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Photonics in the running for UK innovation center

26 May 2011

UK government shortlists photonics as one of ten candidate technologies vying to be selected for three more innovation centers.

Commercial photonics development in the UK could receive a boost after being officially short-listed by the government for one of its “technology and innovation” centers, or TICs.

Six TICs are being established in the first wave of developments, the first three of which have already been announced. They will be focused on high-value manufacturing, cell therapy and off-shore renewable energy – all areas where photonics technologies are likely to be used.

A photonics-specific TIC is up against nine other candidate technology areas officially short-listed. They include some open-ended topics such as “resource efficiency” and “future cities”, as well as more focused suggestions such as smart grids and sensor systems. Three of the ten will be selected for funding in due course.

The TICs are intended to catalyze economic development in the UK, as part of the government’s effort to re-balance the economy through increased manufacturing output. The entire scheme will receive total funding of £200 million over four years.

Business secretary Vince Cable said of the approach: "TICs are a new approach to linking research with the practical needs of the business world. Once operational, the centers will produce innovations which could help to make the UK a world leader in a range of markets.

However, the approach has come in for criticism from some quarters, with concerns that the £200 million will be spread to thinly, and across too many physical locations, to have any major impact on reasonably developed markets such as photonics.

Contrast with Germany
In stark contrast, the European Commission has already selected photonics as a key enabling technology, while the German government has just committed to a potential €1 billion strategic investment in photonics development over ten years – even though it is already a world leader in the field.

Georg Schütte, secretary of state for the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), made the announcement at the opening of the LASER World of Photonics event in Munich, further boosting an already positive mood buoyed by the rapid recovery of the industry from the 2009 recession.

In its official report on the investment, the BMBF says that it will provide €105 million for photonics research and development in both 2012 and 2013, and €100 million in 2014 and 2015. That funding is expected to be matched by industrial partners working on three-year projects, with the involvement of both research and industry a pre-requisite.

Topics including lasers in production, biophotonics and solid-state lighting are highlighted by the BMBF as likely funding areas, with the overall aim of stimulating economic growth and creating some 20,000 new jobs in Germany by 2015.

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