PhD in Physics in 2009 by the University Complutense of Madrid, Adrian Quesada has worked at the Institute of Applied Magnetism in Madrid, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley, CA, USA) and is currently a researcher at the Institute of Ceramic and Glass Materials in Madrid. He is co-author of 37 ISI publications with more than 950 citations, H-index=12, 32 communications in conferences, 2 patents and 1 book chapter. Adrian is an expert in the study of coupling processes at interfaces and surfaces of magnetic materials, particularly oxides. He received the Best Poster Award in the MRS Spring Conference 2008 and he was part of the team that won the Experiment of the Year Award at the ALBA Synchrotron in 2015. He was a Work Package Leader in the finished project NANOPYME (FP7-SMALL-310516) and is the Project Coordinator of the H2020 European Project AMPHIBIAN (NMBP-03-2016-720853).

You have come to the CSIC office in Brussels to hold the Kick off meeting of the Project: “Amphibian: Anisometric permanent hybrid magnets based on inexpensive and non-critical materials” funded by H2020. Can you sum up what is the Project about?

The AMPHIBIAN project´s goal is to produce improved magnets that retain the advantages of ferrites –availability, sustainability, cost, recyclability, eco-friendliness- and which have the potential to substitute currently used Rare Earths magnets (CRM) in the electric power system. The best magnets of the world contain Rare Earths, considered as critical raw materials due to not only its risk of shortage and prices´ volatility (China controls the 97% of the world production) but to the environmental pollution created by its extraction. AMPHIBIAN aims to contribute to the solution of this issue, working on a cheap and sustainable alternative: the ferrites, with the intention of substituting the RE magnets in specific applications. In particular, we want to show its viability through the design and construction of a flywheel which allows to store and supply electric energy based on ferrites.

According to your previous answer, the Project has a clear sustainable content. Do you think “sustainability” has been a key factor to get the Project´s funding?

Actually it has been a key factor, but not the only one. The Calls for proposals of H2020 are extremely competitive and to get funding is necessary to show a solid and consistent project within all its aspects: scientific excellence, innovation capacity, interdisciplinarity of the proposal from theoretical simulations to the building of a prototype; the economic, scientific and social impact, the potentiality to exploit the results, the working plan implementation and so on. But certainly, the environmental impact of the project has been indeed positively evaluated.

Could you tell us what companies are part of the consortium? And what is their role in the project?

The consortium is composed by 5 SMEs. General Numerics, German Company specialized in micromagnetic simulations, leads the modeling workpackage. Max Baermann GmbH, another German Company, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of plastic-bonded permanent magnets which contribute to the Project with its research, the magnets´ production and the exploitation of results. Advanced Dispersed Particles is Spanish Company with a Technology that maximizes the effectiveness of the nanoparticles by means of its disaggregation, promoting and enhancing surface interactions and effects. Its role is to carry out the pre-industrial scale of the project´s materials. The Italian SME Petroceramics S.p.A. works on the production of sintered magnets. And finally, WattsUp Power, a Danish Company that designs and commercializes flywheels. Within the framework of AMPHIBIAN, WattsUp Power will design and build a prototype with magnets of ferrites –in substitution of the currently used Rare Earths magnets-.

Did you ask for help in your center or at the headquarters to drafting the project?

Yes, actually the CSIC European Programmes Unit was really helpful during the preparation of the proposal. I particularly would like to mention Mónica Martín –Lanuza and Carmen Guerrero. Additionally I would like to highlight the work done by CDTI because of its contribution and help with the Spanish proposals within the European programs framework, especially Miguel Ortiz and Lucía Iñigo.

What was the origin of the initiative of coordinating a European Project of this relevance? Could you explain how it was born?

We were leaders of a workpackage in another Project called “NANOPYME” (funded by the 7th Framework Programme). It was during its implementation that the idea was born, and this idea has been the basis for the current project: AMPHIBIAN. Furthermore, I was willing to lead a project and all the partners encouraged me to do so.

Would you recommend other researchers without experience within the current Framework Programme, to start first as “partner” instead of as coordinator?

I think it could be very helpful to participate “as partner” in a European project before preparing a proposal “as coordinator”. It was my case indeed. It doesn´t only allow you to understand the goals of the European Commission and the language they use but also to understand the dynamics of the work of a big consortium and to carry out the work efficiently. Having said that, I would not discourage anyone from CSIC “to try”, above all taking into account that getting funds from European Programmes is not so easy. The CSIC European programmes unit and CDTI are a great support to prepare very competitive proposals.

Do you think the creation of the European Innovation Council –starting as a pilot project at the end of this year- is a good idea?

Yes, I think it is a good idea. One of the pending subjects at European level is to reduce the distance between fundamental research and products, I mean, to cover the current gap in R&D&I between public and private funding. The European Commission is very aware of this issue. We have already the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) with its Knowledge and Innovation Communities which are funding different strategic lines with more than € 300 million (climate change, health, raw materials…). I think the European Innovation Council would contribute in the same way, but always without forgetting that fundamental research cannot be disregarded, and for this, the ERC will be always there. Personally, I believe this is a correct measure.

Finally, could you explain why China has the control of the Rare Earths production?

Just the other day I read we are in the silicon and neodymium (one of the Rare Earths) era. And it is true that a sustainable future with electric cars, renewables energies and so on, depends on them. It is estimated that the demand will increase the next 30 years near 50.000 tons per year. China became aware of that before the rest of the countries and took the strategic decision of getting the control of the Rare Earths mines and its production. United States and Europe could restart the Rare Earths mining and for example, Norway has big stocks of rare earths…the problem is that its extraction is very polluting and the EU would never approve a legislation allowing a process that is so harmful for the environment.
Our Project AMPHIBIAN focuses on the strategy of Rare Earths magnets´ substitution, but that replacement will not be possible in all the key applications as for example the electric cars´ engines. To sum up, this is a complex issue and its solution should come from different approaches. In this regard it is important to work also on solutions coming from the mining sector, which would help to improve the environmental impact of the rare earths extraction.