Have you ever wondered how a R&D project arises? How is it possible, for example, to be able to apply a photocatalytic treatment in the heart of a big city like Madrid? Ensuring respect of the environment through R&D requires a detailed plan of action, which involves many different actors and implies a very interesting four-phase sequence, to allow all the pieces fit.

Let’s see the recipe for success:

1) IDEA. Also known as the phase “Eureka!”. It is referred to that moment when, due to a known environmental issue, a company / organization / administration decides to contact a technological center to find a solution. Or, on the contrary, CARTIF researchers, on their continued commitment to update the state of the art of the technologies they develop, decide to look for a company committed to the environment to work on a new challenge.

2) APPLIED RESEARCH. It is named, in petit committee, as the phase Let’s see what we have here”.  Once the environmental issue to be addressed is identified, together with the science principles in which it is based on, it is time to decide how to apply them to the areas of demand. We have to use the generated knowledge by basic research and lead to the environmental problems selected in the phase of Idea. Here the purpose is always to produce technology for the development of the environmental issues addressed in the previous stage and the possibility of having additional aid, which supports part of the funding, can also be recommendable. These grants enable companies to address this phase with more resources and multiply, consequently, the scope of their results. Spanish calls of CDTI are well suited for this aim.

3) DEMONSTRATION. Also denominated The time to act is now. We know the scientific principles and we have checked that, at a laboratory level, the technology developed works. Then comes the time to expand the scale and test it at a higher level. For this phase, it is again very interesting to have the possibility of support from external financing. For instance, calls for proposals for LIFE Grants are the only EU financial instrument fully dedicated to the environment. Currently, there are 10 on-going LIFE projects running in CARTIF and the topics addressed are very diverse, do you know them?.

4) COMMUNICATION. At last but not least, it is important to publish the results obtained, because of that, this stage is named shouting to the four winds. Environmental awareness inevitably involves knowing on what work is being performed, the rate of progress, what improvements are being made and which companies are involved on the issue. Scientific publications and patents are a good starting point for us, as a technological center, but there are also other forms, such as environmental labels and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to make visible which companies have a commitment with the environment.

Let us look at a successful example:

The problem of poor urban air quality due to environmental pollution by nitrogen oxides is an important environmental threat for the cities. Being able to reduce this issue is presented as a great challenge (phase: Eureka!). CARTIF participated in FENIX project few years ago, working actively, among other tasks, in the study, identification and selection of photocatalytic nanomaterials (phase: let’s see what we have here). Based on the good results achieved, some of the partners involved in this action decided to keep working and contacted the City of Madrid to increase the scale of the research and to ask for applying the developed treatment in the streets of the city centre (phase: the time to act is now). After that, LIFE EQUINOX, a R&D project began, coordinated by CARTIF, in October 2013, and it is still in progress (phase: shouting to the four winds).

Let us not forget, therefore, that it will always be better not to put the cart before the horse.

Laura Pablos Lopez
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