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Nine new photonics projects funded by UK's TSB

01 Apr 2011

Of the 43 projects to receive a total £18M funding from the Technology Strategy Board, nine relate directly to photonics.

Nine commercial research projects involving photonics have been selected for funding through a new £18 million scheme managed by the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

Overall, more than 150 companies will share in the fund, which is aligned with what are seen as the key enabling technologies that the UK’s coalition government hopes will help to kick-start a new focus on high-technology manufacturing in the country. The TSB funding will be matched by the project partners.

Photonics is recognized as one of those enabling technologies, alongside advanced materials, biosciences, electronics, electrical systems, high-value manufacturing, information and communication technologies, and nanotechnology.

But such is the uber-enabling nature of photonics technology that its influence extends beyond its own mixed-bag category of “electronics, photonics and electrical systems”.

Of the ten projects selected for funding in that category, five directly involve photonics. They are:

• Very high power, ultrashort-pulse laser manufacturing
Partners: Coherent Scotland (lead), Institute of Photonics, University of Strathclyde

• Spectral Imaging for improved conveyor belt tracking (SIFT)
Partners: Gooch & Housego (lead), Spectra-Map

• Harsh environment resonant optical sensor (HEROS)
Partners: Oxsensis (lead), Druck

• Silicon-based optical instrumentation for aircraft power and actuation systems
Partners: Rolls-Royce (lead), Magnifye, University of Cambridge, EADS

• Distributed optical seismic sensing system
Partners: Silixa (lead), Weatherford UK, Statoil

But the influence of photonics spreads well beyond that. In the “high-value manufacturing” category, the technology is key to three more projects. Epitaxial semiconductor material specialist IQE will head up a project with Semefab and CST Global on high-performance solar cell fabrication, while John Tyrer from Laser Optical in Loughborough is leading a project designed to reduce waste in manufacturing, alongside aerospace giants EADS and Rolls-Royce, as well as the microscopy company Olympus.

Meanwhile, fast-growing optics company Gooch & Housego will lead a project dedicated to protecting the UK’s dominance in polarization-maintaining components, with help from the fiber laser specialist Fianium and Fibercore.

And in the “biosciences” category, the analytical equipment company Protium MS will lead the development of a commercial laser isotope ratiometer destined to analyze food products for signs of adulteration.

According to the TSB, work on the projects, which are set to run for between one and three years, should begin this summer once a financial due diligence step has been completed.

The “electronics, photonics and electrical systems” category, which brings together some fairly disparate technology areas, is also one of the possible recipients of more significant funding from the UK government under its “Technology and Innovation Centres (TICs)” scheme, for which £200 million has been earmarked over the next four years.

The first of those TICs has already been selected in high-value manufacturing, with lasers set to play a key role, with a second recently announced in cell therapy. However, there has been disappointment in some quarters that the funding for the TICs will be distributed over a number of existing centers of excellence – rather than dedicated to a single, new center.

With several locations likely to be selected for each TIC (the fast-tracked high-value manufacturing TIC is in fact distributed over seven separate sites), one concern is that the £200 million could be spread very thinly. At least six TICs are envisaged, and if they all feature seven locations then the individual sites will each receive an average of just over £1 million per year under the scheme.

That said, the TSB does appear to be backing the concept of key enabling technologies. It will also spend £2 million supporting 85 feasibility studies by what it describes as “small and micro companies”, in the same six core technology areas.

LaCroix Precision OpticsCeNing Optics Co LtdCHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.Mad City Labs, Inc.Hyperion OpticsABTechSPECTROGON AB
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