Key enabling technologies and methodologies
At TNO, we use the latest technologies and methods to work on innovation. We believe that this is where the key to solving societal challenges and creating economic opportunities lies. Discover the most valuable technologies and methodologies we’re focusing on.
Our priorities in advanced materials are circularity and metamaterials. We focus on the following technologies:
- circularity (reuse), which in construction involves, for example, circular and sustainable building materials and in industry involves plastics
- materials for energy storage, such as circular energy carriers, to avoid depletion and dependence on critical materials
- composites and metamaterials (engineered materials with special properties) for applications in high-tech and defence
- biocompatible materials, including organ-on-chip applications, to accelerate drug development.
In the field of photonics, we focus on laser satcom and scaling up integrated photonics. We’re working on:
- long-distance laser communication, for example between ground stations and satellites
- scaling up and applying integrated photonic circuits, including for sensors
- next-generation solar cells, such as perovskites, and the reliability and service life of solar cells
- medical photonics for diagnostics and patient monitoring.
In quantum technologies, we focus on quantum sensors and applications – a new branch within this key enabling technology. We collaborate in QuTech, together with Delft University of Technology and a growing number of other parties. There, we carry out joint research on quantum computers and quantum communication.
Digital technologies are our broadest key enabling technology. We focus mainly on:
- swarm intelligence
- self-aware/context-aware systems
- generative design
- automated cyber security
- post-quantum cryptology
- digital twinning
- future networks
- federated cloud and distributed IT systems.
Furthermore, the principal focus is on Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI has an extremely broad range of applications, such as automated driving, flying, and sailing; robots in healthcare and defence; health monitoring; air quality; and the condition of civil engineering structures. These involve the integration of model and data-driven AI (Hybrid AI); self-aware, context-aware systems; the interplay between humans and AI systems; and transparently reasoning AI. We’re also working on:
- Cooperation between AI systems (swarm intelligence) and the use of AI as a design tool (generative design).
- Developing sensors in the fields of ultrasound, fibre optic-based sensors, and radar front-end technology.
- Applying sensors: signal processing and pattern recognition, and integration of information from different sensors (sensor fusion, big data).
- Security in the digital domain, for example, automated protection against cyber attacks and secure data exchange (post-quantum and distributed cryptology, multi-party computation). This enables us to open the doors to new business models, for example in the transport sector (Mobility as a Service).
- Digital twinning: modelling complex physical systems, with sensors linked to physical reality. This technology is applied in monitoring the living environment (emissions), bridges, buildings, ships, and other structures, but also in monitoring energy systems and networks, and chemical processes.
- Future networks: federated cloud systems and distributed IT systems.
Our focus in nanotechnology is on 3D nanometrology:
- Nanometrology is the measuring of structures at the nanoscale.
- A new focus area is measuring in 3 dimensions.
- Chip structures will eventually be designed in 3D. This means that we have to measure below the surface and also identify and document material compositions.
In chemical technologies, we focus on chemical processes for circularity, electrochemistry, and photochemistry:
- Electrochemistry and photochemistry (combined with catalysis) lead to circular production processes (e.g., for ammonia), that reduce the chemical industry’s dependence on fossil sources and cause no carbon emissions or even ‘negative’ emissions (BECCS, DAC, CCUS, mineralisation options).
- Sustainable fuels for road vehicles, aircraft, and water vessels, as well as for stationary applications.
- Plasma technology for high-quality recycling of plastics.
Life science technologies
Here, our focus technologies are Exposome, body-brain interactions, ultrasound arrays, personalised medicine, and microplastics. This is what we’re working on:
- Models of human health (quantified self, body-brain interactions, microbiome) in order to develop, for example, personalised therapies.
- We’re using digital technologies, such as wearables and biochips, to generate the necessary data.
- Although the emphasis is on modelling, we’re also developing sensor technology in specific areas (ultrasound, optics).
- We’re expanding our organ-on-chip knowledge to accelerate drug development and reduce animal and human testing.
- We’re investing in knowledge of human exposure (toxicology, exposome), dispersion, and protection. A new focus area is the impact of microplastics on humans and animals.
Engineering and manufacturing technology
Here, our focus technologies are flexible manufacturing, carbon nanotubes, and components for the energy transition. In the coming years, we’re going to invest more in smart industry, a subject that’s at the crossroads with the Digital Technologies cluster and is aligned with the characteristics of the Dutch manufacturing industry (smaller numbers of products of greater complexity). Key themes in this context are:
- human-robot interaction (flexible manufacturing)
- digital linkage in supply chains
- product platforms
- parametric/generative design
- topology optimisation
- smart measurement methods with associated data processing.
With the development of new methods and techniques for system design and system engineering, we’re creating an overview of the complexity of systems within the high-tech industry. TNO’s extensive Embedded Systems Innovation (ESI) research programme aims to help the high-tech industry improve lead times and the effectiveness of product innovation processes. And also the functionality, quality, and societal impact of high-tech products.
We also focus on:
- manufacturing processes such as atomic layer deposition
- manufacturing processes for large area electronics, carbon nanotubes, and products with carbon nanotubes
- manufacturing processes of electrodes for, among other things, reactors and batteries.
Key Enabling Methodologies
Innovation requires not only distinctive technological knowledge (‘what’), but also innovative methods and ways of working (‘how’). These are Key Enabling Methodologies (KEMs). We want to apply these key enabling methodologies and contribute to developing them further. In the coming years, we’ll therefore emphasise the further development of methodologies in 2 clusters.
1. Vision, imagination, and impact
We develop methods that enable us to understand better how technology, world views, behaviour, and systems will develop, what innovations can be expected, and what impact this will have on society. These methods include:
- estimating the socio-economic and societal impact of innovations
- Drawing up future scenarios
- identifying possible policy choices in the domains in which we’re active.
Focus technologies are:
- technology foresight
- data-driven roadmapping
- socio-economic impact assessment
- integrated models for major societal challenges and transitions.
2. Joint innovation, value creation, and scaling up in experimental environments
Major innovations are no longer developed within individual organisations. Collaboration is necessary, both at the early stages and when scaling up. In recent years, orchestrating innovation has had a prominent place on our agenda,and we continu building our knowledge and skills in this field.
New ‘collaborative’ business models are needed, for example in construction, in order to address major building and maintenance challenges. New participation methods should involve stakeholders in policy, design, and the implementation of solutions (citizen involvement and co-creation, participatory system dynamics, serious gaming).
Innovation is accelerated when different parties are brought together: Innovation Hubs, Digital Innovation Hubs, and Field Labs are proven ‘tools of innovation’. Expanding our knowledge of how to set up and run such experimental environments is a prerequisite for success in the coming period.
The focus technologies here are:
- collaborative business models
- stakeholder involvement
- innovation hubs
- field labs.
All the above developments share 2 common features:
- Transdisciplinarity: combining knowledge from different disciplines is the key to success.
- Responsible innovation: finding the right balance between different societal interests in a transparent way.