Results 2022-2 INTER Mobility Call

The FNR is pleased to announce that 7 INTER Mobility projects have been selected for funding from the 2022-2 Call, an FNR commitment of 712,000 EUR.

The aim of the INTER mobility programme is to promote the exchange between research groups from public research institutions in Luxembourg, and leading research groups abroad.

Find out more about INTER Mobility – next deadline 1 April, 2023 14:00 CET (only 1 call in 2023!)

Funded projects: INTER Mobility IN (researchers from abroad coming to Luxembourg)

Researcher & institution (Lux)

Bradley Ladewig (University of Luxembourg)

Project title

Advanced electrochemical conversion of ammonia to hydrogen as part of a global supply chain in green hydrogen (H2-GLOBAL)

Institutions abroad

Manoj Neergat (IIT Bombay)

Duration (months)

12

FNR Committed

209,400 EUR

Abstract

Green hydrogen is an important new way to store and transport energy, since it does not contain any carbon and is suitablefor many end-uses including mobility, industry and as a feed material in many chemical processes. A major challenge for European countries like Luxembourg is the limited ability to produce large quantities of green hydrogen locally – the most likely approach is to use electrolysers which split water into hydrogen and oxygen, however these consume large quantitiesof electricity and if the hydrogen is to be sustainable (generally referred to as “green hydrogen”) then this requires a sustainable and renewable source of electricity.One very likely consequence is that green hydrogen needs to be imported into Europe, and indeed the latest EU targets forgreen hydrogen in 2030 foresees an equal split between locally produced hydrogen and imported hydrogen. However transporting hydrogen is very challenging. It is a very light gas and so even when compressed to very high pressures (common are 350 or 700 times atmospheric pressure) there is still only a modest mass or quantity of gas stored in such a pressurised vessel, much less by mass than the actual mass of the vessel itself. Hydrogen can be converted to a liquid but this requires a large amount of energy to cool it to the very cold temperature required, and then it is difficult to keep it at thistemperature for any length of time.So a major area of interest is the conversion of hydrogen chemically into a stable, easily stored and transported molecule, such as methanol or ammonia. Ammonia is particularly interesting since it is a molecule that contains just one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms, i.e. it is carbon-free. It is already produced a very large scale industrially (although predemoninantly using natural gas as the feed material to produce the necessary hydrogen), and is used extensively in agriculture, for explosives and other chemical products. Through some minor modifications to the process, it is possible to use green hydrogen to produce ammonia, which could then be easily shipped around the world.

The challenge then is to convert this ammonia back into hydrogen, efficiently and meeting the demand for hydrogen at the end-user (which initially would be industrial customers). Multiple options are available including high-temperature catalytic conversions, however this project seeks to advance the knowledge and understanding, and make improvements to, electrochemical methods. These operate at lower temperatures, are potentially much more efficient (when considering howmuch ammonia can be converted for the energy input to the process).

Researcher & institution (Lux)

David Howarth (University of Luxembourg)

Project title

Realigning the European Financial Architecture for the C21 (REFA21)

Institutions abroad

Universidad de Cantabria

Duration (months)

8

FNR Committed

85,800 EUR

Abstract

The twenty-first century presents major challenges to all citizens: successfully addressing climate change and supporting sustainable, responsible development around the world. In addition to these global challenges, Europe is facing specific threats to its decades-long construction of peace: war, division, and tensions are rearing their heads. This is being shockingly demonstrated by events unfolding in Ukraine in 2022. Climate change, development and reconstruction after war are huge, imminent, challenges that nonetheless can be partly or fully tackled if sound policies are chosen and backed by solid financial means. Given these challenges, it is of serious concern that the financial structures operating in the European Union, known collectively as the “European financial architecture”, has been deemed unfit for purpose by the Council of the EU in a recent report published in 2019.

This European financial architecture comprises two main banks: the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Both banks are different, and characterised by their specific origins and mandates: the Luxembourg-based EIB was established in 1958 as the “bank of the European Union”, whilst the EBRD was set up in London in 1991 to support Central and Eastern European countries’ transition to “market democracy” after the end of the Cold War. Despite their different mandates, in practice, there is a significant overlap in the countries to which both the EIB and EBRD loan — including, Ukraine and its neighbouring countries. The overlapping activity of the two banks has attracted criticism by the Council of the EU, who have claimed the banks are competing unnecessarily on the grounds of standards and conditionality, causing inefficiencies and failing to resolve issues on the ground. Moreover, experts state today ́s European financial architecture has systemic weaknesses, rigidities and insufficient coordination.

