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EU launches Innovation Fund

The European Commission announced a new €1 billion fund for clean technology implementation on Friday 3rd July 2020. The Innovation Fund as it is known will fund mainly implementation of large capital projects but there is also €8 million set aside for project development. Development projects represent technologies that are not yet ready for implementation but could have a major benefit to the environment.

Up to 60% of capital costs will be covered by the Innovation Fund and the really interesting bit for businesses is that the matching funds can come from other government sources. This is because the Innovation Fund is funded by revenues from the EU Emissions Trading System.

Companies in the EU, Iceland and Norway are eligible to apply for Innovation Fund support. As usual, proposed projects should be European in scope and can involve small cap companies as well as large ones. The fund is also open for small-scale projects with capital costs up to €7.5 million.

To qualify for Innovation Fund funding projects must demonstrate: potential for avoiding greenhouse gas emissions; innovation potential; financial and technical maturity; potential for scale-up and efficiency savings. The deadline for proposal submission is 29th October 2020.

Contact Corbeau if you want to discuss potential project ideas or look for possible European partners.

UK business support

As we all get back to a new normal, the UK government has announced innovation funding support to help us make it a better normal.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are projects of around £110k, with SMEs contributing around £35k and larger businesses £55k. These are particularly useful when you want to add a competitive advantage to an existing product or service. Deadlines: 15 July/ 7 October/ 2 December 2020

IETF Industrial energy efficiency and decarbonisation study grants for manufacturers or data centres of any size in England, Wales or N Ireland for feasibility and pilot projects. These are large projects, with a minimum grant award of £250k representing 30-65% of project costs. Deadline: 28 October 2020.

Digital Supply Chain feasibility study grants for any UK manufacturer. These are also large projects between £1-3m total costs. Deadline 7 October 2020.

Sustainable Innovation Fund for economic recovery from COVID-19. It is open to any UK business(es) and a SME partner. Businesses can claim up to 80% funding which makes this one of the most attractive funding opportunities. Projects must be £100-500k total costs and each business can claim up to a grant up to £175k. Projects must be prompted by business changes required due to COVID-19 but these cover a wide range of opportunities. Deadline: 29 July 2020.

EUREKA GlobalStars Singapore for product, process or service development in a collaborative research and development project. Project costs up to £350k will be covered representing grants of 50-70%. The project can include any EUREKA country participants but must include a partner in Singapore. Deadline: 15 October 2020.

Designing Sustainable Plastic Solutions to reduce plastics’ harm to the environment, increase productivity and help the economy. This is a small project grant for total costs £20-80k with 50-70% of costs met by the grant award. Deadline: 16 September 2020

EUREKA Healthy Aging projects to develop digital health technologies in collaboration with other EUREKA countries. Any UK business can apply but the project must be organised by a SME. 25-70% project costs are funded up to a maximum of £500k. Deadline: 5 August 2020

Contact Corbeau for help finding suitable partners and submitting proposals.

Physicists beat the lock-down

Imagine: you are expecting more than 1,000 colleagues to travel thousands of miles to attend your conference but suddenly travel becomes impossible. What to do? This was the problem facing organisers of the April 2020 meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) when COVID-19 was officially designated a global pandemic one month before the conference was due to start.

APS virtual meeting april 2020
American Physicists breakout of lock-down!

The APS conference organising committee decided to move the entire conference on-line and make it free to register. Amazingly, registration for the conference leapt from the expected 1,200 to 7,267 according to Hunter Clemens, Director of APS Meetings. That’s a huge step forward in terms of open access science and giving more young researchers opportunity to engage with leaders in their fields of study.

At 8:30 am, bright and early on Saturday 18th April the first plenary session opened with the theme “Exploring the Cosmos”. Final sessions on Tuesday afternoon 21st April addressed the theme “Unconventional Ideas in Theory”. As an unconventional idea in practice, the open access APS meeting was a bold undertaking and one that demonstrated the scientific community can increase participation while decreasing the adverse impact on our planet.

APS decided not to cut the academic program but to extend it. Poster presenters could each take advantage of multiple video streams to make 5 minute “elevator-pitch” presentations of their work. It’s a great way for less experienced presenters to hone their skills. The format also lends itself to continuing discussions with new contacts that don’t rely on reading bits of paper with scrawled email addresses or Twitter handles.

Use of Twitter throughout the conference gave the feeling of being directed through the program, which is something we can use in other on-line meetings.

Twitter was also used to good effect to get a feel of overheard and shared conversations, just like you get when you break for coffee after a session.

American Physical Sciences are not just investigative and innovative scientists. They are showing how we can use today’s communication tools to flock together, even when our wings have been collectively clipped!

