CRP, CRL, GRL, PRDML, PERL… a history of research, in Lacq
Maurice Bourrel : " Lacq, an unsinkable research center "
After a thesis in Claude Chambu's team at the Société Nationale des Pétroles d'Aquitaine (SNPA) research centre in Pau on the rheological properties of polyethylene, I was hired in the same team in 1974 to work on improving oil recovery, a concern that arose from the first oil shock. In the beginning, we were based in Pau, waiting for an attachment and move to the CRL, the Lacq research centre. When I mentioned Lacq and my new position, invariably, the question around me was: "Are you going to Lacq? But Lacq is about to close! ». But my real cause for concern was the research topic I was assigned: developing an understanding of these water-oil-surfactant mixtures designed to improve oil recovery, known as microemulsions, which were a mystery to the scientific community at the time.
Claude Chambu: "corporate research"
For my part, I was recruited in 1965 in Pau to work on the separation of uranium isotopes. A subject that went on for a long time! When I joined the LRC in 1974 as a physico-chemist, the Chemistry-Physics Department was supported by the Group's Research, Development and Innovation Department (DRDl), which promotes cross-functionality. It can then also offer its expertise to all the Group's branches: development of an automated Medical Analysis System and biotechnology research for Sanofi, bitumen emulsions for roads for Refining, applications of microemulsions for oil recovery for EP, etc.
In 1983, the Group acquired the chemical activities of Total and Pechiney Ugine Kuhlmann. ATO became Atochem, France's leading chemical company and "invited" me in 1985 to head a research centre formerly run by Kuhlmann in Paris; I found this fine research facility in Lacq in 1991.
The Lacq Research Group (GRL)
In 1986, the LRC left the EP Branch (SNEA(P)) to be functionally attached to IRAD. It becomes the Groupement de Recherche de Lacq (GRL), an economic interest grouping between Société Nationale Elf-Aquitaine and Atochem. The agents changed their status to that of the chemical industry. Concern returned: as each branch already had several research centres, the future of the GRL was darkening in the eyes of many! Some chose to remain SNEA(P) and joined the CSTJF in Pau. Young researchers replaced them, bringing their energy and significantly changing the age pyramid.
2000-2018, life is still not a long quiet river... And yet!
In 2000, when Total-Elf Aquitaine merged with Total-Elf Aquitaine, corporate funding disappeared, along with cross-disciplinary research projects. The GRL integrates Atochem, which becomes Atofina, and its work on polyolefins is soon transferred to the Feluy center, which specializes in polymers. Once again, researchers feel on the edge of the razor's edge... In 2004, the Group divested part of its chemicals business and created Arkema. The GRL was split in two: part Arkema and part Total Petrochemicals France, which was renamed Pôle de Recherche et Développement Mont-Lacq (PRDML). Employee anxiety: which side is better to be on? The PRDML is refocusing and developing projects with Exploration-Production: flow insurance, sour gas, treatment of polluted soil, etc.
2009, another blow to morale, the Mont laboratory is closed after the departure of the polystyrene in Belgium. The PRDML becomes the PERL (Pôle d'Etudes et de Recherche de Lacq), which however remains within Total Petrochemicals France. It benefits from a certain degree of autonomy which allows it to develop and become a pioneer in certain fields. In 2013, after the restructuring of the Group's refining and petrochemicals, PERL will be attached to EP R&D and will once again be given the status of oil! A new phase was launched: the creation of the Complex Interfaces Physico-chemistry Laboratory (PIC), a joint venture between Total, the CNRS and the University of Paris-Sud, which hosts young doctoral and post-doctoral researchers; a project for a pilot platform at Lacq to house HSE R&D infrastructures... In 2016, the "One Total" operation was launched, with the implementation of cross-disciplinary research programs in which PERL will undoubtedly play a key role. The beginnings of history...
In any case, a very fine adventure that continues (and will continue!) at the Lacq Research Centre, certainly linked to the competence of its researchers, but also to the family spirit that has developed there in the face of the inevitable upheavals of industrial life.