EU Funded Photonic Research Highlights

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EU funded photonic research highlights
  Introduction The birth of the laser 50 years ago unleashed a revolution in the world of photonics. Today photonics technologies are everywhere around us: from communications and health, to materials processing in  production, to lighting and photovoltaics and to everyday products like DVD players and mobile phones. Europe has a long tradition in optics research and has now developed a high level of expertise in photonic technologies with many high-quality research groups in universities and public research centres and many strong industries. Overall, there are more than 5000 companies, mostly SMEs, employing almost 300,000  people. The European photonics industry is market leader in several key photonics sectors, such as communications, biophotonics, lighting, photovoltaics, industrial laser technologies, and safety and security, with market shares ranging from 20% to 45% (according to [1], the global production volume in photonics was  €270 billion in 2008).  Many European photonics players are clustered around so-called photonics regional innovation clusters and national technology platforms . These clusters are usually industry-academia partnerships which aim to tackle market fragmentation by combining and focusing R&D, education and training resources at regional or at national level. They have the necessary critical mass in terms of size and range of activities and a sort of  political recognition to act on behalf of their members. Today, there are more than 30 photonic clusters developed in many countries of the European Union (EU), in particular Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. For an overview, see [2]. In order to overcome the regional and national  barriers and to establish Europe as a leader in  photonic technologies, in 2006, the majority of the leading industries, universities and research centres founded  Photonics21 , the European Technology Platform (ETP) in photonics [1]. The mission of Photonics21 is to establish strategic links, co-ordinate common efforts in photonics R&D in Europe, and transform knowledge into leading-edge technologies and products which are competitive on a global scale. Photonics21 plays a key role in the definition of national priorities in photonics and optics related research programmes in several EU countries. The  platform has defined medium to long-term R&D objectives and recommendations for photonics in Europe in its strategic research agenda [3]. This agenda is valuable input for defining the photonics key research priorities that the EU funds under its research framework programmes. The EU supports photonics research for several years now. For example, in the period 2002  –  2006, around 50 photonics research projects were funded under the EU‟s 6th research framework programme (FP6) for approximately €130 million. Under the 7th research frame work programme (FP7, 2007  –  2013), the EU has further increased its financial support to photonics research and, since early 2007 it has created a dedicated Photonics Unit. The remainder of this paper is organised as follows: Section 1 briefly presents the EU‟s research framework  programmes and the mission and objectives of the Photonics Unit. It then describes the main challenges and R&D priorities which the unit is supporting under FP7 and provides representative examples of EU-funded  photonics research projects. Finally, section 2 presents the way forward for EU photonics research. 1. EU-funded Photonics Research: Challenges and Priorities  Figure 1. Geographical distribution of recognized photonic innovation clusters (open stars) and national technology  platforms (blue stars) in Europe.    Research Framework Programmes are the main instrument at EU level aimed specifically at supporting R&D. They have two major strategic objectives: strengthen the scientific and technological base of European industry and encourage its international competitiveness, through research that supports EU policies. The currently running 7th research Framework Programme (FP7) has a duration of 7 years (2007  –  2013) and a total  budget of over €50 billion [4]. Most of the FP7 money is spent on grants to research actors all over Europe and  beyond. Such grants are determined on the basis of EU-wide calls for proposals and a peer review process which is highly competitive. Photonics plays an ever increasing role under the EU‟s research and innovation policy. This is not only noticeable in the explicit mentioning of photonics in FP7, but also through the creation, in January 2007, of an administrative unit exclusively dedicated to photonics R&D. The unit is part of the European Commission‟s Information Society and Media Directorate-General [5]. The mission of the unit is to promote excellence in the field and to be a driving force for photonics research in Europe. The unit aims to tackle the fragmentation of Europe‟s research capabilities and to make Europe the best in photonics research and the best in translating those results into real innovation, thus increasing industrial competitiveness. Supported by the Photonics21 ETP, the unit brings together the key photonics research stakeholders in Europe in collaborative R&D projects. By combining the strengths of the photonics industry with that of the research institutions and academics, the goal is to stimulate greater and more