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A research strategy serving innovation

IFPEN's scientific excellence is driven by an ambitious and rigorous scientific policy. Its research strategy is implemented within a framework of partnerships, the scale of which reflects IFPEN’s position as a major player in French and European research.
 

Scientific challenges: fundamental research serving innovation

Fundamental research at IFPEN ranges from the understanding of mechanisms on an atomic scale, through to the evaluation of the economic and environmental impact of processes and products. Since 2014, this research has been structured around 9 cross-functional scientific challenges. The purpose of this organizational structure is to ensure the coherence of the numerous fundamental research programs conducted at IFPEN with a view to:

  • reducing the timescales and costs associated with the emergence of its innovations by promoting decompartmentalization and cross-functionality between research divisions;
  • pooling resources around cross-functional issues and identifying the obstacles to the development of these innovations at the earliest possible stage;
  • mobilizing the best national and international scientific communities, by developing a strategy of academic partnerships with a view to optimizing complementary expertise and promoting the effectiveness of IFPEN’s research, particularly by taking part in collaborative national and European projects.

The way these scientific challenges are organized reflects the overall path followed by R&I at IFPEN, from the understanding of complex physical phenomena (experimentation, data acquisition) through to the evaluation of a complete system (economic and environmental impacts), via a digital representation (modeling, simulation) of these phenomena.

In 2015, efforts to structure fundamental research continued, particularly via the identification of specific scientific issues for each of the 9 broader scientific challenges associated with their long-term road maps.

In 2016, these road maps will serve as genuine steering tools, as suggested in the HCERES’ audit report published in March 2015, qualifying the “scientific challenges” approach as “a genuine tool for steering research programs, scientific projects and thesis subjects.”

 
 

Cutting-edge skills and resources

To conduct cutting-edge research in its fields of interest, IFPEN adopts a multidisciplinary approach, which means that the skills of its researchers can be used on the basis of a project’s needs, with maximum efficiency and a high level of flexibility.

This organization is particularly suited to IFPEN’s research themes requiring expert input from multiple fields.

In addition, the “scientific challenges” approach improves the efficiency of R&I at IFPEN, since research divisions are less segregated and are able to exploit their similarities in terms of scientific reasoning. For example, in 2015, the theme of the characterization of particles emitted during engine combustion gave rise to a one-day workshop bringing together researchers in the fields of combustion and analytical physics and international scientists who were able to share their experience and knowledge.

To support this scientific expertise, tools such as modeling and simulation are essential, and IFPEN’s researchers are experts in this field. Finally, researchers have access to sophisticated laboratories and experimental resources (material characterization tools, high-throughput experimentation loops and very powerful computing tools).

Laboratoire de biotechnologie - cultures de microorganismes

                                               Biotechnology laboratory

 

Evaluation, a guarantee of performance

To improve the quality of its R&I, IFPEN regularly evaluates its performance. To achieve this, an evaluation process led by the scientific Board has been implemented.

Each research division is evaluated every four years.
  
A dedicated committee examines:

  • the relevance of the scientific work,
  • the impact of research results,
  • the research strategy,
  • the quality of partnerships,
  • the list of publications and patents,
  • the number of theses defended, etc.

It delivers opinions and draws up recommendations, which are then used by General Management to validate action plans. In 2015, the Geosciences and Physics and Analysis Divisions were evaluated.

In addition, as is the case for all other French research bodies, IFPEN is periodically evaluated by the French High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES). In its report published in March 2015, the HCERES underlined IFPEN’s “positive trajectory”, illustrated by “improvements with respect to numerous criteria despite the challenging economic context”. Its principal conclusions confirm the coherence and credibility of IFPEN’s positioning as “a unique technological research center, (…) an interface between academia and industry”. It highlights the existence of a scientific vision at IFPEN reinforced by the identification of cross-functional scientific challenges. Finally, IFPEN’s development of its research results is qualified as “outstanding” and its commitment to the dissemination of knowledge is underlined.

 

Integration into the scientific community

To maintain the highest level of excellence, IFPEN promotes exchanges between its researchers and the scientific community at its Rencontres scientifiques events, organized three times a year under the aegis of the French Academy of Sciences. These events enable all participants, experts from the worlds of fundamental research and industrial research, to present their work and discuss the progress made, possible applications and the challenges to be addressed. Alongside these events, IFPEN regularly plays host to or co-organizes events led by scientific communities positioned in key disciplines for its research programs, in line with its scientific challenges. It also supports other scientific events, particularly via the participation of its researchers in scientific committees, with a view to promoting the sharing of progress and knowledge on its themes of interest.

For their part, IFPEN researchers participate in major international conferences on their respective areas of expertise on a very regular basis as guest speakers or chairing the proceedings – and belong to organized scientific communities. Hence IFPEN’s researchers are involved in more than 250 scientific networks of various natures (learned societies, research groups, users’ clubs, etc.).

