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Aalto researchers’ bold initiatives receive more than €2 million in funding

The areas covered by the four research projects include the development of thermal energy storage and mobile magnetic resonance imaging technology.
Energian varastointi
Renewable energy needs to be stored up for those months when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. Photo: Jaakko Kahilaniemi / Aalto University

The Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation have granted over €2 million of funding to four research projects led by Aalto University.  The foundations granted the funding as part of the Future Makers programme, the purpose of which is to support research of a high international standard.

Renewable energy needs to be stored up for those months when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. The foundations granted funding to two Aalto University research groups that are developing new energy storage methods.

Researcher Ari Seppälä and his research group are developing materials for long-term storage of thermal energy. They will be testing out, for example, whether a material made of grain husks and broad bean shells could be a non-toxic and inexpensive solution for storing heat. The group received €500 000 of funding from the foundations.

Researcher Pekka Peljo and his group, meanwhile, are developing a way to find new materials for more affordable and sustainable electricity storage. Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in phones, tools and electric cars, but more cost-effective new solutions are needed for electricity storage in electricity networks. The aim of the research project is to find safe materials that are easily available for a new type of flow battery. The foundations gave the project €500 000 of funding.

More affordable solar cells and more mobile magnetic resonance imaging technology

Aalto University Researcher Syed Ghufran Hashmi and his team received €600 000 of funding from the two foundations.

Manufacturing existing solar cells is expensive because they contain very pure silicon. Handling very pure silicon requires special clean rooms, which increases the cost of producing solar panels. In its solar cells, Hashmi's team is testing out a new material compound called carbon-based perovskite, which is cheaper and easier to produce than silicon.

The new material would enable the production of tailor-made solar panels, and the panels could, for example, be integrated directly into building materials such as windows and other glass structures.

Aalto University Assistant Professor Ilkka Laakso and his team are researching and building mobile magnetic resonance imaging technology. The new technology could be used more extensively outside the hospital environment. The foundations granted €750 000 to the project.

Funding for bold initiatives

The Future Makers funding programme seeks ambitious university research initiatives that seek to solve issues that are important for society. This year, the fourth funding application round was launched and more than 90 new research ideas were submitted. Some of these were then selected for further development. Of these developed proposals, six where then chosen to receive funding from the two foundations.

‘We want to fund new projects that may be excluded from funding application rounds that have precise criteria. You can apply for funding from us for the kind of top-level research that you yourself consider important,’ says Antti Aarnio, Director of the Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation.

‘The Future Makers programme is an example of well-functioning cooperation between foundations which has provided added value for both parties. The key principles of the programme, such as independent decision-making and equal funding, have been crucial factors for the involvement of our foundation,’ says Marja Leskinen, representative of the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

The Future Makers programme is run once a year, and the next funding application round will begin in February 2020. 

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