A European Union-funded project has launched the first ever European virtual microencapsulation institute, aimed at turning technologies in this field into viable business products.
Microencapsulation - a process by which a tiny amount of a substance is surrounded by a coating to produce capsules - is used extensively in a multitude of industrial applications, ranging from pharmaceuticals, food and personal care products to photography and printing. However, despite representing a large market, less than 10 per cent of its potential is exploited, according to a report on the Cordis news service.
The VI Best project has received €1.8 million under the 'competitive and sustainable growth programme' of the Fifth Framework Programme, and involves 15 academic and industrial partners from eight Member States, as well as Switzerland.
According to Damien Lemaire, one of the project partners and the future head of legal affairs at the institute, several major obstacles stand in the way of entrepreneurs who are interested in bringing a microencapsulation application to the marketplace.
"Developing a microencapsulation application requires the combined expertise of a lot of people from different domains of R&D and industry," he told CORDIS News. One of the main challenges for a business is trying to consolidate its human resources to make sure that it has the necessary know how.
The other major obstacle preventing entrepreneurs is the difficulty of finding the right information to build their business, given the wide diversity of microencapsulation technologies available. Every microencapsulation product requires a process that is specific to that product or industry, noted Lemaire.
He went on to explain that in light of these obstacles, the institute's primary objective is to help entrepreneurs find the most appropriate partners, and then develop a microencapsulation product. "Our goal is to provide a one-stop-shop for businesses," he said.
Services offered by the institute will include an e-training service, a database for technology transfer events and an online technology consulting service through which businesses can make technical requests anonymously to a group of experts.
The level of interest in microencapsulation can be gauged from the fact that although the project is only at an early stage of development, 20 requests have already been processed by the expert panel. The institute ha hastened its plans as a result and expects to have its support service fully operational by the end of the year.
The project consortium will organise a series of technology transfer events to publicise its activities. The first one, a technology trade fair, will take place on 11 and 12 December in Geneva, Switzerland.