Interview with the coordinator
Maria Lekka, the Head of Unit at CIDETEC Surface Engineering is also the NICKEFFECT project coordinator.
She kindly agreed to answer a few questions to explain a bit better this 4-year project, the motivations and expectations behind it, and also the entities that will be working on it.
First things first – what is the NICKEFFECT project about?
Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) are categorised by the European Commission as Critical Raw Materials, being rare and scarce, but at the same time indispensable because of their catalytic properties. NICKEFFECT aims to develop novel ferromagnetic Ni-based coating materials with enhanced catalytic performance to replace the scarce and costly Platinum in key applications, i.e., water electrolysis, fuel cells and digital storage devices.
Where does the idea for NICKEFFECT come from?
CIDETEC Surface Engineering and the Autonomous University of Barcelona have been collaborating for years in several R&I projects funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and by the European Commission about electrodeposited alloys, including magnetoelectronic porous materials, for energy applications and data storage devices.
Moreover, UAB, VUB, ELSYCA and CIDETEC have collaborated in the ITN (Innovative Trainning Network) mCBEEs, dealing with corrosion mechanisms in micro and nano-scales in three strategic sectors: Biomedical, Electronics and Energy. Part of the fundamental research carried out in this frame has been the seed for the first discussion on this proposal.
How difficult are the project objectives to achieve?
The project is quite ambitious. The proposal of using Ni-based materials as an alternative is very challenging since there is little experience in using them in the applications selected for the project. To overcome this, NICKEFFECT will develop and test different compositions and deposition techniques to tune the porosity for each specific application.
How important is it to create new material coatings?
The Platinum Group Metals (PGM) are currently highly demanded due to their unique physical properties, also when used as a coating. They are considered indispensable in different strategic sectors, such as renewable energy, electric mobility and digital technologies, etc. Unfortunately, these materials and particularly Platinum, are rare and expensive. Currently, there are no effective substitutes that provide the same cost-effective performance as the PGMs for the strategic applications previously mentioned. Hence, it is crucial for the EU to create new material coatings to replace them.
NICKEFFECT has a total of 12 partners within its consortium. What areas of expertise are present in the project?
The NICKEFFECT project covers stakeholders of the whole project value chain, from scientific and technology developers (CIDETEC, UAB, CEA-LITEN, VUB), to technology providers (ELSYCA, ANSYS, IRES, MATGENIX) and end-users (ADVENT, SINGULUS), as well as partners providing transversal capacities (F6S, UNE).
What are the big challenges that the NICKEFFECT consortium is facing/is going to face during its development?
The main challenges of the NICKEFFECT Project are to guarantee that the removal of Pt does not result in reduced efficiencies for each of the targeted applications. Using Ni-based materials as an alternative is very challenging, since there is little experience in using them in project applications. To get around this, NICKEFFECT will experiment with and create various compositions and deposition techniques in order to adjust the porosity for each unique application.
What impacts can be expected from NICKEFFECT?
NICKEFFECT will develop new coating materials replacing Pt with Ni-based alloys in components for hydrogen production and conversion industries, and in the electronics industry. These are areas of strategic importance to secure the EU economic competitiveness as well as make it more resilient (Pt is not mined in Europe and is scarce and costly). NICKEFFECT will contribute to the progressive incorporation of green hydrogen utilisation by the Industry as well as to the impulse of clean mobility.
When are the first results expected, and what are the next steps to be taken for the project development?
The different coating materials, together with the coating methodologies and decision support tools for materials selection, are expected to be approved and released to the market, respectively, by 2027. After the project ends, the most promising materials production processes will be upscaled and new tests at the component level will have to be performed, apart from an exhaustive promotion and marketing campaign.
Who are the interested parties in this project? And who can benefit from the research results that are going to be available in the future?
The main interested parties are water electrolysers, fuel cells and magnetoelectric device manufacturers (in the medium term), apart from other energy and environmental applications in which PGM catalysts are used (in the long term). Universities and research and development centres can benefit from novel materials-related information (properties, characteristics), as well as product designers and material developers from decision support tools.
Final question: Is it difficult to be the project coordinator of such a big EU-funded project?
Coordinating a consortium of 12 partners is not a trivial task, but luckily the CIDETEC team involved has a lot of experience in coordinating European projects. On the other hand, the consortium’s core consists of linked teams that can draw from long-term cooperation and have already worked successfully on different projects.