European X-ray Free Electron Laser


European X-ray Free Electron Laser is the most powerful research device of this type in the world. This is the most advanced tunable laser source of strong X-ray radiation. This international research project, initiated in 2009 (when the German Ministry of Education and Research issued permission to build the laser) at the DESY Research Center (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) in Hamburg, today brings together scientists, researchers and engineers from around the world, including Poland.

XFEL free electron laser emits extremely bright (5 × 10 to 33) and short (femto-second) pulses of a coherent laser beam with very high energy level in the range of 17.5 GeV, in the wavelength range from 0.05 to 4.7 nanometers (X-ray).  Its infrastructure with a length of 3.4 km is placed in underground tunnels (located 6 to 38 m below the ground) extending from the DESY center to the city of Schenfeld (Schleswig-Holstein State), where the European XFEL research campus is located.


Read more: European XFEL – Virtual Toure


The operation of European XFEL was inaugurated in September 2017. The project is co-created by 12 countries that have made contributions for its construction and operation, thus becoming its shareholders. These are Germany, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland and the United Kingdom. It is worth noting that over 58% of the contribution to its construction was brought by Germany − the authorities of the Federation, the City of Hamburg and the Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein, on whose territory the test equipment is located (DESY is the German shareholder in the XFEL and is largely responsible for its operation). The remainder of the cost was financed by member states, with 27% contribution from Russia.

It is worth noting that a large portion of the European XFEL equipment was delivered under in-kind contribution (IKC)). Its value is about 50% of the total cost of the construction of the XFEL infrastructure. The value of Polish IKC is EUR 18,390,000. This amount remained in the Polish industry which executed orders for the organisation. The whole Polish contribution to the construction of the laser was coordinated by the National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ). The device and the infrastructure necessary for its operation include elements created by research companies and groups from Krakow, Wroclaw and Warsaw.


The European XFEL GmbH

The European XFEL is organised as a limited liability company and operates according to German law (GmbH) as a non-profit organisation co-created by international shareholders. They were nominated by the authorities of the countries that were involved in creating and supporting the activities of European XFEL. In the activities of the XFEL Poland is represented by the National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ), which is one of the largest research institutes in Poland, featuring, among others, one of the two large research infrastructures in Poland − Maria nuclear research reactor.

The NCBJ has recently started to build POLFEL − Polish Free Electron Laser and CERAD − the Center for Design and Synthesis of Molecularly Targeted Radiopharmaceuticals, as well as two large strategic research infrastructures entered in the list of Polish Roadmap for Research Infrastructures.


European XFEL GmbH operates as a non-profit organisation in the area of scientific research, and its objectives include:

  • design, construction, operation and maintenance, for the purposes of scientific research, a source of free electron laser based on a linear accelerator and associated instruments
  • supporting the scientific community by providing access to the European XFEL infrastructure
  • development and implementation of scientific research using European XFEL
  • conducting the necessary research and development work on the accelerator, the free electron laser process and experimental techniques
  • promoting the general social range and transfer of knowledge

European XFEL is managed by the Council which consists of two representatives of countries that are the project shareholders. Meeting at least twice a year, they decide on the most important issues related to its operation and development. The delegates from Poland are Mateusz Gaczyński from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and Grzegorz Wrochna from the National Research and Development Center.

Why is it important?

European XFEL exceeds conventional lasers in terms of brightness, short pulse duration and the possibility of tuning over a wide wavelength range. The laser generates 27,000 times per second ultrashort pulses of laser light with intensity billions of times exceeding the intensity of beams emitted by the best conventional x-ray sources. These pulses allow scientists from around the world to make progression in their studies. This may have implications, for instance, in the development of a detailed picture of the structure of viruses, research on molecular mechanisms of cell function, filming chemical reactions, understanding the processes occurring in stars and planets, but also modifications of existing materials and developing new ones.


For business and industry

The functioning of European XFEL GmbH, although operating on a non-profit basis, involves the use of huge operational budget (approx. EUR 117 million per year), which may reach the domestic industry in the form of orders. In the Polish high-tech sector there are companies which successfully executed orders for the organisation, already at the stage of construction of the research infrastructure. An example is the consortium with Wrocław Technology Park as the leader, the National Center for Nuclear Research as the a shareholder, and Kriosystemem and Kates Sp. z o.o. from Olsztyn, and Wroclaw University of Technology, Department of Cryogenics as the contractors. The European XFEL project will be constantly developed. Plans for the future along with the needs arising from the operation of the laser generate a series of orders that may be also implemented by Polish companies and institutions. The annual value of the contracts concluded by European XFEL is approx. EUR 40 million.

Orders from European XFEL GmbH are granted pursuant to the German and EU law on public procurement. All Requests for proposal, the value of which exceeds the thresholds set out in the EU law, are referred to as EU-wide tenders (over EUR 209,000 for products and services, and more than EUR 5,225,000 for construction work) are published on the website Tenders Electronic Daily (TED). RFPs concerning orders below this amount are published on the national (federal) website Bundesanzeiger. Announcements can also be found on the website of the XFEL.


All invitations to tender above the threshold for EU-wide tenders (> EUR 209,000 for goods and services, and > EUR 5,225 million for construction work) are published on the website Tenders Electronic Daily (TED), and all tenders considered national (below EUR 209,000) are announced on the national/federal government website called “Bundesanzeiger”. When selecting the winning bid, the organisation is guided by the best quality to price ratio. Some of the procurement procedures conducted by European XFEL relating to the linear accelerator are managed by the Procurement Committee of the DESY center. The eligibility criterion for countries does not apply in procurement procedures − tenders conducted by European XFEL are open to companies from around the world.

Relations between European XFEL and the industry are managed by the Industrial Liaison Office operating at the company. Its role is to search for suppliers of the high-tech sector for the Big Science center, to involve the European industry in exploiting the potential of the XFEL, but also to coordinate the process of the formation of patents and licences on the basis of the results of research conducted at the centre. It also supports the creation of start-ups that use technologies from European XFEL and the process of transfer of knowledge to companies and institutions from the countries that co-create it.


European XFEL also conducts a number of activities aimed at increasing the involvement of the scientific community in the use of its equipment. Cooperation with a number of organisations from around the world has been established. The research installation is made available to researchers within the framework of the so-called user consortia. The centre is also involved in a number of European research programs such as CALIPSOplus, CREMLIN, EOSCpilot, EUCALL and OpenDreamKit.

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General Conditions of Purchase of the European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser Facility GmbH




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Project co-financed by the European Union from the European Regional Development Fund.

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