Finally, IFPEN regularly hosts scientific visitors from research institutions from around the world in its laboratories. Their presence is an opportunity for comparisons and exchanges. These are particularly beneficial for both sides, providing food for thought for researchers and contributing to research advances. For example, a partnership agreement signed in 2015 with the University of Kazan (Russia) enabled a visiting researcher in the field of phase equilibrium thermodynamics to come to IFPEN. Also in 2015, within the context of an initiative funded by the Fondation de la Maison de la Chimie, for the second time, IFPEN hosted a visiting professor, teacher of graduate school preparatory classes, on a one-year secondment. Such highly-qualified personnel make an invaluable contribution to the fundamental research projects under way at IFPEN. Among them, ab initio modeling of acid sites on the external surface of Beta zeolites, and the development of an anomalous x-ray scattering method for the characterization of heterogeneous catalysts.

The dissemination of knowledge is another way of making its R&I accessible and allowing the scientific community to harness it. To this end, IFPEN leads the editorial committee of the peer-reviewed journal, Oil & Gas Science and Technology (OGST).

Oil & Gas Science and Technology (OGST)

Indexed in the major international databases, it covers all the disciplines and fields of activity within the scope of IFPEN.
It is freely available on its website >> http://ogst.ifpenergiesnouvelles.fr

In addition, IFPEN is keen to promote scientific research and ensure its knowledge is disseminated to the widest possible audience. To this end, it is a member of the Universciences Partenaires foundation. Moreover, the IFPEN website includes a Discovery space aimed at the public as well as a Science News stream, covering the main studies and results associated with IFPEN’s publications, as well as a list of events it is organizing or supporting that focus on key issues or emerging themes.     
 

The Science@ifpen newsletter

IFPEN publishes a scientific newsletter four times per year, available online on its website. The objective is to highlight recently published R&D results, in IFPEN’s various fields of activity.
> Science@ifpen newsletter

  

Renowned expertise

IFPEN has established an R&I Expert network, an initiative that fits squarely into its policy of technical and scientific excellence.

7 Expert directors and 16 Experts are involved in IFPEN’s strategic thinking processes. They provide scientific guidance - leading working groups dedicated to scientific challenges to help identify scientific issues -, offer support to young researchers and respond to institutional requests for expertise.

In line with its articles of association, IFPEN indeed also offers its institutional expertise to public authorities and industrial players, local authorities and judicial bodies. IFPEN uses its skills to serve the players consulting it, informing them about the challenges, the investments required, the risks and forecasting elements related to the energy mix. This expertise provides decision-makers with information they can then use to make the best possible choices.

 

At the heart of the french research and innovation system

IFPEN’s research activities are conducted in partnership with academia. These partnerships, guided by the 9 scientific challenges, take different forms, including doctoral theses. While their underlying purpose is to tackle scientific issues, theses are also an effective way of benefiting from the very best expertise of partner laboratories and forging links with institutions of excellence. They contribute to the emergence of new ideas and the development of new concepts. Around 60 IFPEN researchers holding a national accreditation to supervise research oversee around 135 doctoral theses (around 40 new IFPEN theses started every year), mainly within IFPEN laboratories. To support the creation of an active community of young researchers, IFPEN also organizes an annual PhD day bringing together first-year thesis students.

Collaborative projects benefiting from national or European support represent another source of academic partnerships of considerable scientific interest. For example, each year IFPEN takes part in several projects funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR). These projects may relate to industrial applications or be more exploratory in nature.

  • One example is the 3DClean project, concerning three-dimensional environmental electronic microscopy, launched in 2015 and coordinated by IFPEN.
  • Also leader of the More4Less project since 2014, in 2015, IFPEN opened up this ANR project dedicated to reactive flow modeling to an international partner, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (Canada), with whom its researchers have been working closely and productively on research in the field of dispersed-phase flows. 
  • IFPEN is also involved in projects led by other research bodies, including two excellence laboratories (LabEx) with Pierre and Marie Curie University (Matisse) and the Community of Universities and Institutions (COMUE) at the University of Lyon (iMust), further reinforcing its longstanding collaboration with these two entities.
       

Other collaborative projects are conducted with a range of structures such as competitiveness clusters.

  • In parallel, IFPEN contributes to the vitality of the Carnot Institutes network, which aims to facilitate access to public research for SMEs. Its IFPEN Transports Energie Carnot Institute label covers all engine and fuel activities, as well as low-carbon energy generation processes. Since 2015, IFPEN has also been leading the new inter Carnot project Carnauto for SMEs in the automotive sector.
      

Moreover, IFPEN is a stakeholder in several collaborative research demonstrators – in the context of the Futurol project, for example, relating to the development of lignocellulosic bioethanol. The last step in the validation of a technology prior to its industrialization, demonstrators are closely linked to the emergence of New Energy Technologies (NETs). The technical complexity of NET-related projects and the associated financial challenges make working together essential, in order to validate a complete technological chain rather than a single isolated technology.

This open innovation approach feeds and reinforces IFPEN’s scientific excellence by boosting fundamental research, and accelerates the creation of new industrial sectors in its fields of activity.


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