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Million prize to researchers developing Norrbotten

Published: 11 February 2015

The Norrbotten Research Council recently awarded a prize to three researchers who will contribute to the development of Norrbotten. The researchers Marcus Björling, Kentaro Umeki and Damiano Varagnolo at Luleå University of Technology will each receive one million SEK per year for a maximum of three years.

Fuel from the forest

– I am very honored to receive the price and it motivates me to take the next step in my research, says Kentaro Umeki, researcher in Energy Engineering at Luleå University of Technology.

More specifically, Kentaro Umekis research is about producing fuels from biomass, such as forestry residues, which means that cars can run on fuel that comes from the forest in Norrbotten. It is also in line with the Government's vision to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

– The technology is called gasification and can briefly be explained by biomass that is converted into hydrogen and carbon monoxide by burning without oxygen. Using a catalyst we can further convert hydrogen and carbon monoxide into liquid fuel. One of the obstacles in gasification is the formation of soot and my research focuses on a new method that will reduce soot formation.

Continues with succesful tribology research

Marcus Björling is a researcher in tribology, which is the study of wear, lubrication and friction. His research, culminating in a doctoral thesis in 2014, has received considerable attention, including a highlight in Nature. The prize makes it possible for him to continue on this path, and hopefully this leads to further scientific advances and the launch of new products on the market.

– The project is called friction reduction in machine components by thermal insulation and it is about developing new types of coatings and lubricants. These results in lower friction losses in for example gearboxes and bearings. It is good for the environment because it means that fuel consumption of vehicles can be reduced and that the energy production of wind turbines can be increased, says Marcus Björling.

Machines takes own decisions

The final prize winner, Damiano Varagnolo at the research subject Control Engineering, is like the others very grateful for the price.

– I am extremely glad that there are others who appreciate my vision and my ideas for something that may be important for Norrbotten.

Damiano Varagnolo describes himself as an "Automatic control guy". His research is about letting machines take their own decisions without the need for human intervention.

– I work with two fundamental concepts. The first is optimization which is the art of selecting the best element among a few viable alternatives in order to minimize costs or maximize revenue. The second is estimation, which involves collecting and converting all types of information, for example by using sensors, so that the uncertainty about the world is reduced.

An application for Damiano Varagnolo’s research is that data centers and district heating systems can cooperate and thereby become more effective.

All about math

– Basically, it's about math that helps a bunch of different objects to work better as a team. A system that can communicate, share information, make decisions and, most importantly, work together. Thanks to scientific advances in optimization and estimation, we will be able to improve the performance of existing systems, and increase the chances of developing new breakthrough technology, says Damiano Varagnolo.

– In the short term, we will have better data centers and district heating systems, but in the longer term, I am convinced that the fundamental results will go beyond that.

The price from the Norrbotten Research Council is in collaboration with Luleå Municipality, the County Government and the County Council of Norrbotten and Luleå University of Technology. The purpose of the award is to enable innovation and advanced research in one of the university's nine areas of excellence in research and innovation. In collaboration with organizations and businesses the research should also contribute to the development of Norrbotten.


Marcus Björling

Björling, Marcus - Associate Professor

Organisation: Machine Elements, Machine Elements, Department of Engineering Sciences and Mathematics
Phone: +46 (0)920 491281
Kentaro Umeki

Umeki, Kentaro - Professor

Organisation: Energy Engineering, Energy Science, Department of Engineering Sciences and Mathematics
Phone: +46 (0)920 492484
Damiano Varagnolo

Varagnolo, Damiano -

Organisation: Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering