology research laboratories:

1. to assess new RTD project outputs that might be transferred to industry through industrialisation and commercialisation steps
2. to link with other RTD or business partners in order to develop such innovative technologies and/or services in line and in full co-ordination with the policy objectives of the EU and the Member States on the use of nanotechnologies
3. to assess and to secure the business plans of the resulting RTD outputs, refined from their brute form as available within the deliverables of the European Community (EC), national or regional RTD projects
4. to access private funds which are available over Europe in that field.

The specific objectives of PRONANO along its different work-packages have been:

1. to identify the principal research centres and technology intensive companies in the nano field in order to select at least 50 scientific RTD results available in European public research centres and technology intensive companies and not yet commercially exploited. In a second stage the objective has been to evaluate and select up to 30 research results with good commercialisation potential for further promotion and to distribute the selected research results among the technology transfer professional project partners.
2. to prepare a 'learning by doing' approach, in such a way that research centre managers, project leaders and transfer teams know about the business plan construction process, where route(s) for valorisation will be translated into market prospects to valorise RTD outputs.

This learning by doing approach has helped to make the link between:

1. the RTD results as they stand at the beginning of the training session (probably not packaged, in a brute form out of the research project)
2. the existence (or not) of an innovation management team which might be ready to communicate on the result added value
3. the design of the innovation team involving the manufacturers and marketers of the technology to reach market application
4. the potential technology marketers (for which early contacts have been taken or not), which expect a business plan.

In addition, the specific project objectives also included:

1. to establish between the nano RTD results selected, the best realistic possibility to be turned into commercial operation by licensing or to achieve private equity financing, eventually in combination with public financial support. For this explicitly the market and technological barriers had to be addressed. The aim was also to develop a principle commercialisation model as a basis to decide on the most promising route for commercialisation and to extract general lessons learned from this process and to make these experiences and case stories available for broader dissemination.
2. to support the selected research results in the commercialisation process through spin off route and to draw general applicable lessons from the implementation process, with the objective to disseminate lessons learned to the wider relevant public. The operational objectives in each one of the supporting process are to establish an adequate entrepreneur team providing them with information and coaching on selecting the optimal business model and elements in the central business planning, which are specifically prepared to fit the type of projects selected and the requirements of potential investors to be contacted. Other complementary objectives have been to prepare management teams for investor presentation and negotiation and to identify relevant investors to be approached, to encourage investors to evaluate the projects and to participate in meetings with investors whenever required.
3. to support selected research results in the commercialisation process through license deals and to draw general applicable lessons from the implementation process, with the objective to disseminate lessons learned to the wider relevant public. The implementation of these activities has been made through the support of the project drivers, helping them to set up clear and precise pictures ?'mini' business plans- to be discussed with potential recipient companies in order to facilitate the feasibility assessment of the business opportunity, by checking the present market and sector situation, the technology performance and application potential and the chances of success deriving from the expected ratio 'investment and costs / incomes and benefits'.

Other complementary objectives have been:

1. to prepare technology brokerage contacts for the presentation of business opportunities based on new nano research ready to be taken up by industry and a marketing campaign in order to raise awareness among potential investors and / or industrial companies for technology procurement opportunities. After these contacts a custom-made technical assistance has been provided to those companies who were identified and confirmed their further interest on specific introduced technologies in order to facilitate the obtaining of technology transfer agreements amongst the technology owners and the identified companies.
2. to spread Europe-wide the project activities and results in order to attract interest from companies and investors for the exploitation of innovative RTD results, to inform about best practices and lessons learned during the project implementation and to reach the wider public. Specific attention has been paid to an effective dissemination to the outside so that the experience accumulated during the project is made available for further initiatives in the field of innovation and technology transfer to all groups involved. Specific dissemination activities were targeted to the broader financing community and the industry with nano applications. A good practice manual provides recommendations and guidelines concerning the commercialisation process of research results in general and an improved communication of researchers towards the business and finance world. Other complementary objectives were to elaborate a set of lessons learned and policy recommendations concerning the general context of promoting commercialisation of research results in the nano field. A final dissemination policy workshop has highlighted the findings of the project and presented it to all interested stakeholders from research, industry, finance, as well as decision-and policy makers.

