Spain set to address major energy challenges with neutron science

28th November 2018: Madrid, Spain – the Institut Laue-Langevin, the world’s flagship neutron facility, is uniting researchers and industry from across Spain to highlight the country’s increasing influence in neutron science, and discuss how this work will help the country to better adapt to the needs of modern society, particularly in the energy sector.

Since Spain became a Scientific Member of the ILL in 1987 neutron research has grown beyond expectation in the country. Without its own neutron source, Spanish industry and researchers have looked to the ILL, founded over 50 years ago, for its hands-on expertise and state-of-the art instruments, to drive the next generation of scientific discoveries.

Spain has created a neutron research community from scratch, expanding continuously over time and improving its standards. From just three specialists in the 1980s, when the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science signed its first agreement with the ILL, Spain now has closer to 300 neutron scientists.

Spanish academia and industry has access to the hands-on expertise and 40 state-of-the art instruments at ILL. Publications on neutron scattering techniques are now growing twice as fast as those from other scientific sectors in the country. Spain has seized the opportunities for discovery and now holds a strong position in the global neutron community; it is one of the most active European countries in the field with more than 200 papers published per year.

Spanish researchers have used neutrons to advance more sustainable energy solutions. Neutron techniques have helped them examine the potential of hydrogen as a promising source of renewable energy, and examine how the different components of a fuel cell behave, paving the way to a hydrogen-powered future. Scientists are also investigating how the rock under the Earth’s surface can be exploited for greener energy. This involves research into the extraction of fossil fuel gases from subterranean sources without affecting the complex equilibrium in the rock. This will also help us understand how carbon dioxide might be stored in rocks in the future.

The ILL works with companies of all sizes, from SMEs to large multinationals, offering a range of extreme environments for experimentation, including temperatures and pressures. Analysis can be performed in real time, making the facility a valuable resource for a variety of industries, from the aerospace sector to electronics and pharmaceuticals.

Neutrons can be used to research anything from magnetism to materials, from soft matter to particle physics. Although they are non-destructive they can penetrate deep into matter. They can reveal precise information on the magnetic behaviour of materials at atomic level and can lose or gain energy during interaction, yielding important information on the dynamics of the solids. These properties have allowed scientists to observe atoms at a picosecond time scale (one trillionth of a second), providing real-time information on the location of atoms and the laws of dynamics they obey.

In 2018 Spanish industry submitted 12.5% of the industrial applications for beamtime on the ILL’s specialist SALSA instrument from Spain, and Spain used over 5% of the neutron beamtime for scientific projects at the facility. Companies like TRIO Aerospace have used the ILL’s facilities to improve the efficiency of its industrial processes, and Seville's Center for Advanced Aerospace Technologies (CATEC-Sevilla) used ILL's 'SALSA' strain diffractometer's capabilities to study the residual stresses on 3D-printed aluminum hardware for satellites. CATEC plans further activities in 2019, including a Master's thesis on texture and stress characterisation with SALSA.

With such a positive attitude to big science, Spain plays a key role on the European scene. Encouraged by its flexible relationship with the ILL, the country now contributes to 80% of Europe’s research infrastructures, as outlined in its 2018 Roadmap for EU Research and Infrastructure. Its neutron community is keen to grow, to maintain its high standards of scientific production and to diversify its centres of interest.

In this respect, the future looks bright for neutron research in Spain. As the ILL continues to upgrade its capabilities to meet the changing demands of users, Spanish researchers have been heavily involved in the development of the XtremD instrument at the ILL; XtremD is a new diffractometer designed for extreme conditions which will provide exciting opportunities for scientists studying pressure and magnetic fields. Spain is also an in-kind contributor to the European Spallation Source, having helped to develop both the ESS's Target Station, an essential part of its neutron-producing machine, and its Mirakles instrument.

Professor Helmut Schober, Director of the ILL, said, “Ensuring access to the facility has been extremely important for Spain as the ILL has neutron resources which ILL cannot be found elsewhere. We have enjoyed 31 years of fruitful collaborating with Spanish industry and academia. The country’s membership of the ILL has helped Spain become a base for neutron-scattering specialists, opening the door for novel lines of research. ILL has helped Spanish companies through all stages of their innovation journey, from investigating initial R&D materials and processes, through product and process R&D, to failure analysis. In return, Spain has helped ILL maintain its outstanding scientific excellence.”

According to Professor José Luis Martínez, former Director General of the ESS-Bilbao Consortium, “Over the past 30 years Spain has had a strong and comfortable relationship with the ILL; our researchers and industry have rapid and privileged access to a world-leading suite of highly-specialised neutron instruments and some of the greatest minds in neutron science. More Spanish businesses are now set to benefit from the insights that neutron science provides and it will be exciting to see where these discoveries will take the country in the future.”

About ILL: the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) is an international research centre based in Grenoble, France. Funded by France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in partnership with 10 other European countries, it has led the world in neutron-scattering science and technology for 45 years. ILL operates one of the most intense neutron sources in the world, feeding beams of neutrons to a suite of 40 high-performance instruments. Research conducted at ILL covers a wide range of disciplines such as biology, (green) chemistry, materials science, condensed matter physics, as well as fundamental and nuclear physics. Within the framework of FILL2030 (a project funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 731096), the ILL is designing its new business model to support the neutron users community with optimised services and financial resilience beyond 2030.