Creating the place where tiny neutrons will change the world

Creating the place where tiny neutrons will change the world

Amid the low landscape of southern Sweden, the most powerful research facility of its type is being created. It’s the European Spallation Source, or ESS, and it will help make our everyday lives better.


Comparable to a giant microscope, ESS will use neutrons to enable scientific breakthroughs with materials, energy, health and the environment. Think new and better computer chips, plastics, batteries, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and much more. Also, the facility’s unique capabilities will help scientists tackle some of the most complex challenges confronting science and medicine.

The construction of ESS is also pushing new boundaries. Explore how we – through a highly collaborative, values-based partnership with ESS – are delivering this world-leading and world-changing facility.


Setting new standards of collaborating

ESS is driving new levels of collaboration, both with its scientific mission and with constructing the facility. ESS is the result of 15 European nations joining together to advance science, further supported by the important contributions of about 100 laboratories, universities and research institutes worldwide. Such a scientific collaboration at this scale can serve as a role model for future projects.

ESS also aims to be another kind of role model, setting a new high standard for collaborative working in the Swedish construction industry. Such an approach is needed to balance two competing demands: accommodating the absolute latest scientific equipment while enabling an efficient building process. ESS and Skanska working together as one team from an early stage is the only way for the project to succeed.

"On a very ambitious size project as this, we did not have, we could not have, everything designed in detail at the start,” says ESS Director General John Womersley. “The ability to handle those changes in a collaborative framework without a big renegotiation of cost and schedule is critical to our success.”

Underpinning the strong partnership between the ESS organization and Skanska is mutual trust, along with shared leadership, common goals and an integrated organization. It requires a special team comprised of people who thrive in a highly collaborative environment.

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Recycling surplus heat to warm homes

Excess heat from equipment used to drive ESS’ scientific activities will be recycled into the local district heating system, which will use it to warm homes and workplaces. If not for this innovative approach, the heat would be released into the air. This heat recycling will reduce carbon emissions and lower ESS’ operational costs.

To put ESS’ energy needs into perspective, the amount of electricity required yearly to operate the facility is about as much as the annual consumption of 40,000 apartments. ESS is committed to using renewable power production to be even greener.

Among the world’s most sustainable research facilities

Accelerating protons to nearly the speed of light in a tunnel with its superconducting part cooled to minus 271 degrees Celsius requires enormous amounts of energy. Creating the facility to house those research activities also requires much energy and resources.

Fundamental to ESS is transforming these challenges into opportunities, leveraging the project to provide long-term environmental, social and economic benefits.

ESS will be one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable research centers. Part of it is intended to be certified Excellent – the second-highest ranking – under the international BREEAM eco-certification.

Here’s a look at some of the main ways sustainability is integrated into the project:

Eliminating waste: While construction projects normally generate much waste, despite ESS’ large scale we’re building it without sending waste to landfill. This requires new ways of proactively working with materials and suppliers. For example, leftover concrete is used to create large blocks that are sold on the market to create walls and other structures, and insulation scraps are returned to the manufacturer for re-use.

Choosing responsible materials: During the procurement process, we assess all materials becoming a permanent part of the ESS facility from environmental and safety perspectives. This ensures ESS’ materials are responsibly sourced and support a healthy work environment. Important to measuring and strategically guiding green activities is our Skanska Color Palette™ tool.

Maximizing renewable energy: Traditional construction sites emit much carbon and local air pollution. To reduce those impacts, we’re using biodiesel that’s free of harmful palm oil to power all heavy machines, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 88 percent.

Inspiring future engineers: To inspire local eighth graders about science and engineering, we’ve created an education program for them. It includes having the students visit the construction site office to learn about neutron science; design and construction roles; and virtual reality and other advanced technology being used to create ESS.

Bringing diversity to the landscape: ESS sits on 69 hectares of excellent-quality farmland, of which about two-thirds will remain vegetated – but in a much different way than before. The site will become a model for biodiversity, with plants native to the local area and new habitats for bees and other species. This will support the surrounding farmland while providing a peaceful environment for visitors, locals and ESS employees.

More sustainability information is on this ESS website

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How inclusion is improving safety

Essential to the project's success is keeping everyone safe, healthy and well.

An important aspect has been reinforcing a culture in which site workers are encouraged to speak up and report any conditions or activities that may pose risks. Given the many potential hazards on any construction site, it's critical that all workers take responsibility for the safety of themselves and those around them. The most impactful safety reports from the previous day are highlighted by supervisors in their daily morning crew meetings.

This feedback loop created a culture of accountability for managers to take action, and for site workers to share their views. It has led to a long-term improvement in safety performance.

Bringing ESS to life


22 buildings and one tunnel


88 percent reduced greenhouse gas emissions from using biodiesel in heavy machines


Up to 1,400 people on site creating ESS


2014 construction start


2023 science program begins


Up to 3,000 scientists annually will use ESS' instruments


40,000 apartments’ annual energy consumption corresponds to ESS’ yearly energy needs


Minus 271 degrees Celsius in parts of the proton accelerator


Protons accelerated to 96 percent of speed of light

Advanced visualization coming into focus

Creating the strong and stable structure necessary to support ESS’ science requires much concrete stuffed with enormous quantities of reinforcing bars, some 32 mm in diameter. Installing such huge bars in the high densities required is very complicated, so we’re testing the use of virtual and augmented reality to help improve safety, quality and efficiency.

It’s a two-step process: We use virtual reality, a computer-generated scenario that simulates a realistic experience, in an office to plan the detailed placement of the reinforcing bars, or rebar. Then at the physical work area, we test an app we developed for the HoloLens, an augmented reality headset in which computer-generated graphics are overlaid onto the actual physical world. With this app, a worker wearing the HoloLens can see a digital depiction of where the next rebar needs to go. This method ensures that the workers don't have to repeatedly divert their focus to check paper drawings.

Explore more about ESS

On these websites, explore more about the construction of ESS and the world-leading neutron science it will enable.