Project results:

As said above, some 10 coached technology business opportunities have reached final decisions on commercialisation/financing/acquisition by the end of the PRONANO contract. Additionally, some other five coached technology business opportunities are pending success cases in the pipeline for end 2012 / early 2013.

Most of those successful or promising technology business opportunities are described hereafter based on non-sensitive information which has been previously disclosed for dissemination purposes with the approval of the respective research teams.

Title: Hydrogel system for three-dimensional (3-D) cell culture

The life science company Cellendes in Germany has developed synthetic hydrogels that make it possible to culture cells in three-dimensional environments. Their invention has fundamental advantages over other hydrogels for 3-D cultivation, also on the market.

Many researchers culture cells in flat dishes, two-dimensional culture systems. A disadvantage is that the cells behave differently than they would in a living organism. To offer an environment that resembles the living organism better, the research team has developed synthetic transparent hydrogels for three-dimensional applications within their life science company Cellendes (Cell-Environment-Design).

Compared to other hydrogels on the market theirs can be much easier modified with bioactive factors such as peptides right at the bench. So customers can choose which peptides they want to include in their culture. They can either purchase them from the spin-off or have their own being synthesised. Secondly, the concentration of bioactive factors, such as peptides, in their gels can be much higher than in the competitors' gels.

The hydrogels are made in a few minutes by combining two solutions in the form of an activated polymer and a cross-linking agent. Through a chemical reaction the polymers use the agent to link themselves together and a three-dimensional network, where the average pore is about eight nanometres wide, forms. Before the linking occurs it is possible to bind biofactors to the polymer and mix in cells.

The biggest challenge, from a technical point of view, during the development of the hydrogels has been to make these components reproducible. At the moment the research team is trying to make it possible to store and ship the gels at room temperature and not in refrigerated conditions, to save costs in shipping. They also want to make the gels form a little bit slower. The gels form so fast that it is sometimes difficult to mix the two different solutions completely.

Almost all of Cellendes' customers are doing basic research within the field of the life sciences. However, their hydrogels could also be useful in the chemical industry and within drug and cosmetic development. Efforts are made to reduce the number of experimental animal tests. In their system the cells are cultured in a more natural environment and could replace certain animal models.

Title: Antireflexive structures

Most people wearing glasses, probably read by looking through a tiny, transparent layer of nanomaterial. Anti-reflective coatings (ARCs), based on nanomaterials that reduce the amount of reflected light, are used in most optical devices, including glasses, photo lenses, television (TV) screens, solar cells, light emitting diodes (LED) lights and many others.

Some of the most efficient ARCs are made by mother nature and are found in the eyes of insects. The eyes of moths, for example, are covered with a layer of tiny bumps which are smaller than the wavelength of incoming light. This natural coating eliminates glare, hiding the moths from predators and improving their nocturnal vision. Some types of ARCs actually mimic the moth's eye. These coatings are effective, but they are relatively expensive and difficult to customise.

A group at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart has developed a new way to produce moth eye-like coatings. According to the inventors, the resulting coatings have a cost similar to that of classic ARCs and can be easily customised.

The manufacturing process developed at the Max Planck Institute- which uses gold nanoparticles - produces regular, tiny bumps similar to that found in the moths' eyes. Structural parameters such as period, height and shape of these structures can be easily controlled, say the German research group, which has formed a spin-off team to exploit and commercialise their solution.

Title: Saxray

More than a century after their discovery, x-rays still claim their place in medicine and science. Analytic methods based on x-rays, such as diffraction or spectroscopy, are particularly valuable in research and development, since they allow studying the structure of matter at the atomic level to develop new smart materials.

Building an x-ray laboratory in miniature size is the vision of this startup. To build an x-ray laboratory in miniature (say, the size of a cell phone), you need three things: a source producing x-rays, an optic shaping a beam and a detector that reads them. Conventional sources of x-rays are difficult to miniaturize because they require a high voltage and cooling systems. Their source, instead, is based on so called piezoelectric crystals that produce high intense x-rays when heated, without the need of high power consumptions. This process has been available for several years; they applied it in a miniature system.