Furthermore, a report published in 2021 by the Council of the EU called for the urgent overhaul of the system to ensure greater strategic and technical coordination, so that banking practice can better conduct the critical policy work it has been assigned. Despite this strong criticism, scholars have paid relatively little attention to EIB and EBRD lending individually, never mind their overlapping lending activities. Professors Clifton and Howarth are at the forefront of research on the European financial architecture.

The mobility grant would allow them to combine theoretical and empirical expertise to break new ground on this key topic. Using Principal Agent theory, the performance of EIB and EBRD will be analysed by collecting and constructing the historic data on lending to those client countries where both banks have lent (“lending overlap”). They will publish an open access database on EIB/EBRD overlapping lending for future research purposes. Semi-structured interviews with EIB, EBRD and European Commission staff will be conducted to understand the consequences of lending overlap at the sector and project levels. Their work will be policy-relevant. Their conclusions will decide to what extent EIB and EBRD loans are coordinated to good effect or, whether EIB and EBRD loans actually compete, and fail to achieve core objectives. This research is important given the global challenges mentioned, taking on even more urgency in the current European geopolitical scenario regarding Ukraine and its neighbours.

This work will be published in top-level scientific journals. Scientific output will include a joint paper published in a leading political economy journal; an edited special issue on appraising public development banks’ performance as regards financial alignment and delivery of sustainable, responsible development, and a presentation of project results to EIB, EBRD and European Commission staff. Social media will be used for general dissemination.

Researcher & institution (Lux)

Philippe van Kerm (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research – LISER)

Project title

Smartwielen: Use and impact at the 2023 national and 2024 European elections

Researcher & institution abroad

Patrick Dumont (Australian National University)

Duration (months)

12

FNR Committed

157,200 EUR

Abstract

Well-functioning democracies need informed citizens. This is especially the case as voters have been shown to be generally not competent enough to cast a vote for the party that best represents their interests (Campbell et al. 1960). Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) such as the smartwielen tool implemented in Luxembourg since 2009 provide systematic comparative assessments of parties’ and candidates’ preferences over a range of policy issues on a single online platform; as such they reduce the costs to voters associated with the gathering and processing of electoral information (Pianzola et al. 2019). These digital platforms are designed to increase informed and critical public participation in the electoral process. They have become a vital part of online election campaigns worldwide, being used by dozens of millions of voters (Garzia and Marschall 2019).

This project will engage with a number of questions that have so far not been addressed, or only with a research design that did not allow to come to robust conclusions, in VAA research: first, how do voters actually use VAAs; second, what is its impact on users? We will in addition take advantage of the proximity of two elections in Luxembourg (2023 national elections and 2024 European elections) and the deployment of the smartwielenonline tool by a consortium consisting in theUniversité du Luxembourg, the Zentrum fir politesch Bildung foundation and the LISER – where the seconded researcher will be hosted – to address the potential differential impact of VAAs across types of elections that are perceived by voters as having varying importance. The originality of the proposal lies in its combination of an existing outreach project and innovative scientific research orientations destined to trigger both a large social and a high scholarly impact.

First, it will provide the most ambitious experimental pre-online phase of VAA design work ever envisaged through two waves of laboratory experiments aimed at learning about how voters actually use the tool, how they allocate their attention to different kinds of information and policy issues, and they react to different kinds of electoral information stimuli. Second, it will use a cutting-edge research design to study the effects of the VAA on its users’ attitudes and behaviour. In addition to overall effects, we will pay additional attention to first-time voters (who recently gained voting rights due to age or nationality acquisition) who are the most likely to benefit and therefore to be impacted by VAA use. The unique data collection enabled by VAA research will further provide a wealth of new evidence to engage long-standing questions about political representation, inter- and intra-party competition, electoral campaigns, and voting behaviour in Luxembourg.

Overall, the research stay will address gaps in the study of society and politics related not only to voters’ electoral information environment but also, by extension, rising concerns about decreasing trust in institutions which can be affected by the discrepancy between the actual distribution of policy preferences in the voting population and its representation in political assemblies. It will ultimately contribute to this larger question by assessing the potential of VAAs to reengaging voters with the political process and policy-based politics VAAs may eventually contribute to rebuild trust between parties, their representatives or candidates, and the public.