effective investments in R&D; and to foster the development of innovative photonics components and subsystems and their market deployment. Photonics Research in FP7 (2007  – 2013) Photonics is a pervasive and key-enabling technology, which is applied in many different industrial areas and application sectors. It is for this reason that photonics research is promoted in several FP7 research  programmes, such as: Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Health, Energy and Nanosciences,  Nanotechnologies, Materials & new Production technologies (NMP) [6]. Within FP7, the bulk of photonics research is promoted by the ICT Programme [7] and managed by the Photonics Unit. R&D projects are supported through dedicated competitive calls. Selected projects address high-risk medium to long-term research that requires trans-national, multi-partner collaboration of an interdisciplinary nature. Since the beginning of FP7, 65 R&D photonic projects, including organic photonics, have been selected so far for more than €210 million of EU funding. Projects are increasingly multidisciplinary, bridging the areas of  physics, materials science, engineering, biology and chemistry. They address the development of core photonic technologies (e.g., lasers, waveguides, photo-detectors, amplifiers, LEDs, optical fibres, etc) which are driven  by specific application needs in strategic sectors such as communications, manufacturing, biophotonics,  photovoltaics, lighting and displays, and safety and security. The application driven research topics are supplemented by R&D on cross-cutting issues such as photonics technology integration platforms and foundry facilities or nano-photonics  –   see Figure. In the following sections, the main challenges and key research priorities are described for each of the above photonics application sectors. Representative examples of EU-funded R&D projects are also presented. More detailed information about the EU‟s Photonics Unit and the R&D projects it supports can be found in [8]. Photonic Technologies for Data Communications We are now the most connected and informed society ever. Every year, we experience continued growth in network traffic of around 40  –  50%. However, should this growth continue, current information processing and communication systems based on copper and electronics will soon be reaching their capacity limits in terms of  physical space, power consumption, wasted heat, or speed of transferring data from processor to periphery. Photonic technologies  –   lasers, optical fibres, optical components, optical systems and optical coding technologies  –   in core as well as in access networks are gradually introduced as they can provide concrete solutions to the above-mentioned challenges of the sector. The overarching challenge is to make networks affordable over the long run by dramatically reducing the overall cost per bit  . To achieve this, EU-supported  research addresses the following four major objectives:     build  faster optical networks : system, subsystem and component technologies to deliver cost-effective transmission at bit rates of 10 Gb/sec and beyond for the access network and several Terabits/sec for the core network;     build more dynamic networks  to access the data and automatically and dynamically control and manage network connections; and achieve dynamic optical flow switching of very large bursts of data packets and provide on-demand broadband access connections with adjustable bit rates to end-users;     build all optical networks which are  transparent to light throughout  , where an optical data stream enters the network through the input node, travels across several intermediate nodes, and reaches its destination node without conversion to electronics along the route, whatever the protocol and bit-rate is used;     build  greener optical networks : lower-power photonic technology solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of the Internet, and cheaper components and systems to extend digital services to everyone. In the Photonics Unit, there are 29 R&D projects running in this field for more than €100 million of EU funding. Projects address:  highly integrated optical modules  enabling cost effective systems with high data throughput and flexibility for less electro-optical conversions; optical interconnects aiming at cost- and energy-effective technology for Tb/s optical data links in short range communications; truly cost effective broadband core networks  at 100 Gbps and beyond; access networks  technology enabling 1  –  10 Gbps data-rate per client over more than 100 km; and lower power consumption. Representative Examples of R&D Projects in Data Communications PHASORS  –   PHase sensitive Amplifier Systems and Optical RegeneratorS and their applications  ( The project   targets the development and applications of fibre- based phase sensitive amplifiers (PSAs) in 40 Gbit/s  broadband core networks. PSAs have the potential to  be a disruptive technology within future optical communications enabling ultra-low noise amplification and ultrafast optical processing functions for networks employing high spectral efficiency phase encoded signals. Work is carried out at two subsystems: optical sampling and regeneration of phase encoded signals. For optical sampling, a novel approach is being investigated to allow the analysis of arbitrary amplitude and phase-encoded signals in the complex plane based on optical fibre all-optical sampling. The regeneration, both single channel and multi-wavelength regeneration, of phase encoded signals will be obtained by developing a suitable PSA.  