The optic is their most innovative component. They have built an optical device that can adjust its optimal position automatically and monitors the beam properties with the help of software. Focusing X-rays can be very time-consuming, because of their shorter wavelengths. You need to be 1000 times more precise than with normal light. For certain studies, it may take several hours to adjust the focus using conventional x-ray equipment. With their 'autofocusing' optic, this time can be reduced significantly. Also, they do not need additional devices for validate the calibration or to monitor the beam properties. This allows obtaining a high-performance system, which is essential to meet the increasing demand for higher quality and precision in material research.

They have built a prototype to test the performance and long-term stability of different fabrication methods and they are improving the software.

Title: Kinnactia

The research team has developed a range of cationic polymeric soft particle materials (SPMs) through a novel manufacturing process. This process, subject of a patent application, can be used to control the nature of the SPMs in a way that is both specific and reproducible. SPMs have widespread applications across many industry sectors but Kinnactia will focus on the high value market applications of its existing SPMs in pharmaceutical, diagnostic and cosmetic markets. In addition the company is planning the introduction of a wider range of SPMs.

Title: MAST carbon

The company works in the area of high performance carbon materials. Basically we make two kinds of carbon from different polymers. The Novacarb materials, which they make from phenolic resin and the c-tex carbon cloth materials, which they make from viscose rayon. The phenolic resin makes the beads and the monoliths and the c-tex is where they convert the viscose rayon into carbon fibre.

They take polymers and bake them at high temperatures (typically 800 hundred centigrades) and the baking process converts the polymers into carbon - it's a bit like burning toast but more sophisticated. The carbon has a very large surface area, you can think of it like a sponge with holes in it. These holes are very small and because of this the area becomes very large and the two things go together, the smaller the holes, the bigger the surface area. This is where nano comes into their material, since the holes in the material are down around one to ten nanometres. These materials all have in common an internal structure made of holes and since they have extremely large surface areas they are very efficient at adsorbing things.

They have an equal effort into the areas that are clean-up devices (such as air purification) and protection devices (for first response chemical defence) and have a quite large involvement in the electrochemistry area (for instance supercapacitors for energy storage).

They are also looking at biomedical uses and in this case they look at processing liquids, in particular blood filtration. For instance, if one thinks of dialysis, where the kidneys remove toxins from the blood, when the kidneys fail dialysis is the only current way of removing these. They are now looking at direct blood filtration with their carbons, as this method can remove a wider range of problem molecules.

Title: Graphene materials

Graphenea is an initiative emerging to exploit the graphene potential as a material for the future. It is focused on manufacturing a new nanomaterial with innovative physico-electrical properties applicable to different industry context (semiconductors, integrated circuits, ultracapacitors, etc.). The Graphenea team has already manufactured the first cells in laboratory controlled environment (London Imperial College). Graphenea will produce and commercialise its first cells (3 to 4') which will be devoted to satisfy the demand coming from laboratories and European and American research centres.

Title: Superconducting single photon detectors

Detecting a single photon may seem overkill for most purposes. However, looking at such tiny amounts of light is essential for researchers working with quantum computers as well as for chip manufacturers, just to mention two examples. Two scientists from the University of Delft, have developed a way to double the efficiency of currently commercially available single photons detectors. In early 2012, they have founded a company to commercialize their technology.

Their device is based on a superconducting nano-wire. It is basically a five nanometres-thick wire that becomes a superconductor if it is cooled at extremely low temperatures, below -270 °C. A single photon hitting the superconducting wire is enough to produce a signal that can be sent to an optical fibre and detected. The wire itself sits on a small chip and can be manufactured in different shapes, a grid or a spiral, for example.

The original technology for nano-wire detectors was developed by other groups in the United States (US) and Russia, but the efficiency was low. The Dutch research team modified the design of such device so that the detection efficiency would be significantly improved. They used different materials as substrate and they added a sort of mirror behind the nano-wire that reflects the photons back, multiplying their impact. The resulting efficiency is twice that of currently available single photon detectors in the infrared spectrum.

