UPC researcher Lluís Jofre Cruanyes wins an ERC Starting Grant to miniaturise turbulence at the microscale

Researcher Lluís Jofre Cruanyes

Researcher Lluís Jofre Cruanyes

Encouraging research excellence in Europe

Starting Grants are an ERC initiative to encourage the highest quality research in Europe and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields of research. In this edition, 619 million euros have been awarded to projects by 397 early-career researchers from 22 European Union countries or partner countries, with 13 of them working in Catalan research centres and universities: the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (1), the Pompeu Fabra University (4), the Centre for Genomic Regulation (3), the University of Barcelona (2), the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (2) and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (1).

The grants, worth 1.5 million euros on average, will help young researchers to launch projects, create teams and implement innovative research. The selected proposals cover all disciplines of research, from the medical applications of artificial intelligence and the science of controlling matter by using light to designing a legal regime for fair influencer marketing. It is estimated that the grants will create more than 2,000 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, doctoral students and other staff at the host institutions. Female researchers have won 43% of grants, an increase from 37% in 2020 and the highest share to date. The call has received a total of 4,000 proposals.

Researcher and professor Lluís Jofre Cruanyes has won a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to create disruptive energy technologies and solutions that will allow the next generation of energy conversion systems and aircraft propulsion technologies to be developed. To that end, he will create the first-ever turbulence-on-a-chip prototypes, with a potential hundredfold performance improvement with respect to current technology.

Feb 09, 2022

Microfluidic chips are technological devices that are revolutionising research in fields such as chemistry, biotechnology and environmental science. These microsystems integrate several functions into a chip the size of a human hair or a cell, with applications as diverse as diagnosing diseases, detecting chemical traces and analysing air pollution.

However, the technological opportunities enabled by the miniaturisation of systems have yet to been capitalised on to improve energy-related processes. This is mainly due to the laminar-flow behaviour of fluids at the microscale, which is different to their behaviour under macroscopic conditions, resulting in low mixing and transfer rates.

The absence of turbulence at a microfluidic scale is a central unresolved problem in thermal fluid sciences, known as the “microfluidic frontier”. Overcoming this frontier is the overarching goal of the project SCRAMBLE - Turbulence-On-a-Chip: Supercritically Overcoming the Energy Frontier in Microfluidics, led by Lluís Jofre Cruanyes, a Beatriz Galindo researcher in the Fluid Science and Engineering Research Group (GReCEF) and a professor of the Department of Fluid Mechanics at the Barcelona East School of Engineering (EEBE) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC).

In this context, the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant will allow “turbulence on a chip” to be miniaturised and turbulent flow to be induced in microchips by means of high-pressure supercritical fluids for the first time. This new approach uses the hybrid thermophysical properties of fluids at supercritical pressures—in which liquid and gas properties are combined—to activate/deactivate the turbulent flow by modulating the fluid’s temperature and/or pressure.

First generation of turbulence-on-a-chip prototypes
The SCRAMBLE project aims to redefine the physical limits set in the past decades in the science and engineering of microfluidics by designing, manufacturing and testing a first-ever series of turbulence-on-a-chip prototypes for transferring energy with a hundredfold mixing and transfer performance improvement over standard microdevices.

In the medium to long term, the technology proposed could enable the efficient miniaturisation of thermodynamic cycles for power generation, the reconceptualisation of next-generation processors and semiconductors—with better cooling capacity—and the adoption of novel microfluidic solutions for transport and propulsion systems.

According to Jofre, “the combination of microfluidics, turbulence and supercritical fluids is an unexplored field with great potential for gaining new knowledge and developing disruptive energy technologies and solutions, such as the next generation of energy conversion systems (gas turbines, Rankine cycles and biomass energy) and aircraft propulsion technologies.” This technology will also play a key role in developing future heat pumps, refrigerators, microscopic thermal machines, energy storage devices and batteries.

The project has been awarded a Starting Grant of 1.5 million euros for it to be developed over the next five years.