From big corporations to European SMEs

Industrial research has continued to go from strength to strength at the ESRF and 2017 saw us successfully reach the goal set by the ESRF Council: to achieve 5% more commercial income than last year. This is thanks to the trust given to us by our clients worldwide who want to use our services, from international corporations to smaller companies. The work done by the scientists at the beamlines and by our expert engineers and technicians to valourise our instrumentation is crucial, as is the growing Business Development Office team, who spread the word around the world to new clients and build new collaborations. As always, the work behind the scenes involves many ESRF teams and success takes time.

This year we have achieved a milestone with one of the biggest corporations in consumer products around the world, Procter & Gamble. After many years of fruitful beam time on ID19 and ID02, the collaboration with the scientists of P&G was taken a step further. Thanks to a mutual understanding of the benefits for both P&G and the ESRF, together with the ILL, the three signed a Master Collaboration Agreement in September, making the ESRF and the ILL strategic research partners to P&G.

P&G scientists have been coming to the ESRF since 2004. The first experiments were focused on understanding and optimising the microstructure behind the hair colouring product Clairol Perfect 10. In recent years, scientists have studied diverse subjects from detergent (liquid and powder), fabric conditioner, hair and skin products, fibres (fabric, hair, nappies, wipes) to packaging, polymer films and teeth. Two P&G scientists, Eric Robles and Jeremie Gummel, are central to the studies – Gummel being a former post doc from ID02.

Gerard Baillely, Vice President of R&D Corporate Functions at P&G said, at the time of the signature: “Innovation is the lifeblood of P&G. We believe that our best innovation benefits from the most advanced sciences to precisely measure and characterise materials. Our joint work in this field with ESRF and now ILL has been very valuable to develop high quality, affordable and irresistibly superior products. This strategic partnership between P&G, ESRF and ILL will continue to help accelerate our innovation programme.”

The signature of the agreement (see photo, right) was only the starting point. Since then, scientists from both the ESRF and the ILL have travelled to the P&G headquarters in Cincinnati, where they took part in a global R&D meeting that brought P&G researchers together. This was an opportunity to showcase the science done at the European Photons and Neutrons Campus across the different divisions of P&G, opening up new possibilities of research.


Regional access to the ESRF

The ESRF, through European-supported programmes like CALIPSOplus (, also wants to reach out to local companies that may want to use our synchrotron. One goal is to empower local SMEs to be able to exploit the ESRF for their product development needs and innovation-led research. In the framework of the CARAC2017 workshop, which took place in Grenoble in November, regional companies could bring their samples for free feasibility tests before carrying out full-scale measurements or experiments. We were delighted that 15 companies requested this feasibility access – with one-third of the tests carried out live during CARAC2017 itself.

This initiative to get local and regional companies interested in the opportunities of advanced materials characterisation is of utmost importance, since such companies are often highly innovative and form the core of future European competitiveness. And they can benefit from the simplicity of business within walking distance, with large-scale facilities like the ESRF and the ILL better integrated into our regional ecosystems.

At the same time, at the ESRF we need to nurture strategic alliances to keep us at the forefront of scientific industrial research. An example of this is the workshop on batteries, organised between the ESRF and its neighbouring institutes the CEA and ILL, with the sponsorship of the Business Development Office and CALIPSOplus. It brought together 150 experts working on batteries, who exchanged views and launched collaborations, building a roadmap of activities for the future to better exploit our facilities and expertise, linked with the CEA’s cutting-edge applied research with industry partners.


A European-wide perspective

Europe has the best portfolio of research infrastructures in the world, offering enormous opportunities to improve links with industry. The Business Development Office is actively involved in a range of European and national projects including NFFA (, CALIPSOplus ( and IRT NanoElec ( In working closely with further European projects, such as SINE2020 ( – a consortium of European neutron sources – we have created a joint outreach programme using our Research Infrastructure Village stand, material and presentations at events and workshops across Europe. Our goal is to promote European research infrastructures to industry, opening the doors for companies to do better research and innovation and to become more competitive.

As well as outreach, we are aiming to better coordinate between research infrastructure families. In November, six European projects – CALIPSOplus, SINE2020, NFFA, EUCALL, ACCELERATE and EUSMI – got together to discuss how research infrastructures can better engage with industry through innovative joint actions now and in the future. For light sources, the LEAPS website initiative will be a strong jumping board for the future.

All in all, 2017 has been a very fruitful year, with strategic partnerships set up, a focus on local and regional access to the ESRF and new developments on the beamlines to improve our services to clients. This will continue in 2018, with more beam time available and, hopefully, more alliances to come.