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Photonics 21 AGM: Platform awaits Horizon Europe funding plan

28 Mar 2019

Investment will continue after 2020 but “questions remain as to detailed mechanism,” says EC rep at annual meet.

by Matthew Peach in Brussels

This year’s Photonics21 annual meeting, entitled Europe's Age of Light, opened Wednesday at Brussels’ Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts with a welcome by Vice Presidents Bernd Schulte and Giorgio Anania. This was followed by keynotes by Gérard Mourou, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2018, Stefan Traeger, CEO of Jenoptik, and Carl Buhr, from the European Commission.

Anania declared, “Now is a key moment for the photonics platform as the sector is heading towards the next seven-year funding phase, known as Horizon Europe [2021-2027], once the current Horizon 2020 period is completed.”

“This event focuses on our path towards the new European Framework Programme Horizon Europe,” he said. “We will also be presenting the new European Photonics Roadmap to the European Commission and the wider industry.”

Thursday was occupied with the Photonics21 workshop sessions, to consider the photonics R&I priority setting process for the first photonics calls under Horizon Europe. Although the next phase does not commence until 2021, calls will be released and international projects initiated in the coming months.


The first speech was presented by Nobel Laureate Professor Gérard Mourou, who, alongside Professor Donna Strickland, jointly won last year’s Physics Nobel Prize for the invention of chirped pulse amplification; CPA creates ultra short-pulse, very high-intensity petawatt laser pulses.

Mourou said he liked the title of this event, The Age of Light, because it referenced the seventeenth century Age of Enlightenment in Europe, “when many of the foundations of scientific theory started the journey to where we are today.”

He acknowledged the work of his colleague Donna Strickland, as well as laser inventor Theordore Maiman. He went on to describe some of the applications of his work in the field of CPA, which creates the highest possible peak power laser pulses.

“There is a very positive outlook for CPA in nuclear medicine, such as proton therapy for treating cancers and tumors,” he said. “We can precisely control activation and penetration depth.”

CPA, he said, could also be used to mitigate nuclear waste, converting long-half-life hazardous radioactive material into more benign isotopes. It could also provide a solution to the growing problem of space debris in earth orbits.

Next up, Jenoptik CEO Dr Stefan Traeger gave a photonics industry view and discuss the future developments and challenges for light technologies. He said that Europe’s diversity was actually a strength in cooperatively developing new photonics solutions for a wide range of challenges and opportunities.

Carl Buhr, the Deputy Head of the Cabinet of Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, explained that he process for establishing the next phase of R & D & I planning, calls and funding was still be discussed at the European Commission level.

As yet, the future shape and funding arrangement between the photonics sector and the European Commission is still to be determined, while European elections are held and a new parliament is formed by July 2019, and a new Commission appointed by the start of 2020.

Buhr commented, “Funding will continue for the photonics but questions remain as to the detailed mechanism and the decision on this has not yet been taken. This is a competition and the ones with the better argument will do better. It is not too late to put an argument to the Commission and it does make a difference when the politicians hear different arguments.”

There has been some concern from EU Member States that the more than 100 Partnerships established thus far has been using up too much of the funding available and that a greater share needs to be available for emerging technologies.

New Roadmap

The evening culminated in the official handing over of the new Photonics21 Multiannual Strategic Roadmap, the strategy for European photonics in preparation for Horizon Europe. The new Roadmap follows on from the 2018 Vision Paper "Europe's Age of Light", in which more than 3000 members from over 1700 companies from across the Photonics21 community were consulted.

The Executive Summary of the Roadmap, states, “Today, the European Photonics industry, comprising mainly SMEs, is fast-growing and thriving: there are an estimated 5000 companies that have created more than 300,000 highly skilled jobs in this sector alone with an annual turnover in excess of €60 billion. With a compound annual growth rate of 6.2%, the European photonics industry is growing four times faster than the European GDP.

“Europe is one of the leading players in the global photonics market, ranking only second to China. With strong growth forecast, the photonics market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.4% leading up to 2022. This strong position underlines the continuing economic potential of light technologies for the future. Photonics technologies are key enablers for future mega-markets such as Internet of Things, cybersecurity, quantum technologies, healthcare and additive manufacturing among others.

“In preparation for FP9 (Horizon Europe), the Photonics21 platform has developed the new strategy for European photonics and all its associated end-user industries. Responding to the changes in needs and challenges in both the photonics sector and the European priorities, Photonics21 recognised that some technologies matured while new areas are evolving.”

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