To date, people working with single photons are mostly scientists. For example, there are lots of studies on quantum computers that use single photons as bits. Chip manufacturers also use single photon detectors to check their products: working chips emit a very tiny light that can be detected with the suitable equipment. And in the future, single photon detectors will be likely used for medical imaging.

Title: Ecological sensitive ionic sensors from track etched membrane

Heavy metals coming from industrial waste, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, nickel and zinc are some of the most dreaded pollutants in water and EU laws strictly limit their concentration in the water we drink. Measuring these pollutants is commonplace but cumbersome. A sample of water has to be collected and carried to a laboratory, where it takes days (at best) to get the results.

A group of researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique (EP) in Palaiseau, near Paris, have developed a tiny film that could speed up the process dramatically. The 'nano-factor' is within the film itself: billions of nanopores per square cm that trap metals like a sponge, making them immediately available for analysis. Their new system is portable, provides immediate results and therefore may change the way we monitor water quality.

Research teams and companies around the world are developing membranes to filter water. The research team realised that they could adapt the structure of the membrane to work as a trap for metal ions. The two ideas are similar and opposite: a filtering membrane is a tiny sheet of polycarbonate with holes of a diameter of 30 to 40 nanometres, called nanopores, that let the water flow and filter out impurities. Their sensor membrane, instead, is made with another polymer called PVDF and with nanopores that trap water and any metal ions that come with it. Basically, it works like a sponge. The system also works as a sensor, because metals ions change the electrical properties of the membrane. If we apply two electrodes at the membrane, we can measure the concentration of metals with a standard electrochemical test, which is relatively straightforward.

With their system you don't need to bring a sample to the laboratory, because you can use it on site. At the same time, their data show that the sensitivity and accuracy are comparable to the current laboratory standards. Their system may be ideal to assess the quality of drinking water pumped from lakes, reservoirs or rivers, for example, or to monitor pollution from industrial waste. By providing immediate results, it could really change the way we monitor water quality, as far as heavy metals are concerned.

Title: Window pane coating technology for shading and solar power creation

This technology is capable to adjust the intensity of the incoming light and at the same time converting the unused light in electricity. The electrical connections are invisible. The window can switch in 3 modes: a dark mode, an opaque mode (privacy) and a bright mode. The window can be delivered in any desired colour and the generated energy can be used in different ways. The first generation will use the power make the window autonomous. Beside this autonomous option, it can also be used to power an integrated active ventilation system in a second generation. The third generation will be introduced with a feed in option.

Title: Bio optical detection

BIOD aims to develop high quality, cheap point of care diagnostic and High Throughput Screening (process through which one can rapidly identify active compounds, antibodies or genes which modulate a particular biomolecular pathway)based on a technology not yet developed in today's market that allows for multiple diagnoses in a square inch without the need for classical detection systems such as markings fluorescent, magnetic ink, chromatography etc, which involve chemicals our label-free detection system does not.

They have developed and patented (patent approved in Spain and underway in Europe), a technology based on what they call BICELLs, biophotonic sensing cells, that is the design of biophotonic biosensitive cells that change in their optical properties.

If for example one wants to make a detector of prostate cancer, as there is an antibody (bioreceptor) that selectively recognises if you have a prostate specific antigen, what you do is immobilize, i.e. put on your biosensor the bioreceptor that only recognises the antigen. When some kind of molecule is recognised in these cells the optical properties change. Therefore when we 'optically interrogate' these cells we know thanks to the optical response if certain types of biomolecules have actually been recognised. In other words, when you throw a drop for instance of urine on your detection chip, if there exist that selective antigen, the biodetector will capture it. This antigen antibody affinity reaction is what the sensitive biocells developed within BIOD detect.

The main part of the biophotonic cells are nanostructures, nanopillars. Each nanopillar is a sensor, therefore what they do is put a lot of them together and examine the contribution of all of them. The detection kit is like a tablet about the size of a sample holder (1 x 5 cm) with several wells each of whom has multiple BICELLs with the capability of analysing multiple diagnostics per well. In each well you put a drop of serum, urine, saliva, tears of the eye for example and after around 10 minutes put it in a machine that tells you what the concentration of what you are measuring is; with one drop you can measure various markers at once.

