The Challenges of this cutting-edge R&D funding programme open on 15 June with a budget of 167 million euros
It may not be the best-known European R&D funding programme, but it is certainly not the least interesting in terms of the opportunities it can offer. Pathfinder is the call that – within the European Innovation Council (EIC) programme and under the umbrella of Horizon Europe – supports the exploration of disruptive ideas into radically new technologies.
The EIC Pathfinder awards grants to high-risk, cutting-edge projects that explore new and deep-tech areas intending to become potential future technologies that generate new market opportunities. Its overall objective is to make a proof of concept of these revolutionary ideas.
Thus, applicants participating in EIC Pathfinder projects are typically visionary scientists and entrepreneurial researchers from universities, research organisations, start-ups, high-tech SMEs, or industry players interested in disruptive innovation.
The two EIC Pathfinder calls for proposals
Pathfinder is divided into two main calls for proposals. The first, called Open, provides funding for projects in any field of science or technology, based on innovative interdisciplinary research, without predetermined themes (bottom-up approach). This call closed on 4 May.
The second, Challenges, will open on 15 June and close on 19 October 2022. With a budget of €167 million, it is structured around challenges in which the objectives, expected results, and impacts, as well as the specific conditions for participating in them are defined in great detail following a top-down approach.
Projects must involve consortia of researchers and other partners from at least three different countries, but in the case of the EIC Pathfinder Challenges, there are also opportunities for individual teams and small consortia of two partners.
Grants can reach up to €3 million for Open or €4 million for a project under Challenges. The grants are intended to support technological innovation from the early development phase through to proof of concept (activities at low Technology Maturity Levels – TRLs – from 1 to 4). Pathfinder projects can also receive additional funding to test the innovation potential of their research results.
The challenges of the EIC Pathfinder
The challenges for 2022 are the following:
- Management and valorisation of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Proposals must develop a proof-of-concept or lab-scale validated innovative technology that manages and valorises carbon dioxide, nitrogen, or both at the same time, into feedstock, chemicals, fuels, or energy carriers with zero net added value.
- Medium and long-term energy storage and integrated systems. Proposals should develop a proof-of-concept or an innovative validated laboratory-scale medium to long-term storage for centralised or decentralised large and medium-scale applications.
- Cardiogenomics. The overall aim of this challenge is to pave the way for new therapies for major cardiovascular diseases, including haemorrhagic and ischaemic strokes, aneurysms, cardiomyopathy and certain types of arrhythmias and other conditions, for which no effective treatments are currently available.
- Continuity of care. Technologies to support a radical shift in patient care from point-of-care to continuous care.
- DNA-based digital data storage. To explore scalable and reliable high-performance approaches using DNA as a general data storage medium.
- Alternative approaches for quantum information processing, communication and sensing. To encode, manipulate or store information in quantum objects, or to exploit quantum phenomena for information processing, communication and sensing in a way that differs from the main approaches currently pursued in quantum research.
Although the opportunities offered by the EIC Pathfinder are very attractive, the race for funding is very demanding. In the previous Pathfinder, Challenges call, which closed in October 2021, 39 of the 403 projects submitted were funded, equivalent to a success rate of 9.7% and grants of €145 million (average funding per project was €3.7 million). There were 214 participants from 27 countries: half were from the academic sector, a quarter from the private sector, and 20% from research organisations.