1946 to 1948: The Beginning
It was at Meudon that Félix Trombe, Marc Foex and Henry La Blanchetais inaugurated the first experimental program to obtain high temperatures using concentrated solar energy, thus revisiting and bringing to fruition the 50 kW solar furnace at Mont Louis, which in the vision of Félix Trombe was the model for future industrial solar furnaces, and which continues to serve as the basis for the design of numerous solar furnaces worldwide.
1971 to 1984: The "Growth Years"
The period from 1971 to 1976 was a key period for the field of high-temperature solar. It saw not only the growth in power of solar furnaces with the construction of the 1000 kW CNRS furnace at Odeillo , but also the growth in the use of the technology for high-temperature materials development and testing. But the most important event of this period was the first Oil Price Shock in 1973. One result was renewed interest in the use of concentrated solar energy in the US and elsewhere in the world; particularly in the area of solar central electricity generation. At the time, the 1000 kW Odeillo solar furnace was the only concentrated solar installation in the world, so the orientation of research at Odeillo changed to support the development and testing of concentrated solar energy "solar tower" receivers for electricity generation. During a second period (1976-1984) an original contribution of the research activity at Odeillo was developed; it was here that the concept of linking high-temperature solar energy with either a chemical energy carrier, or most importantly, with the concept of thermal storage by means of a chemical product was studied and promoted.
1984 to 2003: The "Return to the Roots"
With the apparent easing of the oil shock, worldwide interest in solar energy went into decline and all of the solar towers that had been constructed to produce energy became again "tools for research". Solar chemistry research took a back seat to their service in the production of extremely high temperature for fundamental materials research, and the possibility of serving as an astrophysical research facility. The use of solar furnace in the field of space materials testing and improvement starts during this period. Moreover, the Odeillo laboratories were unified by C. Dupuy in 1986. He creates an Institute entitled: "Institute for Materials science and Process engineering, IMP". IMP includes research teams from University of Perpignan.
Since 2003: "Rebirth" and large projects
With the development of concern for the environmental effects of conventional energy production using fossil fuels, notably global warming and the resulting Kyoto protocol, and high oil prices giving evidence of a coming fossil-energy shortage, the CNRS and various industrial groups have begun to show renewed interest in the use of highly-concentrated solar energy for the production of energy carriers such as hydrogen and electricity. Numerous new programs of research have been initiated and reconstructed from the earlier research in these areas. In 2004, "Solar Energy" is again included in the name of the laboratory; during the same year the European Alliance SOLLAB was created and the European project SOLFACE started (hosting of European research teams at the Font Romeu solar facilities). In 2006 the PEGASE project at Themis was launched in collaboration with the “Pyrénées Orientales” Council and French large companies. In 2009 the European project SFERA started (Capacities EC programme); In 201, the equipment of excellence SOCRATE (Concentrated Solar Energy: Advanced Researches and Energy Technologies) was selected by CGI.