This kit will have an approximate cost of 14 euro and might be sold in drugstores for instance. They aim to give quantitative information (concentration of the correspondent substance) and to do it they also need a diagnostic platform. The business model they think of would be similar to Nespresso's. The kit would be disposable and the platform would be the coffee machine that would be universal for all the bioapplications.

For a long time the industry has been seeing that it would be very interesting to have what is called 'point of care devices'; for example, imagine that an ophthalmologist could have an equipment where he/she could perform analysis immediately when he/she has determined that it is urgent (for instance in the case of cardiac markers) or so to prevent the patient to come several times to the consultation.

What they hope is that, ultimately, the decision of making a diagnosis could come from the end-user, as it happens with pregnancy tests. However it is not easy because there are many people working on it and doctors do not seem to be very supportive of this happening.

Their technology could be useful for labs since it would allow for the High Throughput Screening. On the other side, big labs tend to have kind of points of care in order to avoid having diagnostic equipments on all the time and at the same time to be able to attend eventual urgencies. In that sense it would be useful for them to have smaller and more compact devices to perform that kind of analysis.

Besides clinics (disease detection), pharmaceutics (development of new drugs), agri-food (detection of pesticides, toxines etc), environment (virus detection for instance), other applications include food traceability and doping. Their label-free technology is of easy infiltration and requires very little amount of original sample (on the order of one microlitre) and it is sensible enough for the majority of the bio-applications.

Title: Virtual modelling of nanomaterials for the development and improvement of nanoscale materials.

Simulate it before you do it could be the mantra of most high-tech industries today. Computer-generated, virtual models of objects are commonplace in modern engineering: think of the automotive, space and air industries, just to mention a few. Pharmaceutical researchers, too, use computer modelling to screen for candidate drugs before even touching a single test tube. A virtual model can help to save millions of euro in research and development, allowing to select, manufacture and test only the objects, or the chemical compounds, that are likely to work for a given purpose. Modelling complex materials, however, is often too difficult and time-consuming to be applied in many fields, including nanotechnology.

This research team from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany has developed efficient modelling software for a number of applications in molecular electronics and the life-sciences. When they started, they wanted to apply the same virtual building blocks that allow simulation in other fields, such as the automotive industry, to the field of material development. The field of molecular simulation is very innovative and new developments can have significant impacts. In their group modelling tools for material specific simulations and charge transport were developed. The algorithms are efficient and allow industrial applications.

They have carefully looked at the individual components of the calculations and developed methods that aim to reuse data that has been previously calculated in later stages of the calculations as much as possible. Another approach is the introduction of approximations that permit treatment of larger systems with only linearly increasing cost. For their study of the atomic transistor, to give one example, they developed methods that reproduce results for experimentally studied systems. For some calculation they are also able to run their algorithms in parallel using GPUs (graphic processor units), that you find in common devices such a as Playstation 3 or new generations of graphic boards which are very fast in 3-D calculations. This alone speeds up simulations by a factor of 10 to 200. The overall speed comes from the combination of an efficient algorithm and computational architecture.

The design of nanomaterials can greatly benefit from our solutions. They can build a virtual model of a material atom by atom - a so called material morphology - and then simulate the electron transfer through the material, which is what many engineers in the field are looking for. They have demonstrated this for the atomic transistor and other applications in molecular electronics. In the future they aim to extend the approach to use it in industry for screening and improving materials.

They will start by providing simulation services to companies, primarily in the chemical sector. They target developers of optoelectronic materials with applications in organic light emitting diodes (OLED) and organic photovoltaics (OPV). Later on, they will be able to license their packages, so that customers can apply their solutions in-house.

Title: Fabrication of gecko-type structures applying a patented hot pulling technique.

