We report on the results obtained during the commissioning phase of the volume photoemission (VOLPE) project, now operational at ESRF. Test experiments were performed on noble metals and highly correlated systems, analyzing photoelectrons with kinetic energies up to 8 keV. They confirmed that hard X-ray photoemission spectroscopy (HAXPES) can achieve bulk sensitivity with high energy resolution (e.g. 70 meV at 6 keV kinetic energy). At these kinetic energies, the surface contribution to the measured spectra is less than 5%. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.