€65m fund launched to address climate and technology ‘challenges’

The National Challenge Fund comprises eight challenges. In total, it aims to fund about 90 research teams with up to €250,000 each over 18 months to develop their ideas
€65m fund launched to address climate and technology ‘challenges’
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris (Niall Carson/PA)

The Government has launched a €65m research fund to help Ireland become climate neutral by 2050 and address the challenges of disruptive technologies.

Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the areas of green transition and digital transformation are among the “greatest challenges our country and our world faces”.

“We have to help people through these changes,” Mr Harris told the PA news agency.

“This fund will help each and every one of us by navigating the best way forward.”

The National Challenge Fund comprises eight challenges. In total, it aims to fund about 90 research teams with up to €250,000 each over 18 months to develop their ideas.

Teams will then be able to vie for follow-on funding of up to €500,000 before going on to compete for prizes of up to €2m.

The first two challenges are now open for applications. These include the 2050 Challenge: to develop transformative, forward-looking solutions for Ireland to become climate neutral by 2050; and the Future Digital Challenge: to address the challenge from disruptive digital technologies.

Disruptive technologies include e-commerce, video-streaming sites, virtual reality, augmented reality, online news sites, ride-sharing apps and GPS systems, among others.

Mr Harris said research and innovation have to be at the heart of addressing Ireland’s social, economic and environmental challenges.

Mr Harris added: “The National Challenge Fund is a tangible example of this strategy in action.

“I encourage everyone to consider the 18,000 submissions put forward by the public as part of Creating Our Future as we want to respond to issues that matter to people.

“Challenge teams will be interdisciplinary with scientists, engineers and researchers working together with government bodies to develop solutions to problems of national importance, partnering with stakeholders to develop, test and trial solutions.”

The National Challenge Fund is an initiative under the Government’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan. It is funded by the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility and managed by Science Foundation Ireland.

All eight of the challenges in the fund focus on the need for a transition to a climate-neutral and clean economy as well as the challenges of digital transition.

There are challenges related to healthy environment, energy innovation, sustainable communities, and future food systems, among others.

Science Foundation Ireland deputy director general Ciaran Seoighe said he was “delighted” to have this new funding.

He said: “We look forward to working in partnership with government departments and agencies to define the challenges and help to build partnership with the wider research community to develop research solutions to these challenges.

“This is an exciting and rewarding opportunity for research teams to work in partnership with stakeholders to provide solutions to tangible problems that will benefit our society and economy.”

Each challenge incorporates four stages. The model of the competition means that researchers will receive increasing funding at each stage of the process. Research teams and ideas will be evaluated by an independent, international panel of experts.

Awards for each phase will be made between this year and 2026.

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