Geckos have an impressive attachment system that makes them able to climb on nearly every surface. The gecko effect is based on the structuring of their toes, which are divided into millions of delicate hair. Each of these hair branch into hundreds of tiny endings with nanometre dimensions. Mimicking these micro- and nano-structures leads to artificial dry attachment systems with a wide field of application. The patented hot pulling technology is a recently introduced hot embossing process, enabling the fabrication of such delicate polymer fibrils with highest aspect ratios and diameters in the nanometre range.

Title: Prodrug technologies

Prodrug is an innovative proprietary technology for drug targeting which exploits endogenous albumin as a drug carrier. The innovative feature of the prodrug technology is characterised by an in situ binding of the prodrug to circulating albumin, i.e., low-molecular weight prodrugs that bind specifically and selectively to albumin are injected directly into the blood stream and are then transported in their albumin-bound form to their site of action where they release the respective drug. Due to the incorporation of a specific point of cleavage in the prodrug, the active drug is released in the target tissue and cells. In this way, the therapeutic index of drugs is increased, side effects are reduced and the therapeutic efficacy enhanced.

Today, the basic therapeutic approach is fully defined, most chemical issues have been solved and the efficacy of the concept has been successfully proven in preclinical trials and in a clinical phase I study with a doxorubicin prodrug.

Title: Membrane for enhanced direct methanol fuel cell performance

High tech gadgets, electronic appliances and electric cars have a well-known downside: sooner or later, you need to look for a plug - and a power grid- to keep them alive.

Fuel cells - where electricity is produced directly by the oxidation of compounds such as alcohols - hold the promise to provide portable, clean and silent sources of energy and have therefore been investigated for decades as an alternative to traditional batteries.

A team from the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science at the University of Manchester, United kingdom (UK), has come up with a solution to improve the efficiency of direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), a variety of cells where methanol is used to produce electricity. The biggest advantage is that they can be used in the field and away from any electricity grid. One perspective is to use fuel cells in portable electronic items as an alternative to batteries. However, the efficiency of these cells is still limited and their use has been limited to a few applications, especially in the military.

The heart of fuel cells is the so-called membrane electron assembly (MEA) a barrier that allows the passage of energy but blocks the fuel, avoiding short-circuiting. A typical problem of DMFCs is that some methanol travels across the membrane, reducing the power output. The research team has discovered that a simple modification to the conventional fabrication method for the MEA increases the power density of DMFCs by up to 60 % whilst at the same time reducing methanol crossover. The improvement requires only a minor change in the manufacturing process and therefore could be easily adopted by industry.

The market is still relatively small, but reports indicate that there is significant potential for growth. Portable battery chargers, laptops, field power units and even vehicles are some of the fields where DMFC may be used in the future.

Title: Industrial fabrication processes of nanostructured thin film solar cells

Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells are the most promising technology to provide truly sustainable energy solutions for today's energy needs. In particular, thin film PV solar cells will become a mainstream technology in markets currently served by traditional PV panels made from crystalline silicon. This is due to its reduced costs, low amount of semiconductor material and high volume production capabilities. But there's a tradeoff, as those developing the technology are still struggling to boost present efficiency levels. The research team efforts have been devoted to exploit new industrial fabrication processes and equipments for production of nanostructured thin film solar cells with increased efficiencies and reduced manufacturing costs.

The result is an innovative equipment to deposit large area thin film PV solar cells without efficiency loss. The research has been focused on sputtering deposition techniques, a proven technology that provides consistent process control, high throughput, high yield, large areas homogeneity and low capital investment resulting in low product costs. Innovative large area magnetron sputtering sources with very high throughput were developed, tested and in operation to fabricate homogeneous thin films. (Patent application ES1641.594).

The advantage is an innovative, low temperature and large-area thin film deposition processes for nanostructured semiconductor materials on glass, metal foil or polymer substrates. A proprietary CIGS/kesterite direct deposition process (patent pending) is developed. The main advantage of the developed technology is the low temperature deposition process (very important issue for depositing onto flexible polymer substrates), maintaining the solar cell efficiencies, giving rise to a higher process speed as well as lower energy and material costs.

The deposition processes and equipments are directly scalable to a manufacturing process without further relevant developments.

