"Outstanding PhD thesis" and "Outstanding scientific achievement": these are the categories in which LIST won two FNR Awards this year.
At the FNR Awards 2021 ceremony, held on Thursday 21 October in Belval, Luxembourg, LIST won two of the prizes awarded each year by the Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR) to encourage outstanding achievements in R&D and to promote scientific activities to the general public and young people. The FNR Awards highlight this work and reward both the winners and their institutions.
In the face of the current global energy and environmental crisis, one of the areas LIST is working on is the development of a new class of materials for the clean and efficient production of hydrogen from porphyrins. Porphyrins are widespread chemical compounds that enable life on Earth: they are the basis for photosynthesis in plants and respiration in humans. "Our goal is to try to copy nature and develop polymers based on porphyrin, thus enabling other reactions, such as the production of clean hydrogen" explains Nicolas Boscher, supervisor of Giuseppe Bengasi, who won the FNR Award.
During his PhD, Bengasi and his research team invented a unique process for the simultaneous synthesis and deposition of porphyrin polymers in thin film form. The process can be easily scaled up to industrial level and is suitable for deposition on sensitive substrates such as plastic and paper. The method co-developed by Giuseppe Bengasi allows the engineering of optical and electronic polymer properties of porphyrins and paves the way for their use in catalysis and flexible electronics. One possible application is the production of clean hydrogen. If this breakthrough is achieved, the technology could support a new economy-based hydrogen instead of fossil fuels.
About 20% of the world's energy consumption is used for refrigeration and the absolute amount of air conditioning units is expected to double by 2040 according to the International Energy Agency. Current refrigeration systems based on vapour compression have reached their thermodynamic limit after 100 years of progress. They release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and are generally noisy. The development of highly efficient and environmentally friendly energy systems is therefore a major concern to mitigate global warming and promote sustainable use of natural resources.
For several years, under the leadership of Dr Emmanuel Defay, LIST has been working on electrocaloric materials, which could replace the refrigerators of tomorrow. This team has made a significant advance in the field: it has broken a crucial barrier by achieving a temperature difference of 13 degrees around the ambient temperature in a prototype heat exchanger, a new record in this field. LIST therefore confirms that electrocaloric materials are promising candidates for cooling applications. This did not escape the attention of the prestigious magazine Science, which published an article on 2 October 2020 entitled "Giant temperature span in electrocaloric regenerator" signed by eight researchers, including six from LIST. "We have shown that this could be a credible technology," emphasises Emmanuel Defay. Two projects were started with industrial partners and others are under discussion.
The two FNR Awards won by LIST this year are further proof of the excellence of its researchers, the team spirit that reigns within LIST and our passion for high-impact technologies that are building the world of tomorrow.