Carlos Drummond, Director of Research at the Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal (CRPP) for 20 years, is one of the founders of the Carbon Waters project. In this interview, he talks about his background and what led him to launch the Carbon Waters adventure.
You have been Director of Research at the CRPP (a CNRS, French National Centre for Scientific Research entity) for 20 years?
Carlos Drummond: That’s right, I am of Venezuelan origin and arrived in France 20 years ago, in 2003, at the CNRS. After my studies in Venezuela, I did my thesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and then I worked for a few years in Research & Development at Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) before being recruited at the CNRS (more precisely at the Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal) in Pessac.
Why did you choose to go into academic research?
CD: Industrial research and academic research are very distinct. In industry, the primary goal of research is to produce a marketable product, otherwise it is difficult for the company to survive. There is rarely time to go deeper into the subjects to get a more complete understanding of the systems. So it’s hard for me to project myself and stay motivated. That’s why I wanted to explore the path of academic research. What I like is to have more time to think about a project, to be able to do more experiments. As Director of Research at the CRPP, I supervise doctoral students and I put my scientific knowledge at their service. It is a role which corresponds to me much better and in which I blossom fully.
What is your research work at the CRPP?
CD: I work on measuring the interaction forces between two objects (for example, friction forces), in order to determine where they come from. If we take the example of graphene, we know that there is an interaction between two sheets. If we understand the origin of these interactions, we can develop strategies to control them, to avoid that they aggregate in a solvent, so that the whole remains homogeneous.
You are at the origin of the Carbon Waters project…
CD: Initially, in 2007, it was with Alain Pénicaud, also a Research Director at CRPP, that we had the idea of producing graphene, a material that had just been discovered at the time. Around 2014-2015, we understood that the project had real prospects and that it was necessary to make it a reality by becoming a company. The CNRS accompanied us in this “premature” phase, in order to go beyond the stage of a vial of a few milliliters. However, we quickly realized that entrepreneurship is a profession in its own right, requiring 100% investment and specific skills. But Alain and I had no intention of giving up our exciting work as Research Directors…
And that’s when you crossed paths with Alban Chesneau…
CD: Exactly, our paths, or rather those of Alain and Alban, crossed at just the right time. Alban had a very clear vision of how to go from a lab project to a real company. He immediately understood the potential of this entrepreneurial project. He graciously helped us by giving us a lot of advice and even decided after a while to leave his job, a well-placed one at that, to fully invest himself in the Carbon Waters project. He is an extraordinary person! Without him, Carbon Waters would never have seen the light of day.
How do you feel about how far Carbon Waters has come since its beginnings?
CD: I’m amazed at how fast Carbon Waters has grown and continues to grow. Nearly 95% of start-ups don’t survive more than two years. To get past that point is quite a feat. Carbon Waters has been able to adapt to its environment and, above all, to be a forerunner in the fields of application of its graphene-based performance additives, by addressing markets with real needs in the areas of decarbonization and material durability, for example. At the beginning, these are subjects that Alain and I had not even thought about. Every time I visit Carbon Waters’ offices, I discover new improvements or new avenues to explore. It’s a young, dynamic, innovative company that doesn’t rest on its laurels.
And today, are you still connected with Carbon Waters?
CD: Of course, I am one of the shareholders of Carbon Waters and I also provide scientific support to the company. For example, I may be asked to advise the team on blocking issues or help them solve certain problems. I am very happy to be part of Carbon Waters and hope to continue this great adventure in the years to come.