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Scientific challenges

A positive, inventive and productive scientific strategy remains the best way to rationalize the development of innovations.

With this in mind, IFPEN has identified 9 scientific challenges: they focus its research efforts and guide its academic partnerships.

In 2013, IFPEN launched a reflection process surrounding the scientific obstacles inherent to its innovation projects.

The objective? To reduce the timescales and costs associated with the emergence of these innovations.
How? By speeding up the overall scientific reasoning process and the acquisition of lacking knowledge.
An approach was agreed, aimed at formalizing the major scientific challenges associated with IFPEN's activities and subsequently drawing up appropriate partnership strategies and action plans.

Promoting the pooling of expertise

Some thirty scientific obstacles initially identified by the research divisions were subsequently assimilated into 9 cross-functional scientific challenges.

Pierre-Henri Bigeard

Pierre-Henri Bigeard, Executive Vice-President responsible for R&I:
"This cross-functionality underpins our entire approach. By promoting internal decompartmentalization, the approach paves the way for the exploitation of convergences between divisions in terms of scientific reasoning, the pooling of expertise and the emergence of reflection avenues with a view to disseminating knowledge acquired between the various expert groups. It thus reinforces synergies and creativity between teams – an operating approach that is crucial to support innovation".


Mobilizing the scientific community

These scientific challenges also facilitate external transparency with respect to the fundamental research areas targeted at IFPEN, which is crucial in terms of facilitating exchanges with academic partners.

Eric Heintzé

Eric Heintzé, Scientific Director:
"Our objective is to attract potential partners to IFPEN and make them want to contribute to our specific research areas by demonstrating that we are all effectively asking similar questions within the context of a shared scientific ambition".

These partners are primarily SFRI (French Research and Innovation System) players, including:
- other research centers,
- university laboratories,
- LABEXs (excellence laboratories), EQUIPEXs (facilities for excellence) and ITEs (Energy Transition Institutes).

Partnerships also form around collaborative projects, either French (ANR – French National Research Agency, ADEME – the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) or European (H2020 program), and with leading universities around the world.

Scientific challenges or innovation in operation

The specific characteristic of IFPEN's 9 scientific challenges, grouped into four priority areas, is that they are organized to reflect the overall path followed by R&I at IFPEN, from research to industry, from the understanding of phenomena to the evaluation of a complete system prior to marketing.
An initiative that shows IFPEN's capacity to contribute to each link in the innovation chain, from fundamental research to pre-marketing.

IFPEN's 9 cross-functional scientific challenges


Experimentation, data acquisition and understanding

Experimentation, data acquisition, understanding

This area brings together four challenges dedicated to the first stage of the scientific reasoning process: understanding a phenomenon.

•  challenge 1: the characterization of materials and fluids for energy, on various scales,
> Issue 19 of the information letter Science@ifpen (PDF - 590 Ko)

•  challenge 2: chemical/catalytic/enzymatic reaction mechanisms on a molecular scale,
 > Issue 20 of the information letter Science@ifpen(PDF - 1,63 Mo)

•  challenge 3: the effect of confining fluids on their dynamics and their reactivity in porous media,

•  challenge 4: the optimum processing of large volumes of experimentation and simulation data.

> Rencontre scientifique IFPEN: Microfluidics 2015 - from laboratory tools to process development (IFPEN/Rueil-Malmaison, 4-5 November 2015)


Physical models and descriptors for simulation

Physical models and descriptors for simulation

This is the second priority area, bringing together two challenges aimed at building physical models.

•  challenge 5: the identification of dimensioning parameters (descriptors) for the design of materials, processes and simulators,

•  verrou 6 : the modeling of closely coupled phenomena with a view to scale changes in simulation (porous media, vehicles and systems, processes, etc.).

For example, a catalysis descriptor makes it possible to summarize the catalytic performances of a system. In geosciences, its purpose is to characterize a geological formation and predict fluid flows.


System simulation, optimization and control

System simulation, optimization and control

The third priority area is aimed at guaranteeing the digital performance of computational codes that bring into play the models developed in challenges 5 and 6.

It concerns:
challenge 7: the control and optimization of complex systems

challenge 8: the digital and IT performance of multi-physical and multi-scale computational codes.

 > Rencontre scientifique IFPEN: SimRace - Numerical methods and high performance computing for industrial fluid flows (IFPEN/Rueil-Malamaison, 8-10 December 2015)

Examples here include algorithms developed for engine control and wind turbine control, which are based on similar codes. This reflection concerning high-performance computing is essential because in order to draw maximum benefit from new supercomputers, computational codes must necessarily be adapted to the architecture of machines.
> IFPEN and Inria join forces in the field of high-performance and real-time scientific computation (Press release, 20 April 2015)


Economic and environmental challenges of the energy transition

Economic and environmental challenges of the energy transition

The final challenge (challenge 9) is dedicated to the evaluation of the economic and environmental impacts of the systems developed.

It draws on the economic expertise of IFPEN's researchers, particularly the original methods employed in the field of life cycle analyses (LCA). They are a reference and are constantly being enhanced with new analysis components. Coupled with energy and economic scenarios, they are becoming an invaluable decision-making tool.


For futher information:

> Issue 20 of "Innovation news"
(PDF - 1.45 Mo)
November 2014 - "Scientific Challenges" special issue

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Grégoire Allaire, Professor of Applied Mathematics at the Ecole Polytechnique, was appointed Chairman of IFPEN’s Scientific Board in May 2016.
>> We spoke to him.