Expanding funding in Icelandic research

Expanding funding in Icelandic research

According to Ágúst Hjörtur Ingþórsson, general director of the Icelandic Centre for Research, Rannís, “Research and innovation funding levels in Iceland have witnessed a significant increase over the last four years and this upward trend will be maintained.” 

Rannís has a crucial role in propelling the trend forward. The public body has two core business areas, the first of which is managing the national support system for research, innovation, education and culture. As part of that remit, it administers competitive funding schemes. These include the Icelandic Research Fund that provides grants to a range of applicants, from doctoral students to universities, institutes and companies, which allocated around $28 million to projects in 2022 alone. 

Another influential initiative is the Technology Development Fund that acts as an early investor in innovative businesses. “This typically offers grants of less than $500,000 over a two-year period, but some companies leverage multiple grants from it. One example is Controlant, a long-term client of the fund, that went through an extensive development stage before becoming a global leader whose equipment is used in vaccine shipments worldwide,” says Ingþórsson. 

When it comes to boosting research and development (R&D), however, the most important element in Rannís’ national program today is its responsibility for accrediting companies’ eligibility for up to 35% tax deduction on R&D activities, which has evolved into the largest public support action for innovation.

The second pillar of Rannís’ business is serving as Iceland’s one-stop shop for international cooperation in science, innovation, education and, to a lesser extent, culture. “Our facilitation of international cooperation is among our most significant success stories. The willingness of people to collaborate with Icelandic partners is remarkable and Rannís has been pivotal in fostering international cooperation at the higher-education and industry levels,” he says. 

One way it catalyzes partnerships is through its coordination of Iceland’s participation in European Union funding schemes such as Horizon Europe for research and innovation, Erasmus+ for education and Creative Europe for culture and media. “We’re full partners in these programs and our success rate has been noteworthy in each one,” Ingþórsson asserts. 

A high-profile success story involving EU collaboration is Carbfix, he adds: “It has developed the most sophisticated carbon capture system to date. Its journey began in 2006 with funding from the Icelandic Research Fund, followed by support from the Technology Development Fund. By about 2012 it was ready for European cooperation and secured significant investment, which has continued to grow. Last year, it received around $125 million for a project, the largest single sum Rannís has received from an EU fund. This demonstrates that becoming a technological leader requires patience and dedication, as it took 16 years from research to reach this level of maturity.” 

Beyond Europe, the center has engaged in numerous bilateral agreements with organizations like the US’s National Science Foundation, he adds: “There’s an opportunity to strengthen our US ties in Arctic-related issues, for example, particularly in climate-related monitoring and research, as well as social sciences and humanities due to the evolving geopolitical situation in the region.”

A further area that is ripe for alliances is energy and fascinating R&D projects in that sector are currently being conducted with Rannís’ support. One concerns producing steam from the Mývatn region, where magma lies closer to the surface than anywhere else on Earth. If the process works, it could yield up to 10 times the output of conventional energy fields. “The scientific potential of this unique laboratory is immense, with another interesting option being direct production of hydrogen using steam without relying on electrolysis,” Ingþórsson states. 

“Iceland already holds technological leadership in geothermal and heat-related energy, but to become a showcase in the energy transition, we must collaborate with countries strong in battery technologies, energy conversion and transportation, and integrating increased electricity production into industries like aviation and shipping, for example. By continuing to foster research, innovation and international cooperation to advance green technology and energy solutions, we can pave the way for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.”