Funded projects: INTER Mobility OUT (researchers from Luxembourg going abroad)

Researcher & institution (Lux)

Magdalena Calusinska (Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology – LIST)

Project title

Anaerobic fungi and their potential to degrade lignocellulosic bioplastics under anaerobic digestion conditions (FungiPlast)

Institution abroad

Michelle O’Malley (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Duration (months)

12

FNR Committed

204,700 EUR

Abstract

By December 2023, all bio-waste in the EU must be collected separately and recycled at source. Bio-waste offers many opportunities as a new source of higher value products or biofuels, but there are currently still many challenges to overcome. Typically, bio-waste accounts for 35% of total solid waste and is often disposed of, along with other waste, in plastic bags, thus requiring it to be separated before being composted or digested in a reactor for biogas production. As an alternative, bio-waste could be collected in biodegradable plastic bags that would be co-digested with the bio-waste, additionally contributing to increased biogas production. However, not all bioplastics decompose well under standard anaerobic digestion conditions Therefore, to facilitate the bioplastic waste management, there is a need to improve their degradation efficiency. To this purpose, the FungiPlast project will investigate the microbial mechanisms of bioplastic degradation under anaerobic conditions, primarily targeting lignin-reinforced lignocellulosic bioplastics. Focus will be given to the evaluation of the hydrolytic capacities of anaerobic fungi (i.e. Neocallimastigomycota), which have recently been shown to dispose of the largest lignocellulolytic potential of all fungi, including for lignin deconstruction. An effective bioplastic waste management with energy recovery through the process of anaerobic digestion would facilitate the development of a circular economy, further promoting the application range of bioplastics, which is still limited when compared to conventional plastics.

Researcher & institution (Lux)

Mael Guennou (University of Luxembourg)

Project title

Let’s grow crystals in Luxembourg (LETZGROW)

Institution abroad

Sang-Wook Cheong (Rutgers University)

Duration (months)

9

FNR Committed

23,300 EUR

Abstract

Antiferroelectric crystals constitute a somewhat loose material family, of which only a few models are known and studied. The objective of the mobility project is to explore antiferroelectric properties in families of compounds where they has been so far neglected: layered perovskites and van der Walls bonded thiophosphate crystals. The project organizes three stays of the PI at the center for emergent materials at Rutgers University spread over a period of three years. The purposed of the stays is to produce crystals for further studies and collaboration with his research group at the University of Luxembourg. The collaboration will involve a PhD student in charge of the characterization of antiferroelectric crystals at the university of Luxembourg. This mobility project will allow the PI to learn the related crystal growth techniques and ultimately develop a similar activity in his group, with benefits for the research on ferroics and other material families.

Researcher & institution (Lux)

Sjouke Mauw (University of Luxembourg)

Project title

Sabbatical at ANU (SAB-ANU)

Institution abroad

Alven Tiu (Australian National University)

Duration (months)

2

FNR Committed

10,800 EUR

Abstract

As part of my sabbatical leave from the University of Luxembourg, I will conduct a two months research visit at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia. The main goals of my research visit will be to strengthen my research in security protocols and update a textbook for students on the specification and verification of security protocols, based on recent advances in this field. At ANU I will cooperate with local experts in the foundations of computer security, in particular with Prof. Alwen Tiu.

Researcher & institution (Lux)

Thomas Schmidt (University of Luxembourg)

Project title

Andreev processes in Magnetic Topological Insulators (AndMTI)

Institution abroad

Uli Zuelicke (Victoria University of Wellington)

Duration (months)

6

FNR Committed

21,000 EUR

Abstract

In recent years, it was realized that solid-state materials can often be characterized by concepts from topology, a branch of mathematics which investigates the possible continuous deformations of objects. Topology in solid-state materials often gives rise to robust and useful material properties, such as conducting surface or edge channels, where electrons can flow with very low resistance. The material class to be investigated in this proposal, magnetic topological insulators, has such edge states due to the interplay between band topology and intrinsic ferromagnetism. In this project, we will investigate manganese bismuth telluride as a promising candidate material. In particular, we will investigate how such a magnetic topological insulator is affected by a nearby superconductor. It has been argued before that the interplay between topology and superconductivity can give rise to new emergent quantum states in the system, in this case so-called Majorana bound states. These states could be used for topological quantum computation, which promises to make problems tractable whichare very hard for today’s computers.

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