Susan Kelleher
Image: Kyran O'Brien

DCU teams receive funding in next round of SFI challenge

DCU is lead partner on five of the projects, featuring as co-lead on another, bringing over €1.3 million in funding to the university.

Announced by Minister Simon Harris today, the awards come as part of the last two of eight challenges or categories issued to researchers by Science Foundation Ireland: the Sustainable Communities and Future Food Systems challenges. The National Challenge Fund identifies issues related to green transition and digital transformation.

Thirteen DCU researchers across nine teams received funding in the other six challenges or categories, announced in June. This latest announcement brings the total of funding awarded to DCU across the National Challenge Fund to €3.8 million.

Teams will immediately start work on their Concept Phase period of six months, to be followed by a further 12 months in seed phase. A number of teams will then be selected for a further period of 12 months before one team in each Challenge wins the overall Prize Award of €2 million.


Dr Jennifer Gaughran and Dr Susan Kelleher. Credit: Kyran O'Brien

Dr Susan Kelleher, along with Dr Jennifer Gaughran and Dr Ruairi Brannigan received funding to go to the next stage of the Sustainable Communities Challenge. The project involves taking old clothing made from fossil fuels and turning it into external insulation for houses. 

“Worldwide, there is an enormous amount of end-of-life clothing waste that just ends up either in landfill or being incinerated,” said Dr Kelleher. 

“The PUreTex project will recycle these textiles by converting them to insulation for houses,” said Dr Kelleher.



Dr Ruairi Brannigan. Credit: Kyran O'Brien

Dr Ruairi Brannigan also received funding in the Future Food Systems Challenge. The project involves replacing fungicides based on petrochemicals with non-petrochemical-based alternatives. 

"Securing funding under an SFI National Challenge Fund scheme signifies more than just financial support; it signifies recognition of the versatility and applicability of polymer chemistry in solving societal challenges, as well as affirming our capabilities in pioneering breakthroughs and innovative pursuits,” said Dr Brannigan.


Dr David O'Connor. Credit: Kyran O'Brien

Dr David O’Connor leads another project in the Future Foods Systems Challenge. The project involves developing a new tool to forecast airborne fungi and bacteria, and reducing crop losses by 20%, through more efficient spraying.

"AGSENSE will pioneer the development of fungal spore monitoring and forecasting, in turn protecting human health and the agricultural sector alike,” said Dr O’Connor. 

“Twenty per cent of crops are lost to blights and other fungal pests every year. For instance, the EU alone loses over 1 billion euro to potato blight annually. We will develop early warning tools which will allow for these pests to be stopped in their tracks before they can do damage."


Dr Inam Ul Ahad. Credit: Kyran O'Brien

Dr Inam Ul Ahad is leading a project dedicated to advancing the management of buildings lifecycle data. Inam is working with project co-lead Dr Reihaneh Aghamolaei, with the support of TCD colleague Prof Sarah Mc Cormack.

With Blockchain expertise from DCU's Dr Irina Tal, this project seeks to streamline static and dynamic data related to building information, aiming to create a unified digital platform. Currently, information about building construction and operations is fragmented, existing as either physical documents or dispersed digital files without a centralised repository.

The Digital Building Logbook, a key component of this project, is designed to securely store both static and dynamic data within a blockchain-enabled network.

This innovative approach will enhance accessibility to data and promote sustainable practices in terms of maintenance and energy management, setting a new standard for excellence in building circularity.

A project led by Dr Valesca Lima, a collaboration between the School of Law and Government and the School of Electronic Engineering, proposes placing environmental sensors in social housing to monitor potential threats to residents’ wellbeing and to reduce their energy costs.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis have exposed vulnerabilities in social housing systems. The project aims to address the need for better policy tools and sustainable technologies for social housing.

“The outcomes of this project will not only enhance Ireland's capacity to respond to serious housing and environmental challenges but it will also contribute to policy interventions linked with resilience and adaptation to climate change.’’ says  Lima. "This research intends to contribute to a sustainable housing future for Ireland.” 

"We'll strive to increase resilience in the building environment by deploying environmental sensors in social housing to determine critical parameters that affect social housing residents."


Prof. Enda McGlynn. Credit: Kyran O'Brien

Professor Enda McGlynn also received funding for the next stage of the Future Foods Systems challenge as co-lead on a project lead by the Atlantic Technological University. This project involves the development of nanostructures that will enable a new device to act as a point-of-care diagnostic test for diseases in fisheries and aquaculture. 

“The SFI challenge funding provides us with an exciting opportunity to put our expertise in nanostructure synthesis to use in an important practical application, working with fisheries experts from both academia and industry,” said Prof McGlynn.