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How Catalisti develops the formula for a sustainable chemical industry

It’s a misconception that the chemical industry and environmental efforts don’t mix. In fact, chemical products and technologies  form a key building block for a sustainable future. “At Catalisti, Flanders’ spearhead cluster for chemistry and plastics, promoting a circular economy and tackling climate challenges are our main focus,” says Tine Schaerlaekens, catalyst at Catalisti.

Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, established Catalisti, the spearhead cluster for chemistry and plastics, with the goal of driving innovation and multidisciplinary partnerships in these high-impact industries. Launched in 2016, Catalisti is currently tackling a massive host of projects focused on sustainability.

The ‘Yes, together we can’ attitude at Catalisti

“Together, we can:

  • create a carbon-smart society – and reduce CO2 emissions in chemical production processes.
  • achieve a circular economy – by developing solutions with partners throughout the chemical value chain.
  • leverage traditional expertise for sustainable innovation – through collaboration between large chemical manufacturers, cutting-edge start-ups and knowledge institutions.”

Sustainability: an elemental compound of the chemical industry

“The chemical sector has a vital role to play in tackling climate challenges and realizing a circular economy,” explains Tine. “All our projects – whether they’re in renewable chemicals, side-stream valorization, process intensification or advanced sustainable products – either contribute to improving our climate or driving the circular economy.”

Our main focus today is to contribute to European climate objectives and drive the transition to a circular economy.

Tine Schaerlaekens
Catalyst at Catalisti

Tine Schaerlaekens, catalyst at Catalisti

Sustainability under the microscope

So how does this commitment translate into practice? “When it comes to the circular economy, the MATTER project is an excellent example,” Tine explains. “Large international firms with production sites in Flanders, such as Borealis, are teaming up with researchers from Ghent University, local waste processors and recyclers. Together, they aim to improve post-consumer plastic waste management. The results of MATTER will be essential for the further development of sustainable recycling solutions for a significant amount of waste which currently cannot be processed. Long term, the recycling knowledge gained from this project may also result in extra activities related to the processing of other plastic waste fractions.”

In addition, Catalisti facilitates projects that contribute to solving climate challenges. Specifically, the spearhead cluster is looking into biobased resources that can replace fossil fuels. Tine: “The Biovertol project does just that: Oleon, 3M, Proviron and Ecover partnered with the universities of Ghent and Leuven to develop branched alcohols based on biological raw materials – and with great success! So far, 9 patents have been requested and several applications have been commercialized and put into practice.”

Brewing a carbon-smart society

Related to its focus on sustainability and tackling climate challenges, the government of Flanders has tasked Catalisti with the coordination of the MOONSHOT, an ambitious, long-term research program. The goal? To drastically reduce CO2 emissions in Flanders by 2050 through carbon-smart solutions. To accomplish this objective, Catalisti receives a grant of EUR 20 million each year.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings concerning carbon,” Tine explains. “We want to reduce CO2 emissions, but carbon itself is an essential element in almost every product or process. That’s why we are developing new ways to utilize the carbon that is already present in the cycle, for maximum efficiency and minimum CO2 output.”

Team meeting Catalisti

A variety of members in their element

In its membership policy, Catalisti truly takes the ‘Yes, together we can’ mentality to heart. “Any organization that is part of the chemical value chain can join Catalisti,” Tine elaborates. “Our members not only include chemical firms, but also feedstock suppliers, recycling companies and technology providers.”

Any organization that’s part of the chemical value chain – from suppliers to recycling companies – can join Catalisti.

Tine Schaerlaekens
Catalyst at Catalisti

Meanwhile, size doesn’t matter. “We have over 100 members that come in diverse shapes and sizes,” Tine continues. “From multinationals with production and R&D sites in Flanders to traditional firms and innovative SMEs and start-ups. In fact, this is one of our strengths. It’s what allows us to set up truly innovative projects that span the entire value chain and ecosystem, from process chemistry to raw materials, waste processing and recycling.”

A chain reaction of innovative success

With innovation being a long-term goal and an often continuous process, measuring success and defining an end point can be tricky. “Patents and commercial applications resulting from a project is only one measure of success,” Tine explains. “At Catalisti, we also evaluate success in other ways. One of our main goals is to achieve a leverage effect for participating companies and knowledge institutions, enabling them to use the results of our projects as a base for further developments or research.”

“Additionally, we always hope to see some ‘spillover’ into other business ventures or research activities. In other words, when we create a chain reaction of innovative success, our cluster projects are truly successful.”

We know we’ve been successful when our collaborative projects lead to commercial applications or further innovation, even in other industries.

Tine Schaerlaekens
Catalyst at Catalisti

Cluster ID

  • Founded in: 2016.
  • Services: Catalisti applies the ‘Triple F Principle’ (Find, Facilitate, Fulfill) to build partnerships between companies, research institutions and governments in Flanders. These partnerships form the foundations for projects that stimulate innovation.
  • Innovation domains: renewable chemicals, side-stream valorization, process intensification and advanced sustainable products.

More info

16 September 2019

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