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Basic Research and Innovative Science for Energy (BRISE)


Since numerous radical technological changes brought about the energy technology revolutions of mid 19th century, technology in energy sector has experienced notable progresses but mainly as incremental improvements of well-established technological paradigms and not as radical changes in the basic schemes followed for the provision of energy services.

Solving short-term energy-related problems by fine-tuning existing technologies is not sufficient and may not work out in the future due to the exponential growth of energy demand. Since a stabilisation of this demand seems to be unrealistic, it is essential to analyse how energy progress could shift from incremental progress toward radical changes. For instance, high potential technologies like carbon-free electricity, bio-fuels or hydrogen/fuel cell might become radical technologies if they receive further developments from basic research discoveries.

The key idea of the project was based on the fact that purely incremental progress will not suffice to provide the knowledge and technologies needed to address the daunting challenges ahead of us in terms of availability and affordability of clean energy. Therefore a combination of breakthroughs in the provision and use of energy, tapping the potential of basic science, multidisciplinary approaches and cross-cutting technologies were required. However, lessons from various attempts made in Europe and outside seem to show that “science mining” to identify results or discoveries with application potential for energy does not automatically work. The idea was therefore to use a “reverse methodology” based on the identification of the main bottlenecks for which technologies breakthroughs are needed. For these bottlenecks possible solutions were determined offered by the area of fundamental science and basic research. With respect to the emerging technologies to be identified here we concentrated on nanotechnology, biotechnology and information and communication technology.


The goal of this study was to support the European Commission in developing a programme of basic research activities that stimulate major breakthroughs within the energy sector (energy primary sources and transformation). The specific objectives of this study  consist of the two following points:

  1. identify the major breakthroughs and potentials in the energy field (excluding nuclear);
  2. determine, through a multidisciplinary approach, what are the basic research needs to stimulate these breakthroughs.

This analysis provided relevant recommendations on basic research potentials that were used for the definition of priorities in energy research.

Method and approach

The work was built on the earlier project “ESTIR Energy Scientific & Technological Indicators and References”. The results of this project were revisited and adapted as an essential basis for the background documentation.

A first step was to extract the main issues with relevance to fundamental and basic research from the ESTIR project on the one hand and possible applicability to energy conversion processes on the on the other hand. In a second step the document (REF) that has been extracted from the results of the ESTIR project was complemented by additional information from other sources and expert views.

Based on this background elaborated in by desk research one workshops was held in order to validate and further develop the initial background document. The final result of the project was an approach to tap the potential of fundamental science for the research and development needs of the energy sector.


Completed project (June 2006 – December 2007)


European Commission, Joint Research Centers, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS)


  • GeorgiaTech, Technology Policy and Assessment Centre (TPAC)
  • BSR Sustainability GmbH


Official deliverables

  • Ragwitz, Mario, Michael Friedewald, Sibylle Gaisser, Axel Thielmann, Marilyn Brown, Susan Cozzens, and Felipe Andrés Toro, “Basic Research and Innovative Science for Energy”, BRISE Deliverable 5, European Techno-Economic Policy Support Network (ETEPS), Brussels, 2008.

Exploration of a thematic extension of the ERAWATCH Base-load Research Inventory

The specific objective of this programme is the development of a suitable design and method for expanding the ERAWATCH base-load Research Inventory with regard to thematic R&D policies and initiatives. The exploration contributed to test and develop a method in order for the base-load to display information on thematic R&D policies. – collecting information and putting it in templates. Each country filled in the templates and identified the main encountered problems. Two syntheses were produced respectively on energy policies and on nanotechnologies policies. These syntheses helped to provide a method for producing transversal analysis amongst countries. A final report presented the proposed design and method for collecting national information on specific thematic fields.


Completed project (07/2006-06/2007)


European Commission, Joint Research Centers, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS)


  • Technopolis, FR;
  • Fraunhofer ISI, DE
  • CASE, PL;
  • ECO Energy, IL

Energy Scientific & Technological Indicators and References (ESTIR)


Energy Technology Indicators are a useful tool to policy drivers, programme managers, investors, decision makers, bankers and technology end-users in order to monitor the status of research and technological development and industrial evolution. They can especially help the European Commission and individual Member States to analyse the technological development and to adopt relevant research programmes accordingly.

The European Commission is wishing to develop further their system of Energy Scientific & Technological Indicators and References (ESTIR). These indicators have been developed by the Commission with the following objectives: they should

  • record and help to analyse changes in the evolution of key emerging technologies to reach sustainable development in the energy field;
  • monitor related changes in science, industry and markets;
  • help the European Commission and individual Member States to define realistic targets on objectives for future R&D activities.

Such indicators and data are a useful tool to policy drivers, decision makers, programme managers, potential investors, bankers, technology end-users etc.

The indicators are, on one hand, technology-specific indicators that analyse and document the state-of-the-art of the technological advancements in a specific technology area. On the other hand they describe the market penetration and the preparedness of the market to further carry on the emerging technologies. In particular they should describe barriers and bottlenecks relevant for the technologies and indicators to further progress to overcome these barriers.

The scientific and technological indicators to be developed under this call for tender are based on the earlier ESTIR project. [1] However, the current project goes beyond the assessments done in the former analysis. In particular the indicators developed concentrate on the assessment and analysis of progress in the technical and socio-economic area concerned by

  • identifying the major relevant issues and/or critical factors which best describe technical and economic bottlenecks to be overcome or the main challenges to be addressed for each technology in its future development
  • proposing and justifying appropriate quantitative or qualitative criteria, parameters or indicators describing the state of the art and future technical development at various time horizons (5 years – short-term; 5-10 years – medium-term, > 15 years – long-term).


Completed project (2004-2005)


  • European Commission, DG RTD


  • Fraunhofer ISI
  • Ecofys
  • ISET
  • REC


  • Ragwitz, Mario, Wolfgang Eichhammer, Ulrike Hasenauer, Martin Wietschel, Sibylle Gaisser, Michael Friedewald, Felipe Toro, Chris Hendriks, Adriaan Kil, Rogier Coenraads, Berry Meulemann, Carlo Hamelinck, Michael Durstewitz, Alexander Badelin, Jochen Bard, Márton Herczeg, and Peter Bodo, Energy Scientific and Technological Indicators and References,EUR 21611, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2005.