The ILL, ESRF, CEA and CNRS are seeking to extend their research expertise and exceptional technological facilities to industrial users. To this end, on 16 February the institutes signed an agreement for the creation of a technology platform dedicated to the characterisation of materials and processes, a crucial and inevitable step forward for tomorrow's technologies.
All partners provide analysis and characterisation services at the highest international level. The techniques they employ are complementary and for the most part non-destructive. The facilities in question are to be managed in concert from a veritable hive for industrial initiatives; the aim of the new platform is to provide and coordinate access to Grenoble's large-scale instruments, enabling industrial laboratories to extend the limits of their own resources. This is a major opportunity for industrial R&D.
Grenoble has attracted a unique combination of scientific infrastructure:
- two large-scale international facilities, the Institut Laue - Langevin (ILL – the most powerful continuous source of neutrons in the world) and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF – the brightest source of x-rays in the world)
- the nanocharacterisation Platform of the CEA (PFNC – a unique set of state-of-the-art resources).
- the CNRS's extreme-condition laboratories (the Institut Néel, the LNCMI and the CRETA), which offer facilities for research at high pressures, very low temperatures and intense magnetic fields.
These are the exceptional resources to be coordinated by the PT-G (Plateforme Technologique – Grenoble). They will serve industry at European level and local small-scale enterprises in four different areas:
- user needs analysis - to identify the characterisation technique most suited to purpose from the four partners' resources;
- the selection and preparation of samples, with a view to optimising the use of beamtime on the instruments;
- assistance to industrial users in the processing and interpretation of experimental data;
- training for either new or experienced industrial users.
The characterisation technologies offered by the PT-G will play a key role in applications development.
The mesh of insulating and conductor materials, for example, which are now used in the electronic circuits required for the new information and communication technologies, presents a veritable labyrinth at atomic scales. Synchrotron techniques can provide the information we need on the interface and layering of these structures, whilst neutrons can analyse the porosity of the insulators.
In the field of alternative energies, energy storage has become a major issue. By combining neutron and x-ray diffraction with x-ray absorption spectroscopy, we can examine in fine detail the material structure of the electrodes used in lithium-ion batteries and assess their behaviour under load.
The PT-G is to be established on Grenoble's science campus, in the new Science Building to be built in 2011 in the space available between the ILL's neutron source and the ESRF ring. Funding is being provided for the Science Building by the local authorities.
The PT-G has been put forward as part of France's 'Investissements d'Avenir' programme; funding from this quarter could further boost its exceptional facilities.
This initiative is another manifestation by the partners on Grenoble's GIANT innovation campus of their capacity for cooperation. It also highlights their strong determination to reinforce the leading role being played in modern technological innovation by greater Grenoble and the Rhône-Alpes Région.