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Published: 10 November 2017  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Industrial researchMaterials & products
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Netherlands  |  Spain  |  United Kingdom
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Reducing our reliance on critical raw materials

Technologies such as our beloved smartphones have taken the world by storm, but some of the materials needed to make them are in short supply. This is also true for other crucial applications - industrial catalysts, for instance. Two projects jointly funded by the EU and Japan have looked into possible substitutes for various critical metals.

People with their smartphones

© olly - fotolia.com

The Irena project developed single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) thin films to replace indium and gallium in electronic devices. The Novacam project focused on possible substitutes for critical metals used in the conversion of biomass into chemicals and fuels. Both were implemented in the context of the scientific collaboration between the EU and Japan.

The critical metals to which these projects related are included on the EU’s list of raw materials that are highly important to its economy, but to which its access could potentially be at risk. Typically, these materials are hard – and in some cases, impossible – to replace, and for most of them, little or nothing is currently sourced from end-of-life recycling.

The two projects ended in 2017. Irena achieved significant advances with regard to both metallic and semiconducting SWCNTs, such as the development of a novel technology for the extraction of the latter type. It produced highly advanced transparent conductors, as well as film of a degree of transparency that would not be achievable with the more commonly used indium tin oxide. Further work related to touch sensors, thin film transistors, and the use of SWCNT films in solar cells.

In Novacam, activities centred on the transformation of lignocellulosic biomass – plant dry matter such as straw and husks – into renewable industrial feedstocks. Currently, the catalytic processes that are used for this purpose tend to involve costly critical materials such as platinum and rare earth elements.

As part of its quest for alternatives based on more abundant and affordable materials, Novacam identified, assessed or developed a number of catalysts. It also devised novel methods for the conversion of cellulose and glucose into chemicals that can subsequently be transformed in a variety of substances or materials. Its findings could help to reduce the cost of biomass conversion, boosting the viability of alternatives to energy and petrochemicals derived from fossil fuels.

Project details

  • Project acronym: Novacam
  • Participants: Netherlands (Coordinator), Spain, United Kingdom
  • Project N°: 604319
  • Total costs: € 2 415 573
  • EU contribution: € 1 786 842
  • Duration: 1 September 2013 - 28 February 2017

  • Project acronym: Irena
  • Participants: Finland (Coordinator), Denmark, France
  • Project N°: 604472
  • Total costs: € 2 349 301
  • EU contribution: € 1 799 648
  • Duration: 1 September 2013 - 28 February 2017

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See also
Novacam Project website
Novacam Project details
Irena Project website
Irena Project details
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  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
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  Costa Rica
  Croatia
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  Czech Republic
  Denmark
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  Egypt
  Estonia
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  Faroe Islands
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  Gambia
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