Potential impact:

As final results and impact, some 10 coached technology business opportunities have reached final decisions on commercialisation/financing/acquisition by the end of the PRONANO contract. This CSA has facilitated raising about 17 times its own EC contribution in investments into the technology business opportunities successfully coached. In other words, PRONANO got some 10 commercialisation success cases out of the 50 technology business opportunities initially identified and assessed, leading to a 20 % commercialisation success rate. Additionally, some other five coached technology business opportunities are pending success cases in the pipeline for end 2012 / early 2013.

In the context of PRONANO nine spin-offs have initiated their activities and other two spin-offs are expected to initiate by end 2012 or early 2013. In parallel, one licensing-out agreement has been reached and three other are in the pipeline.

PRONANO ultimately achieved to close investment deals which prove the approach successful (completing full financing rounds to venture capital investors/established businesses, or licensing agreements). Lessons learnt during the project and policy recommendations have been discussed and fine-tuned both with other FP7 CSAs addressing the barriers for commercialisation of nanotechnologies and with representatives of policy makers and stakeholders. They have also been made public through the dissemination channels set up by the CSA 'Nanofutures' and other dissemination platforms.

The experience accumulated during the project has been made available for further initiatives in the field of innovation and technology transfer. Specific attention has been paid to the stakeholders' community, especially policy makers and the manufacturing industry. Dissemination also aimed at reaching the wider public, through articles and press releases. As said, PRONANO cooperated with other FP7 CSAs, like the NanoCom project or the Nanofutures platform, in addressing approaches to overcome the barriers of nanotechnology commercialisation.

In the first year of the project, the dissemination activities were mainly aimed at raising awareness and involving the potential beneficiaries from research and industry and to establishing contacts with stakeholders from the industrial and investors' community. This activity was performed by the various partners in the different European countries and at EU level, by addressing about 150 public research and development (R&D) funded projects.

The NANOfutures website has been the main channel through which PRONANO disseminated its results. PRONANO provided NANOfutures with articles, press releases and best practice sample. Partners from PRONANO regularly participate to the activities, such as conference calls and meetings of the Communication Working group of NANOfutures.

The PRONANO 'take-up' stories, in form of interviews and articles were written by a number of professional journalists working at youris.com and distributed, besides through NANOfutures, on the www.youris.com platform. Overall, the results presented show a good outreach of the results as for uptakes from online press and specialised magazines and forums.

The final event of PRONANO, held in form of a dinner debate at the European Parliament was very successful and was an excellent opportunity for the project to share the main outcomes and policy recommendations with a selected and representative audience form industry and policy.

The goals of the event were twofold:

1. to widen consensus on the methodology applied by PRONANO and on the achieved results
2. to issue recommendations to the Commission services in view of further implementation of the approach proposed by the project.

The debate took the topic of exploitation of research results in a broader scope than PRONANO itself, by looking at the current weaknesses of FP7 in terms of exploitation of R&D results, illustrating possible approaches of turning R&D into business and discussing what can be concretely done to strengthen innovation performance of Horizon2020.

The outcomes of the discussion can be summarised in the following message:

In order to get more innovation and to multiply the commercial impact of public funded R&D, there is a need to strengthen commercial focus of research projects since their start. It is also important to encourage consortia to involve independent innovation experts for the professional appraisal of result exploitation; their role should be aimed at mediate, communicate and accelerate exploitation within research consortia. These recommendations apply to any complex innovation process, nanotechnology being a showcase on research commercialisation.

As an overall conclusion, it can be said that PRONANO reached the objectives to attract interest of companies and investors for the exploitation of R&D results, to inform about best practices for the successful exploitation of nano-related research results and to reach the wider public.

Dissemination to the outside, so that the PRONANO experience could be made available for further initiatives in the field of innovation and technology transfer was very challenging. However, in some cases, researchers were reluctant to make the results publicly available for concerns about sensitiveness of information.

List of websites:

http://www.pronano.eu

PRONANO coordinator:

Francisco de Arístegui

Zabala Innovation Consulting SA

Email: faristegui@zabala.es

Related information

Reported by

ZABALA INNOVATION CONSULTING S.A.
3 bis, Paseo Santxiki
E-31192 MUTILVA
Spain
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