The ESRF was originally conceived for academic use and thus mainly for non-proprietary research. Industry was entitled to access the ESRF beamlines under similar conditions to those of academic users, through the peer-review system, free of charge, however with the obligation to publish results.

With the excellent performances obtained on the different beamlines, industry started to show greater interest in the ESRF and in particular for proprietary research, where the user is the owner of the data collected, confidentiality is ensured, publication of results is not required, rapid access is possible but access to beam time has to be paid for.

Relations with industry for proprietary research are managed by the Industrial and Commercial Unit (ICU), in close collaboration with the Experiments Division. The ICU, created in 2002, reports to the Director General and is responsible for all initiatives related to the sale of beamtime and associated services, technology transfer, patents, licence agreements and special collaborations, in particular contracts within the framework programmes of the European Union.

To encourage industry to use ESRF beamlines, the ICU intends to create an industry-optimised environment, considering that industry has specific needs. The ICU has carried out market surveys to understand the industrial needs and the value of the service for industry.

However, the ESRF is not a commercial company and the industrial use for proprietary research should be fully compatible with academic research, which is the main mission of the ESRF. For this reason, only a maximum of 10% of the total scheduled beam time can be dedicated to proprietary research. Therefore, our offer is based on the quality and efficiency of the services provided to industry. The industrial users are assisted before, during and, if required, after the experiment by the scientific staff of the relevant beamline and by the technical staff from both the beamline and the Technical Beamline Support Group of the Experiments Division. Services related to the use of beam time can be provided with or without scientific assistance and a full service is possible on demand. In this case the customer sends the samples to be measured by courier to the ESRF, our scientists analyse them and send the results back using a secured system. This option permits customers to avoid spending time, especially nights, at the synchrotron. It is used in particular by the macromolecular crystallography beamlines providing the MXpressTM service. All the ESRF staff involved in relations with industry have been trained to respect confidentiality, which is the basis for a mutual confidence and a fruitful collaboration.

If the industrial users carry out the experiment themselves, they can be accommodated on the ESRF site and make use of both the Guesthouse and the restaurant which are open 7 days a week, during normal service periods.

As a result of this organisation, the growth of beamtime sales for proprietary research strongly increased last year, as indeed it has over the last few years. In 2004 the turnover generated was about 300% higher than in 2001 and industrial activity is taking an increasing role in overall research activities. Even if there is no obligation to publish the results of proprietary research, part of these results are nevertheless published.

The use of the macromolecular crystallography beamlines represents more than 2/3 of the global industrial activity for proprietary research. In 2005 there will be four MX beamlines and a total of seven MX stations operating at the ESRF, including the two stations of the newly-created beamline ID23, built in the framework of the Partnership for Structural Biology (PSB). In order that the data collection becomes fully automated, all the stations will be equipped with sample changers, jointly developed by the ESRF and the EMBL, and automatic sample centring systems. This will enable the users to process many more crystals in the same period of time and in a reliable manner. The PSB combines the skills and resources of four world-leading institutes: the ESRF, the EMBL, the ILL and the IBS. This centre of excellence for structural biology, unique in Europe, will certainly be a strong tool to develop relations with industry.

A similar growth has been obtained in other groups of beamlines using different techniques, like imaging (ID19 ­ microtomography for characterisation, control and process development), diffraction (ID15, ID31), small-angle scattering (ID2 and ID13) or spectroscopy (ID24 for catalysis studies). Most of these beamlines are now equipped (ID2, ID19, ID31, etc) or are being equipped with robots which lead to an increasing capacity to respond to demand from both academic and industrial users.

The majority of our industrial users come from European countries. There are also some from North-America and Japan.


M. Rodriguez Castellano
Head of Industrial and Commercial Unit