In the pilot facility at the BRGM's scientific and technical centre in Orléans (2009). © BRGM - Patrick Desbordes

PRIME, an innovative experimental platform for understanding and action

Organising an experimental approach - design of the experimental set-up, conducting the tests, monitoring, analysing and interpreting the results - is no simple matter. The BRGM's longstanding know-how in this field is illustrated by the PRIME project: an experimental multiscale environmental metrology platform now being developed at the Orléans site.

Experimentation is essential in scientific research: it is what enables researchers to reproduce the way a reactional system functions, through tests run at different scales using closely controlled facilities.

Reproducing natural environments in the laboratory

Because the soils, water tables and geological systems found in natural environments are highly complex, they are extremely difficult to investigate. Reducing the complexity of these systems is the fundamental purpose of experimental approaches, which, when applied to a wide range of environments, complement field studies by limiting the number of uncontrolled parameters and producing appropriate limit conditions, for example for model-building.

Experiments can have multiple aims: to identify and quantify the mechanisms that govern the way a system evolves, to measure changes in state due to human pressures or to assess the responses of an environment to a rehabilitation or remediation option.

Columns to study pollutant transfers in sediments.© LAURENT MIGNAUX - MEDDE

Columns to study pollutant transfers in sediments. © Laurent Mignaux - MEDDE

BRGM: a strong culture in the experimental field

Over the years, the BRGM's teams have developed a strong culture in the field of experimentation.

The BRGM stands out for its multidisciplinary approaches, which account for the originality of its experimental approach compared to other scientific laboratories. Another original feature is our "experimental loop" concept. The problem to be resolved (management of a contaminated site for example) is first identified on the ground, then studied in the laboratory to find solutions that can be implemented... on the ground.

There are numerous examples: the fate and treatment of pollutants (pesticides, nitrates, arsenic, "emerging" pollutants, etc.) in the subsoil, retention of chemical elements by clay barriers, stability of waste materials affected by weathering, etc.

To address these topics, the BRGM's experimental facility now has the necessary equipment to conduct experiments at the centimetre to decimetre scale (reactors and columns) through to the scale of a metre or more (columns and tanks).

An experimental set-up with metric-scale instrumentation. © BRGM - PATRICK DESBORDES

An experimental set-up with metre-scale instrumentation © BRGM - Patrick Desbordes

Experiment on the resuspension of metals in harbour sediment.© LAURENT MIGNAUX – MEDDE

Experiment on the resuspension of metals in harbour sediment. © Laurent Mignaux - MEDDE

Experimenting to understand, experimenting to take action

Building on its achievements to date, the BRGM is now boosting its experimentation policy. This is one of the aims of the PIVOTS programme (platforms for innovation, development and optimisation of environmental technologies), a coordinated series of six platforms in the Centre-Val de Loire Region with which public and private organisations are building synergies through cross-cooperation.
The PIVOTS programme will enable the BRGM to strengthen its experimentation capacities, in particular with PRIME (remediation and innovation in environmental metrology), a platform dedicated to water, soil and polluted sediment metrology, understanding transfer processes and developing ecotechnologies for environmental remediation. PRIME will be located in the BRGM's experimental facility, which is to be upgraded with new equipment for experiments on the metric and even plurimetric scale. A plurimetric pilot (called the PPM), the only one of its kind in France, has been designed and will be installed in the second half of 2018.

 a plurimetric experimental pilot. © BRGM - H. Fournié

PRIME, a research and innovation platform for environmental metrology: a plurimetric experimental pilot. © BRGM - H. Fournié

PRIME will also have capacities to host projects developed by public and private partners. The platform will enable new scientific concepts to be developed in conjunction with operational technical innovations to support economic players under the same banner: "Experimentation to further understanding, experimentation to take action"


Visit the PIVOTS project website

BRGM - 3 avenue Claude-Guillemin - BP 36009 45060 Orléans Cedex 2 - France Tel.: +33 (0)2 38 64 34 34