Flemish recycling know-how is recognised

At the start of this year, the Flemish Public Waste Company (OVAM) received the Circular Economy Award along with its partners, VITO among them. The prize was awarded by the Forum of Young Global Leaders at the annual convention of the World Economic Forum. High praise for Flanders’ leading role in the area of recycling and the circular economy. Flanders is also a driving force in the recently-launched consortium EIT Raw Materials.

Sustainable material management and striving for a circular economy: it has become a Flemish specialty. Other countries follow the ground-breaking work of OVAM, Plan C, the Flemish universities and also VITO with great interest. “Sustainable material management is one of the cornerstones of VITO’s research,” says Karl Vrancken, research leader at VITO. “For example, we know how to process steel slag in useful ways. We supplement that scientific knowledge with policy support, such as our cooperation with OVAM.  That is very important, because the market for raw materials is very unstable and Europe is currently dependent on foreign imports.”

Flemish expertise

Turning that dependence into an advantage: that is the goal of the Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) EIT Raw Materials, which was founded by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology last year. Karl Vrancken: “In the start-up phase, I was interim COO and partially responsible for establishing the consortium structure. We gathered 115 partners in 22 member states who share their know-how with regards to recycling, substitution of critical materials and green mining. Those are mining methods that take ecology into account, for example concerning energy efficiency and water use.” Flemish partners VITO, Umicore, KU Leuven and UGent along with Walloon partners ULiège and CRM have a prominent presence in the consortium. This is because of our knowledge on recycling, substitution of critical materials and green mining. Karl Vrancken: “Flanders was even allocated its own co-location centre in Leuven. The headquarters of the EIT Raw Materials is situated in Berlin, but through six co-location centres all across Europe, we spread our knowledge in a targeted manner using outreach programmes. We combine the work of companies, universities and research institutes and lay the foundation for the start of new business activities in the materials sector.”

Engine for innovation

That is the ambitious goal of the EIT and the KICs: fully integrating research, education and industry during seven years to kick-start innovation on themes with strategic importance in Europe. Eventually, the KICs’ knowledge must add value to business initiatives. Then innovative technologies can take root in a business environment and start-up companies get the chance to fully develop. Karl Vrancken: “In 2016, EIT Raw Materials is really taking off. We have been allocated a budget of 26 million euros this year, which will be divided among the different co-location centres. In Flanders, we will be working onthe development of a business game. This is aimed at business leaders who want to invest in the circular economy. We will test it with the help of Voka East-Flanders. But there is more. Plan C, the Flemish circular economy network, has developed a business model innovation grid that should inspire companies to invest in the circular economy. We are turning that grid into a useful tool for a wider European context.”