European Commission continues support for photonics

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Greg Blackman reports from the Photonics21 annual meeting in Brussels, which took place 28-29 May

The European Commission has pledged further support for Photonics21 at its annual meeting in Brussels. Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, commented during the meeting on the 29 May: ‘Europe is well placed to invest further in photonics,’ adding that ‘photonics can make a significant contribution to corporation and research’.

At the end of 2013, Photonics21 secured €700 million over seven years from the European Commission as part of the Photonics Public Private Partnership (PPP). The PPP was created under the Horizon 2020 funding programme, a €70 billion research and innovation plan.

The assigned PPP budget for the 2016/17 Horizon 2020 topic calls is around €203 million, Michael Mertin, the president of Photonics21 and CEO of Jenoptik, said during the meeting. This is after a reduction in the budget due to the Juncker Plan, but a gain in funding from the Factories of the Future programme.

In an article for Electro Optics, Mertin commented: ‘The main objective of this €700 million [PPP] programme is to increase Europe’s market share in the successful invention and production of goods – an area still dominated by the USA and Asia – and thereby overcome the fact that Europe’s strength so far is mainly located in developing technical advantages.’

Oettinger called for greater knowledge of photonics in a wider range of areas, which he said should be facilitated by regional hubs and competence centres. ‘Everyone should have access to photonics and an understanding about photonics,’ he said during the meeting.

He also drew attention to the photonics skills gap in education and said that this year being the International Year of Light is a good opportunity to bridge that gap. He called for the members of Photonics21 to support the IYL initiatives for schools.

The industry participation in selected European Commission projects grew from 36 per cent in 2012 to 53 per cent in 2014, with a greater than 25 per cent participation from SMEs.

Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE, emphasised the importance of bodies like Photonics21 in Europe to unite industry, academia, and government, adding that, in the USA, photonics has very little profile.

The National Photonics Initiative in the US is attempting to address this, which has had success with the Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI) and the Photonics Industry Neurophotonics Group, which has ties to the White House BRAIN initiative.

Giorgio Anania, vice president of Photonics21, noted that, alongside Horizon 2020, there are other sources of funding open to photonics players, such as that from the European Investment Bank, Germany’s KfW, and BPI in France. He also made the point that venture capital investment in Europe is drying up, but that corporate investors are stepping in to fill the gap.

Photonics21 is now looking to address some of the societal challenges within Horizon 2020, including areas such as health and food security, smart cities and buildings, secure society, resource efficiency, and smart transport, all areas where photonics has a role.

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