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Environmental technology and sustainability in Flanders: empowered by innovation
Although a geographically small region, Flanders is a global frontrunner in developing innovative cleantech applications across multiple fields – from energy to waste management. To highlight just a few proof points, Belgium and Flanders as a region rank:
- #2 in materials reuse rate in Europe.
- #1 in the recycling of packaging waste.
- 650+ cleantech patents between 2010 and 2020.
(source: cleantech report 2022 by Cleantech Flanders, Eurostat)
Ever since the 1970s, Flanders has established itself as a growth accelerator for clean technologies. Every year, a relatively high number of cleantech patents is published in the northern region of Belgium, covering virtually all cleantech domains – from energy and energy efficiency, the circular economy to sustainable materials, agribusiness, food and more. The driving force behind this multitude of patents? The golden combination of the region’s dedicated research institutes like VITO and major commercial players.
Cleantech Flanders acts as a catalyst for environmental tech innovation. The organization brings Flanders-based and international companies looking to innovate in the field of cleantech into contact with potential partners, technologies and government support. This way, the platform aims to facilitate sustainable innovation in the field of environmental technology.
One of the main reasons for Flanders’ strong track record in cleantech and sustainable technologies is its strong collaborative ecosystem: government support, private companies, innovative universities and (strategic) research centers like VITO all come together to create innovative solutions that contribute to a more sustainable world.
Although a geographically small region, Flanders is active in many domains of environmental technology and sustainability. Its businesses, knowledge centers and public sector are working hard to develop innovative new solutions that benefit both business and the environment.
Below are some of the main sustainability domains where Flanders innovates using cleantech and environmental technologies.
Flanders is and always has been at the forefront of developing a circular economy. The fact that the region is turning into Europe’s leading recycling hub is, among other things, due to the presence and support of:
CtC: enhanced landfill mining for a circular economy
Flanders is a European pioneer when it comes to enhanced landfill mining. An inspiring project in this respect is ‘Closing the Circle’ or CtC. According to the European Enhanced Landfill Mining Consortium (EURELCO), this is the first project ever to put enhanced landfill mining into practice. From the Remo Milieubeheer site in Houthalen-Helchteren (Flanders), a landfill that contains both household and industrial waste, CtC aims to demonstrate how landfills can be used as valuable sources of materials and energy.
ArcelorMittal, recycling waste gases and waste wood in Ghent
At its local company site in North Sea Port Ghent (Flanders), multinational steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal decided to work on two major sustainability projects. The first initiative is called ‘Steelanol’, an industrial demonstration plant that captures steel mill waste gases and biologically converts them into carbon-recycled ethanol.
The second project is called ‘Torero’, a large-scale demonstration plant to convert waste wood into bio-coal. Both projects received financial support from the European Investment Bank and highlight ArcelorMittal’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and developing low-carbon steel production tech.
From off-shore windmill farms to a Tesla battery park, Flanders is no stranger to sustainable energy innovation – both in green energy production and energy storage. As a region with a huge potential for e-mobility and other innovative applications, Flanders is the perfect location for smart energy solutions.
Some key players in sustainable energy in Flanders are:
- Flux50, Flanders’ spearhead cluster for energy, is looking for ways to use clean energy as a driver of economic growth.
- EnergyVille, an association of research institutes which conducts innovative energy research in smart cities, electrical systems, energy storage and more.
- WaterstofNet, an organization that develops sustainable hydrogen energy storage solutions with the help of industry players and public authorities.
Home to one of the largest chemical clusters in the world, Flanders has a strong expertise in sustainable chemicals and polymers. Innovative companies from around the world team up with the region’s knowledge centers to develop sustainable solutions.
Notable organizations in Flanders’ sustainable chemistry ecosystem include:
- Catalisti, Flanders’ spearhead cluster for the chemical and plastics industry, with promoting a circular economy and tackling climate challenges as their main focus.
- SPARC, the Sustainable Polymers and Application Research Cluster;
- BlueChem, an incubator and accelerator for innovators in Flanders’ sustainable chemical industry.
- BlueApp, an open innovation hub that unites industry and academia to enrich the integrated ecosystem of sustainable chemistry.
Moonshot – making sustainability skyrocket in Flanders
Flanders spearhead cluster for chemistry and plastics innovation – Catalisti – is in the driver’s seat of Moonshot. This industrial innovation program unites citizens, governments and industries in working toward a clear mission: to transform Flanders into a CO2-neutral society by 2050. The ultimate goal is to develop marketable innovative and cutting-edge sustainable technologies. To achieve this ambition, the government of Flanders decided to invest a total of EUR 400 million spread across various Moonshot projects.
Over the years, Flanders has built up experience in using biomass as a resource for sustainable materials and chemicals. The cross-pollination between biobased business and research in Flanders has led to many innovative applications – producing FDCA from biomass, for example.
Flanders’ most prominent biomass knowledge centers include:
- VIB, Flanders’ Institute for Biotechnology. Their research focuses on translating scientific results into pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial applications.
- VITO, Flanders’ Institute for Technological Research, a leading European independent research and technology organization in the areas of cleantech and sustainable development.
- Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, an independent, state-of-the-art service provider for process development, scale-up and custom manufacturing of biobased products and processes.
Flanders’ agribusiness is closely connected to a wide range of industries and research fields, fueling innovation. From green biotech to new harvesting technologies, cross-pollination between industries and a stimulating business environment are two major contributors to sustainable growth.
Want to know more about the sustainable agribusiness ecosystem in Flanders? Find out about:
- Flanders’ FOOD: the spearhead cluster for agribusiness and the food industry in Flanders, it aims to make the agri-food system more sustainable, innovative and competitive in Flanders and beyond.
- flanders.bio: Flanders-based networking organization for the life sciences sector.
- ILVO: independent agricultural research center with green houses, experimental stables and laboratories with accredited analyses.
When looking to set up environmental technology and sustainable activities in Flanders, you are eligible for support from the region in the form of:
- venture capitalist and bank funding experts that specialize in life sciences and biopharmaceuticals.
Is your company active in research-intensive and innovative domains such as environmental technology and sustainability? Flanders offers access to several R&D-related tax incentives, such as:
- the innovation income deduction – up to 85% of a company’s net innovation income can be exempt from corporate tax.
- the R&D investment deduction – 13.5% of the investment value (at once) or 20.5% of the annual depreciation (staggered).
- the R&D payroll tax exemption – 80% of the withholding tax on professional income for researchers and academic personnel.