Corbeau would love to hear of other experiences of successful virtual conferences during lock-down.

Birds of a feather

Academics love nothing better than a good conference. A chance to meet up with old friends, hear the latest gossip and tell anyone who will listen something they know that nobody else does.

Of course it is just a coincidence that conferences on a Greek island or on the Turkish coast in early summer are especially popular.

I guess most people’s idea of a scientist is someone who spends long hours in the lab (true), is obsessive about something difficult to explain (true) and prefers to be alone with their thoughts (occasionally true). The fact of the matter is that we need to listen to one another, exchange ideas and actually learn from one another.

It is often thought that large groups of roosting birds like the corbeau get together to share information about food sources in a similar way that groups of people get together to enjoy one another’s company and share their knowledge. This rather altruistic idea was sadly disproved by researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in 1991, who identified individual birds at a nearby food source on subsequent days. They discovered that the increasing number of birds frequenting the food source following night time roosts was simply due to more birds finding the food source themselves and returning to it.

But perhaps this still shows the similarities between inventive humans and corveau. If you come across a fascinating new idea at a conference the best thing to do is to get up early the next morning and exploit it yourself!

You can find the altruistic crow hypothesis exploded in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Should I stay or should I go now?

Stick or twist? stay or go? whichever we decide, it pays to have a plan. Faced with the attraction of long summer days to bring up the family and the dangers of a long flight, it’s not surprising that some American crows choose to migrate north while others stay put.

A scientific study into the migratory behaviour of West coast and East coast American crows has revealed that the familiar 80:20 rule applies. Around 80% of crows on average travel up to 1000 km northwards and 20% stay put in the South. So why do some leave the familar stomping grounds of Sacramento for the forests of Oregon or the more bracing open spaces of Canada? According to the authors of the study published in The Auk journal, there appears to be a genetic similarity between those birds that migrate the greatest distances. This seems most likely to be a natural consequence of birds finding mates from their neighbours during the mating season and perpetuated when they and their children turn up like summer vacationers in following summers.

It’s not certain whether the crow populations on the West coast and East coast have always migrated in the same numbers or if they are in the process of becoming completely migratory. One thing is clear and that is that the migrating group are being more successful at reproducing than the stay-at-homes.

Is there anything this tale of corbeau holidaymaking has to teach us about innovation and change? Well I think there is. When some flight plans are so much more successful than others it’s time to stop doing the same old. It’s time to start doing the same new.

Holiday brochures are difficult to avoid at this time of year but you can find an open source copy of The Auk journal paper from the groups at Cornell University and Hamilton College here.

Brave as well as bright

Life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’ or so said Thomas Hobbes, a poet and philosopher in 1651. Nature is full of wonders but it’s true that for some, life is indeed brutish and short. For the young, the weak and the inexperienced, nature has its dangers.

Many species of bird will fight bill and claw to protect their young and their families from mortal dangers. Crows will act together or even alone against a much larger adversary. White-rumped vultures are huge creatures weighing up to 7.5 kg, more than ten times the weight of an American crow and yet a single persistent and courageous crow will drive it away .

Whenever we incubate some bright new idea or develop a new product it’s unfortunately likely that a competitor will try to either steal it or attack it. Why? Successful innovation is a threat to the existing order. If a competitor is feeding off scraps and can’t innovate themselves then appropriating or destroying the threat is the only option.

For the courageous corbeau, as we shall see in this blog category, there are many ways to fend off the vultures.

An introduction to Thomas Hobbes can be found on Wikipedia  and the RSPB has an interesting account of small birds mobbing dangerous predators.

Something to crow about

It’s been known for a long time that birds of the crow family are clever innovators. Now The Times newspaper has reported the recent publication  (6th February) of a scientific study revealing just how discerning they are.

We have all tried to open lids with our house keys (usually bending them) or turn a slotted screw with a kitchen knife that just happened to be nearby. New Caledonian crows wouldn’t do anything so dumb. They have a clear picture in their mind’s eye of just the right tool for the job and refuse to use something that’s just conveniently lying around.

Only crows and humans manufacture hooked tools to fish for food in inaccessible locations. In the study the birds picked out twigs of specific diameter, length and flexibility to fashion into tools to hoik succulent little grubs from their hiding places in crevices.

When it comes to industrial research and development we can learn something from these picky avians. Rather than trying to make an idea work with the wrong starting materials, it’s far better to stay true to your vision and wait to invest your time and energy in the right resources.

If you want to find out more about the amazing innovation of these corbeau, take a look at the website of Professor Christian Rutz (Professor of Biology at St Andrews’s University, Scotland). You can find the full scientific paper in Biology Letters or on-line at the Royal Society website.