European Innovation Council – European Commission awards €210 million to 108 innovative projects to help them access the market faster

[Source: Research & Innovation] 108 innovative projects have been selected for funding under the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot in the latest funding round. The total amount to be distributed to the projects under the EIC Accelerator and the Fast Track to Innovation strands of the EIC pilot is €210.2 million. Source

New approach suggests path to emissions-free cement

It’s well known that the production of cement — the world’s leading construction material — is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 8 percent of all such releases. If cement production were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter.

A team of researchers at MIT has come up with a new way of manufacturing the material that could eliminate these emissions altogether, and could even make some other useful products in the process.

The findings are being reported today in the journal PNAS in a paper by Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, with postdoc Leah Ellis, graduate student Andres Badel, and others.

“About 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide is released for every kilogram of cement made today,” Chiang says. That adds up to 3 to 4 gigatons (billions of tons) of cement, and of carbon dioxide emissions, produced annually today, and that amount is projected to grow. The number of buildings worldwide is expected to double by 2060, which is equivalent to “building one new New York City every 30 days,” he says. And the commodity is now very cheap to produce: It costs only about 13 cents per kilogram, which he says makes it cheaper than bottled water.

So it’s a real challenge to find ways of reducing the material’s carbon emissions without making it too expensive. Chiang and his team have spent the last year searching for alternative approaches, and hit on the idea of using an electrochemical process to replace the current fossil-fuel-dependent system.

Ordinary Portland cement, the most widely used standard variety, is made by grinding up limestone and then cooking it with sand and clay at high heat, which is produced by burning coal. The process produces carbon dioxide in two different ways: from the burning of the coal, and from gases released from the limestone during the heating. Each of these produces roughly equal contributions to the total emissions. The new process would eliminate or drastically reduce both sources, Chiang says. Though they have demonstrated the basic electrochemical process in the lab, the process will require more work to scale up to industrial scale.

First of all, the new approach could eliminate the use of fossil fuels for the heating process, substituting electricity generated from clean, renewable sources. “In many geographies renewable electricity is the lowest-cost electricity we have today, and its cost is still dropping,” Chiang says. In addition, the new process produces the same cement product. The team realized that trying to gain acceptance for a new type of cement — something that many research groups have pursued in different ways — would be an uphill battle, considering how widely used the material is around the world and how reluctant builders can be to try new, relatively untested materials.

The new process centers on the use of an electrolyzer, something that many people have encountered as part of high school chemistry classes, where a battery is hooked up to two electrodes in a glass of water, producing bubbles of oxygen from one electrode and bubbles of hydrogen from the other as the electricity splits the water molecules into their constituent atoms. Importantly, the electrolyzer’s oxygen-evolving electrode produces acid, while the hydrogen-evolving electrode produces a base.

In the new process, the pulverized limestone is dissolved in the acid at one electrode and high-purity carbon dioxide is released, while calcium hydroxide, generally known as lime, precipitates out as a solid at the other. The calcium hydroxide can then be processed in another step to produce the cement, which is mostly calcium silicate.

The carbon dioxide, in the form of a pure, concentrated stream, can then be easily sequestered, harnessed to produce value-added products such as a liquid fuel to replace gasoline, or used for applications such as oil recovery or even in carbonated beverages and dry ice. The result is that no carbon dioxide is released to the environment from the entire process, Chiang says. By contrast, the carbon dioxide emitted from conventional cement plants is highly contaminated with nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide and other material that make it impractical to “scrub” to make the carbon dioxide usable.

Calculations show that the hydrogen and oxygen also emitted in the process could be recombined, for example in a fuel cell, or burned to produce enough energy to fuel the whole rest of the process, Ellis says, producing nothing but water vapor.

In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO3) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions.

In their laboratory demonstration, the team carried out the key electrochemical steps required, producing lime from the calcium carbonate, but on a small scale. The process looks a bit like shaking a snow-globe, as it produces a flurry of suspended white particles inside the glass container as the lime precipitates out of the solution.

While the technology is simple and could, in principle, be easily scaled up, a typical cement plant today produces about 700,000 tons of the material per year. “How do you penetrate an industry like that and get a foot in the door?” asks Ellis, the paper’s lead author. One approach, she says, is to try to replace just one part of the process at a time, rather than the whole system at once, and “in a stepwise fashion” gradually add other parts.

The initial proposed system the team came up with is “not because we necessarily think we have the exact strategy” for the best possible approach, Chiang says, “but to get people in the electrochemical sector to start thinking more about this,” and come up with new ideas. “It’s an important first step, but not yet a fully developed solution.”

The research was partly supported by the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology.


Global agreements

Many linguistics scholars regard the world’s languages as being fundamentally similar. Yes, the characters, words, and rules vary. But underneath it all, enough similar structures exist to form what MIT scholars call universal grammar, a capacity for language that all humans share.

To see how linguists find similariites that can elude the rest of us, consider a language operation called “allocutive agreement.” This is a variation of standard subject-verb agreement. Normally, a verb ending simply agrees with the subject of a sentence, so that in English we say, “You go,” but also, “She goes.”

Allocutive agreement throws a twist into this procedure: Even a third-person verb ending, such as “she goes,” changes depending on the social status of the person being spoken to. This happens in Basque, for one. It also occurs in Japanese, says MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa, even though Japanese has long been thought not to deploy agreement at all. But in fact, Miyagawa asserts, the same principles of formality appear in Japanese, if you know where to look.

“It goes a long way toward the idea that there’s agreement in every language,” says Miyagawa, a professor of linguistics and the Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture at MIT. “In Japanese this politeness system has exactly the same distribution as the Basque allocutive system.”