Non-interferometric based regenerators for both DPSK, and if possible DQPSK formats, will also be developed. POF-PLUS  –   Plastic Optical Fibre for Pervasive Low-cost Ultra-high capacity Systems ( is targeting next generation high-speed home networking solutions (both   wirebound and wireless), and low-cost optical interconnects in large data centres and storage area networks. The project will develop new components, modify fibre assemblies and optimise transmission techniques to enable high speed (multiple Gbps) optical links based on standard large-core Plastic Optical Fibre (POF). It will take full advantage of the intrinsic low cost and extreme ease of installation of POF based systems to aid  both wired and wireless service delivery to end users in next generation networks (NGN). The viability of  Figure 2. Main application sectors addressed by research  projects funded by the EU’s FP7 ICT Programme.    radio-over-POF transport of wireless services will be demonstrated as well. VISIT  –   Vertically Integrated Systems for Information Transfer  ( aims to   develop ultrahigh-speed and low-cost micro-lasers capable of operating efficiently with both low-power consumption and at speeds of up to 40 Gbps (4 times faster than today‟s existing commercial te chnology). The focus is on the development of a complete end-product supply chain, from basic materials for assembly to  practical applications and of international technology standards. First demonstrations of the key optical transmitter devices up to 40 Gbps have already been achieved and the new concept of high speed electro-optic modulation in micro-lasers was demonstrated. This will eventually push the technology to or beyond 100 Gbps. VISIT is now working on further device refinement, wavelength extension, reliability, and optimal packaging and testing schemes. PIANO+ ( is a trans-national research action that was   launched on 1st January 2010 for 5 years. It brings together the funding agencies of five European countries (Austria, Germany, Israel, Poland and the United Kingdom). The action aims to promote research projects that would enable economic, ubiquitous broadband access of 1 Gbit/s and beyond per subscriber by 2015  –  2020, whilst meeting the shorter term needs of telecom system operators and users. Following a competitive call for proposals, 13 projects were selected for a total funding of €18.9 million. They will be launched in 2011. Two thirds of the funds will come from the participating countries and one third from the EU. Photonics for (Laser-Assisted) Manufacturing Lasers are very versatile manufacturing tools for working materials ranging from steel and plastics to ceramics and semiconductors. They are used for example for cutting and joining, ablation and deposition, drilling and marking. Future high-volume applications will generate a demand for laser systems to process high-strength steels, lightweight and crash-safe car bodies, photovoltaics and semiconductors, tubes and profiles, and miniaturised components in medical technologies. New methods will also be required for making new product shapes and single items for product customisation. The main technology challenges for the use of lasers in future applications are: new wavelengths; higher output power (both average and peak); shorter pulses; higher power efficiencies to produce more light with less energy; adaptive beam shaping and manipulation methods and adaptively reconfigurable beam delivery methods; smaller components and higher system integration; real-time process diagnosis and online-control of  production processes. Europe holds a leading position in the world market for photonics used in industrial  production and is facing stiff competition, in particular from Asia. The price pressure is therefore a challenge and lowering costs of laser processing systems is crucial. EU-supported research addresses the development of high brilliance fibre and diode lasers, novel lasers and laser systems opening-up new process windows or optimising process efficiencies, and highly integrated components. In the Photonics Unit, there are two FP7 R&D projec ts running in the field for around €5 million of EU funding. Both projects started on 1st September 2010. Representative Examples of R&D Projects in (Laser-Assisted) Manufacturing QCOALA - Quality Control of Aluminium Laser-welded Assemblies  will develop a new dual-wavelength laser processing system for welding thin-gauge aluminium and copper, 0.1 mm to 1.0 mm in thickness, with integrated process monitoring and in-line non-destructive inspection. The project will provide a reliable, high-speed, low-cost and high-quality joining solution for electric car battery and thin-film photovoltaic cell interconnections. The new laser processing system will be based on a pulsed platform, capable of laser pulses in the range of µs to ms and pulse energies of up to (tens of) Joules, and capable of generating both the near-IR and green wavelength through a dual-wavelength beam scanner. Real-time temporal pulse control will be developed to allow closed-loop control of the monitored process. Through fully integrated process ICT and Statistical Process Control, the new system will facilitate in-line quality control, and a higher level of
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