Strasbourg Success Story: CRT Aérial’s Feerix Project

Jérôme Dorkel pour l'Eurométropole de Strasbourg

Aérial is a Technology Resource Centre founded in 1985 specialising in 3 key areas: food processing, irradiation and freeze-drying. The company’s FEERIX project will bolster its technical resources in irradiation and is a further illustration of the dynamic of Strasbourg’s Nextmed medical technologies campus.

A Technology Resource Centre (Centre de Ressources Technologique – CRT) is a structure awarded the eponymous French Ministry of Research label for its work in performing studies, research and development and expert reports for industry. A CRT label is an indication of the innovation led services the company performs for its corporate customers. A CRT also drives research programs, often in partnership with universities or fundamental research laboratories, to anticipate industry’s future needs.

Aérial CEO Alain Strasser explains “it’s a bit like if we were an R&D department which companies use when they need us. Our main target is SMEs, even though our specific skills also bring us to work with major groups.”

Arial is located in a building of 1400 m² in the Illkirch Innovation Park. The company has 23 employees, mainly engineers and/or PhDs, supported by higher technicians. The building is split into 4 centres, spread over 2 floors and also includes several specialised laboratories (microbiology lab, physical chemistry lab, a dosimetry lab, a sensory analysis lab, an irradiation lab with an electron-accelerator and an experimental freeze-drying lab).

Irradiation: an internationally-recognised Aérial specialty

Aérial’s work initially involved studying food irradiation, a technique for preservation and decontamination, at the Strasbourg Centre of Nuclear Research. As the company’s skills range broadened, it began to cover all aspects of food quality (microbiology or safety, nutritional and sensorial quality) and it started working closely with regional agribusiness companies.

Aérial also wanted to see how it could expand outside the food business. The technology has many applications, including the sterilisation of single-use medical devices, implants and pharmaceutical products, the improvement of polymer physical and chemical properties, surface treatment, grafting, environmental applications (land decontamination, fumes, etc.) and other somewhat more unexpected applications, such as colouring semiprecious stones with electron beams.

“To put it simply, in industry radiation means submitting a product to electron beam, x-ray or gamma radiation to improve its properties. This could be, for example, making it sterile for a medical device or making a plastic component more resistant to temperature extremes.”

Aérial’s team of physicists have acquired considerable expertise and worldwide recognition in irradiation process control (dosimetry). The company is now the only French laboratory accredited by COFRAC, the French accreditation committee, for measuring high radiation doses and develops dose-measuring instruments for manufacturers and laboratories worldwide. Aérial is the only French laboratory approved by DGCCRF (the French directorate general for competition, consumer affairs and the prevention of fraud) for the detection of irradiated foodstuffs.

Aérial has also seen its reputation confirmed by being one of 15 companies selected worldwide to contribute to a research programme initiated by IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. This five-year project involves the irradiation of food by electron beams and x-rays, a technology for preserving foodstuffs which is enjoying considerable growth outside Europe, especially in Asian countries. The project began in Vienna, the headquarters of the IAEA in October 2015. Aérial is providing its expertise and acting as a consultant to all the participating teams.

The FEERIX project

The FEERIX (electron-beam and x-ray radiation) project is included within the 2015-2017 three-year “Strasbourg European capital” contract and is recognised by the University of Strasbourg as an “initiative of excellence. The project sets out to build a unique R&D and training facility in the Illkirch Innovation Park, featuring a Rhodotron, built by Belgian company IBA. The Rhodotron is a high-power E-beam accelerator and X-ray generator with two separate beam outputs for studying the full range of multisectoral irradiation applications.

Rhodotron and IBA

The Rhodotron is considerably more bulky than Aérial’s current accelerator, which means room will need to be made for it. The building extension will be carried out with the Region as the contracting authority and is due to be completed by 2018 year-end. The cost of the project works out at about €10 million and will be co-funded by the State, the Region, the Eurometropolis of Strasbourg and FEDER, as well as IBA, a long-standing partner of Aérial.

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