Now Miyagawa has published a book — “Agreement Beyond Phi,” out today from the MIT Press — that explores some of these unexpected structural similarities among languages. The book has a second aim, as well: Miyagawa would like to orient the search for universal linguistic principles around a greater diversity of languages. (The title, incidentally, refers to agreement systems that are not found in Indo-European languages.)

Because English is the native language of so many great linguists, he observes, there is a tendency to regard it as a template for other languages. But drawing more heavily on additional languages, Miyagawa thinks, could lead to new insights about the specific contents of our universal language capacity; he cites the work of MIT linguist Norvin Richards as an example of this kind of work.

“Given the prominence of Indo-European languages, especially English, in linguistic theory, one sometimes gets the impression that if something happens in English it’s due to universal grammar, but if something happens in Japanese, it’s because it’s Japanese,” Miyagawa says.

Not mere formalities

To see why allocutive agreement seems like such a compelling example to Miyagawa, take a very brief look at how it works.

The best-known examples of addressing people formally come from Indo-European languages such as French, in which second-person subject-verb agreement changes in a simple way, depending on the social status of the person being addressed. Consider the phrase, “You speak.” To a peer or friend, you would use the informal version, “Tu parles.” But to a teacher or an older stranger you would likely use the more formal agreement, “Vous parlez.”

What happens in Basque and Japanese is a bit more complicated, however, since both informal and formal modes of address are employed even when speaking about other people. For instance, in Basque, consider a phrase Miyagawa dissects in the book, “Peter worked.” To a male friend, you would say, “Peter lan egin dik.” But to someone with higher social status, you would say, “Peter lan egin dizu.” The verb ending — the verb is last word in this sentence — changes even though it remains in the third person.

And while Japanese grammar differs in many ways from Basque grammar, Miyagawa contends in the new book that Japanese “politeness marking” follows the same rules. The sentence “Taro said that Hanako will come,” for example, includes the politeness marking “mas” when being spoken in a formal setting. In Japanese, transliterated in English characters, this becomes: “Taroo-wa hanako-ga ki-mas-u to itta.” But for the same sentence, when spoken to a peer, the “mas” disappears.

This kind of agreement, Miyagawa notes, is something he proposed in a 2010 book — titled, “Why Agree? Why Move?” — but did not observe until about 2012.

“I found in Basque the prediction I made in 2010 but couldn’t substantiate then,” Miyagawa says. “It’s exactly the same agreement system.”

Strikingly, Basque and Japanese seem to have very different origins. And Basque — although spoken in the Basque region that lies in between France and Spain — is not an Indo-European language. Indeed, linguists are not certain how to account for the origins of Basque. The presence of allocative agreement in both tongues, then, suggests a deep and unexpected universality among the kinds of linguistic rules that can occur.


Miyagawa acknowledges he cannot predict precisely how his colleagues in linguistics will react to the book’s agenda, but says he has gotten a positive reception when presenting its concepts at conferences.

Certainly, some linguists have been very receptive to Miyagawa’s arguments. Johan Rooryck, a professor of French linguistics at Leiden University in the Netherlands, has said that Miyagawa’s new book “makes an elegant and compelling case for this exciting perspective.”

Miyagawa himself stresses that the point of the research is not to upend the conceptual foundations of universal grammar — as codified by MIT linguist Noam Chomsky and many others — but to expand the range of comparisons available to linguists. Beyond English, Japanese, and Basque, the book also draws on similarities found in Dinka (spoken in Sudan) and Jingpo (spoken in China and Burma), among other languages.

The book, he says, “is heavily influenced by the insights of the previous work, [and is] standing on the shoulders of some of the great minds, of Chomsky and many others.”

But when linguists look at more and more languages, Miyagawa adds, “You start to discover things you never noticed before.”


Low Emission Development Strategies around the World: Linking climate action and sustainable development based on the experience of two EU-funded projects – 27 September 2019, Brussels, Belgium

[Source: Research & Innovation] This conference will bring together stakeholders, policy experts and two ground-breaking EU-funded projects that have been working in this area to present the project results and discuss implications for climate, energy and development policies.
CD-LINKS is a H2020 project focused on linking climate and development policies. It has brought together leading institutes from G20 countries and beyond to improve the global knowledge base, strengthen the global research network and reinforce each country’s capacity to build global and national low emission pathways.
Africa-LEDS has been working with 7 African countries on Low Emission Development Strategies. It focuses on working with policymakers to demonstrate how NDC implementation can contribute to socioeconomic priorities.Venue: Borschette Conference Centre (Room 3A), Brussels Source

Events – Horizon Europe Lunch Workshop – European Health Forum Gastein 2019 – 3 October 2019, Bad Hofgastein, Austria

The Commission is preparing Horizon Europe, the next and most ambitious EU research and innovation programme (2021-2027) with a proposed budget of €100 billion, in an intensive codesign process. The co-design process ensures that Horizon Europe is directed towards what matters most, improves our daily lives and helps turn big societal challenges into innovation opportunities and solutions for a sustainable future.

By bringing together speakers from the EHFGs ‘four pillars’ and drawing on the Forum’s expert participants from health and other relevant sectors and stakeholder groups, an interactive, outcomes-oriented session will be shaped. DG RTD will showcase the outcomes of the co-design process (focusing on the Health-related impacts), to reach a full range of stakeholders and gather feedback on the projected direction of the Horizon Europe.

Maggie DE BLOCK, Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health, and Asylum and Migration, Belgium, Belgium

Irene NORSTEDT, Director of People Directorate (health and social sciences), Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD), European Commission

Fiona GODFREY, Secretary General, European Public Health Alliance

Nathalie MOLL, Director-General, European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) (tbc)

Moderated by Nick FAHY, Senior Researcher, Medical Sciences Division, University of Oxford