The unique properties of neutron beams increasingly attract the attention of industrial R&D. In traditional industrial sectors such as manufacturing, petrochemical and conventional energy production, neutron scattering techniques have helped develop materials for novel data storage devices and nano-sized additives in the petrochemical and polymer industry. Neutron methods have been used to elucidate the role of surfactants in preventing pipeline clogging by waxes, to enhance the understanding of chemical reactions in catalytic processes, to improve the fatigue life and structural integrity of engineering components, and even to tailor the tastiness of ice cream. More recently in the health and life science sector, neutrons are becoming a tool of choice in the understanding of drug delivery mechanisms and early drug development and characterisation, due to amongst other things their low energy deposition on organic matter, nano-metric resolution, and sensitivity to light elements, see BOX. Neutrons have also played an important role in the growth sectors of renewable energy and clean technology, e.g. fuel cells and the hydrogen economy.
Thus, neutron scattering techniques are employed in industrial R&D where the competitive advantage derives from the know-how that defines the cutting edge of technology in the relentless product development race. Small improvements in the understanding of materials and processes often translate directly into significant cost savings and gains, e.g. by prolonging the lifetime of a catalyst, lowering maintenance costs in power plants, or increasing the optimal performance temperature of turbine materials. To be able to do that in a safe and reliable way, scientists and engineers need detailed and accurate knowledge about the material properties in service. The limits of laboratory-based materials characterisation techniques are frequently at the very transition from laboratory conditions to service conditions.
Computational techniques such as molecular dynamics simulations allow simulation of materials under service conditions, but they require extensive benchmarking and experimental verification. Hence, only by testing materials and processes in real service conditions can one reveal and verify the empirical and analytical development. This is one of the many areas where neutron scattering techniques excel.
The ESS is committed to working closely with industrial partners to maximise the uptake of neutron scattering methods within industrial R&D. There is tremendous potential yet to be realised. To this end, ESS will establish a dedicated industrial R&D liaison office, staffed by expert scientists and engineers. This office, drawing on the pool of scientists working at ESS, will establish a solutions-based approach where each experiment and interpretation are tailored to suit the client's needs, as typically each problem is unique. Proprietary access to beam time will be swift, dynamic and priced competitively. Full IPR protection and confidentiality, as well as quality standards for the reliability of data acquisition, will be guaranteed.
In collaboration with the ESS innovation team, the ESS industrial R&D liaison office will explore the establishment of collaborative research laboratories and centres of excellence on the ESS/MAX IV campus, thus making ESS a hub of innovation and industrial R&D.