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Scientists from NCBJ have started the NOMATEN project to establish in Świerk a Centre of Excellence with the mission to develop new materials for medicine, chemistry, nuclear industry and Hi-Tech. The project was granted 1 year-long funding from the European Union Teaming for Excellence programme. The funding will be used to develop detailed research agenda and a business plan for the Centre.

The NOMATEN consortium was founded by NCBJ Świerk, French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CAE) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland to work out a proposal to establish the Functional Materials for Industry and Medicine Centre of Excellence (CoE). Consortium partners include also National Centre for Research and Development (NCBiR), Polish government agency that might co-fund the NOMATEN CoE project if approved. The Consortium partners met for the first time in Świerk on September 7-8, 2017.

We wish new materials capable to perform in extremely harsh environments were developed in the NOMATEN Centre of Excellence – said Professor Jacek Jagielski, Director of the NCBJ Material Physics Department, coordinator of the project. – New engineering materials are in particular needed for construction of new generation nuclear/thermonuclear reactors. Such materials must be robust, durable, and resistant to high temperatures/corrosion/strong radiation fields. New materials of unique properties are also needed in several industry branches, such as aviation/space industry, electronics, household appliance industry and others. In some specialized labs in Świerk we have been researching methods to modify materials for a couple tens of years using the MARIA nuclear reactor and various plasma ion implanters. Project objectives will be pursued along a range of approaches, from atomic scale computer simulations based on molecular dynamics methods, through diverse analytical methods helping to determine material internal structure and radiation defects concentration, to measurement of material tribological properties (hardness, strength, brittleness, corrosion resistance). Centre scientists will be able to design materials of properties reliably predictable for the entire period of operation of the facility built of the materials. For nuclear facilities that period is typically sixty years, but in some cases it may be as long as one hundred years.

NCBJ’s Radioisotope Centre (POLATOM ) is internationally recognized for its vast experience in designing and production of new radiopharmaceuticals – said Professor Renata Mikołajczak from NCBJ, Chairwomen of the Consortium Scientific Committee. – We have been working to expand the range of substances useful for production of radiopharmaceuticals and to develop methods to produce medicines that are custom-tailored for individual patients. We have been using radioisotopes produced in the Świerk-operated nuclear reactor. Our capabilities are going to expand in three years as soon as the just started CERAD project is completed and a modern cyclotron starts its operation. The cyclotron will be an opportunity to develop new radiopharmaceuticals.

Chemical industry is among the most important potential fields of application for the new materials – continued Professor Jagielski. – Numerous chemical processes crucial for the national economy must be run at temperatures above 500 degrees Celsius. Examples include production of hydrogen or liquid fuels based on carbon and hydrogen. If such a production facility might be run at some higher temperatures than the so-far used ones, some new synthesis paths would become possible. Economic and/or environmental potential of such technologies cannot be over-estimated. However, they all need new constructional materials of special properties. Such materials will be researched and developed in the NOMATEN CoE. Therefore major players among Polish producers of chemicals have already shown quite strong interest in our proposal. The proposal is directly related to the Nuclear Power Programme for Poland, and to the project to develop gas-cooled high-temperature nuclear reactors (HTGR) in Poland. Let me just point out that implementation of that technology in Poland would allow to cut the volume of imported natural gas by about 25%.

The proposal was endorsed by Dr. Józef Sobolewski, Director of the Nuclear Energy Department in Polish Ministry of Energy, who attended the meeting. Dr. Sobolewski pointed out significance of the project for the national economy.

Using Świerk Computer Centre the CoE staff will be able to develop predictive functional models of constructional materials operated in extreme conditions – added D.Sc. Paweł Sobkowicz, NCBJ Deputy Director for Innovations and Implementations. – Behaviour of the materials will be simulated from femtoseconds i.e. the time scale at which some fast physical processes run, up to tens of years i.e. lifetime of a typical industrial infrastructure. Such computer simulations of time evolution of material properties are currently intensely studied in Finland, as reported by Professor Kim Wallin from VTT.

As evidenced by our meeting, the partners from abroad are contributing to the Consortium wealth of their knowledge, experience and capabilities – concluded Professor Jagielski.

CEA is a major player on such segments of the European R&D market as defence, national security, nuclear energy, Hi-Tech, and generally fundamental research in sciences. It is an active participant of the European Research Area with continually growing position on international markets. Reuters press agency selected CEA as the 2016 most innovative research organization in the world. Within the 2008–2013 period, CAE scientists filed 2,252 patent applications, mainly in power (both nuclear and renewable), semiconductor,  chemical, and consumer product sectors. CEA innovativeness may be also measured by the number of industrial partnerships and spin-off companies that leverage technologies invented by CEA staff (124 companies founded since 2000). CEA’s main task during the 1-year-long preparatory phase of the NOMATEN project is to devise long-term strategy, to select financing mechanisms, and to propose some audit methods to evaluate accomplishment of individual tasks.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is the largest (2,470 employees, 272 million Euro annual turnover) public organisation established to support R&D in Nordic countries. Its scientists have filed more than 1,200 patent applications. VTT participated altogether in more than 1,000 R&D projects run by EU, including 359 projects in 2015. Their experts help VTT Customers and partners to develop new products, production processes, manufacturing methods, and services. A broad network of cooperating entities gives VTT Customers access to the best knowledge all over the world. VTT offers also top class research apparatus and a broad range of services related to licensing and intellectual property rights. VTT responsibilities in the NOMATEN project include to devise organizational model/international marketing plan, and to propose some strategies of technology transfer/granting access to research potential of the NOMATEN CoE.

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The Teaming for Excellence competition was announced within the Horizon 2020 EU research and innovation programme framework. The competition objective is to help to establish some Centres of Excellence in new European Union countries and in countries associated  with EU. The CoEs should help to increase research/innovativeness potential of those countries and to strengthen scientific cooperation throughout Europe. To be eligible to run in the competition, an R&D institution/an agency responsible for R&D financing in the country applying for deployment of a given CoE must establish a consortium with some R&D institution(s) from some EU country(ies) of a recognized large research potential. Applicants are evaluated in two stages: nation-wide selection and European-wide selection. Winners of the nation-wide selection stage are granted 12-month funding to devise a detailed research agenda for the CoE in question and its operational business plan. The NOMATEN consortium has won the national selection stage in Poland and its 12-month funding period started on September 1, 2017.