New synchrotrons at ESRF will increase understanding of materials and matter

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An upgrade programme at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) is set to lead to an increased understanding of materials and living matter.

The facility in Grenoble, France, which uses intense X-rays to act like a giant microscope, has launched the second phase of a €330m (£236m) programme that will boost the brilliance of the X-rays and their coherence by a factor of 100.

This will open new fields of investigation thanks to the possibility of efficiently reaching spatial resolution at the nanometre level, enabling unprecedented characterisation.

The second phase will include replacing the storage ring, an 844m tube in which electrons travel at just below the speed of light, while reusing 90% of the facility’s existing structure.

“The trick was to find a technical solution to use or to build a storage ring that could work with the existing pre-accelerator chain and still deliver the full advantage of much higher brilliance,” ESRF research director Harald Reichert told The Engineer.

The storage ring consists of 32 cells, with precise sequences of components such as magnets, vacuum chambers and position monitors.

Phase II will replace the cells with new arcs whose more complex sequencing will make it possible to create an X-ray source of very low emittance.

“You could essentially say that the sensitivity you have for whatever you are looking for, which could be for instance defects in a material, impurities and things like that, the time it takes to take the data, is basically going up by factor of 100,” Reichert said.

Potential fields of application include nanoscopy for the creation of new materials, science at extreme conditions, multidimensional nano-imaging, structural biology and health sciences, materials science, nanotechnologies, and environmental and energy sciences.

The upgrade work required an unprecedented level of precision, Reichert said.

“If you say you have a 12-tonne heavy structure that is 8m long and has a lot of very complex instrumentation on it, then every single piece you put on this has to be aligned, or in its perfect place up to 10 micrometres, which is much smaller than a human hair, that’s a real engineering challenge.

“If you take this entire facility, probably a replacement value on a greenfield site would be somewhere in the range of €1.5bn, and the upgrade programme is €150m for Phase II, which is 10 per cent of that. It is a pretty good deal if you consider that you have a superior source for 20 years to come.”

The facility has already replaced or upgraded 19 of its 30 beamlines, which surround the storage ring and are designed for use with a specific technique or type of research, as part of the €180m Phase I upgrade programme that began in 2009. Work on the remaining beamlines will be complete by the end of 2015.

Procurement and pre-assembly of the new storage ring will be complete by the end of 2018, followed by a 17-month pause in the facility’s user programme to dismantle the existing accelerator and assemble and commission a new one. The user programme will restart in June 2020.