Publish Date: 13.08.2018

Category: News from the University

The Executive Agency of the European Research Fund (ERCEA) has published the results of the most recent call for tenders ERC Starting Grant 2018, which received 3,170 project proposals from top researchers around the world. 403 applications worth a total of 603 million euros were approved. A Slovenian researcher from the University of Ljubljana, Senior Lecturer Jaka Tušek, PhD, with his project SUPERCOOL – Superelastic porous structures for efficient elastocaloric cooling is also among the successful applicants and is to receive 1.4 million euros for the project. 

Senior Lecturer Jaka Tušek, PhD, is a researcher in the Laboratory for Refrigeration and District Energy (LAHDE) at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Ljubljana, which has already managed to obtain two ERC projects in less than a year. Senior Lecturer Jaka Tušek, PhD, convinced a 14-member panel of top natural science and technology scientists at an interview in Brussels. Within the 1.4-million-euro project, he is going to establish his first research group of six researchers hired for five years.

The research will focus on the key elements of elastocaloric cooling technology, which according to numerous assessments bears the greatest potential as an alternative to the widely used vapour-compression refrigeration technology. Despite its century-long development, it still does not provide sufficient yields and is environmentally controversial. The final objective of the project is the development of an elastocaloric cooling device that could mean the first major breakthrough in refrigeration technology in the past hundred years with its higher efficiency and lower environmental pollution. If the proposed refrigeration concept is successfully developed, it can be widely applied in various refrigeration technology areas, from small-scale cooling to large cooling system and heat pumps.

Elastocaloric cooling is based on the elastocaloric effect that is perceived as the warming up or cooling of superelastic shape-memory materials. The objective of the SUPERCOOL project is to overcome the two key challenges of the elastocaloric cooling technology. “The first challenge is the development of the superelastic or elastocaloric structure, i.e. the crucial element of an elastocaloric cooling system, that will provide a sufficient service life and mechanical stability, as well as a fast and efficient heat transfer. The second challenge is the development of a compatible and efficient drive system for applying loads to elastocaloric structures that will also ensure an efficient energy use. The proposed elastocaloric cooling technology concept can thus be applied in a large range of systems, from miniature systems (e.g. for the cooling of electronic parts), air conditioners, as well as all the way to large-scale cooling systems and heat pumps.” The responsible person for the project, Jaka Tušek, PhD, also emphasised that additionally to the elastocaloric technology, the findings of the SUPERCOOL project will also impact numerous other, also wider fields, especially medicine, construction, and mechanical engineering. Shape-memory materials have been applied widely in those fields, however their potential and limitations are not yet known well enough. 

The objective of the ERC Starting Grant programme is to support top researchers from all branches of the sciences at the beginning of their career in research (two to seven years after obtaining their PhD) as well as to boost the launch of their own independent career in research. The University of Ljubljana provides researchers professional assistance and counselling in all ERC project development phases, from workshops to the development of the idea, planning and drafting as well as the professional review of the project. The support programme is from the Development Fund that was founded by the University of Ljubljana in 2015 to encourage as many researchers as possible and also support them professionally. 

At the moment, there are six ERC projects in progress in Slovenia, of those four at the University of Ljubljana valued at more than 7.5 million euros.

More information on the ERC Starting Grant is available here.