After about 15 years, apple trees are uprooted from orchards and burned because they are no longer profitable. The Limburg-based startup B3ET wants to use these trees in a circular model, extracting high-quality bio-resources for the food and cosmetics sectors and saving CO2 emissions by not simply burning the trees. A win-win situation, which also earned them recognition at VITO4STARTERS.

The company won the third edition of the VITO4STARTERS competition on 19 March 2024, through which VITO aims to accelerate startups working on sustainability in the technological field. This year, the final took place during the first FTI city festival in Hasselt. Seven finalists pitched their ideas at the Corda Campus. The prize? Support from VITO in the development of their innovations, including technological advice, proof-of-concept, or access to infrastructure, all worth €25,000.

The competition was tough, but the jury's choice, consisting of representatives from imec.istart, start it @KBC, and Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT), ultimately fell on the Limburg-based B3ET, pronounced as "triple BET." The startup has a clear ambition: to unleash a revolution in the bio-economy by innovating the entire biomass value chain. They do this through... apple trees. Their mission is threefold: to make the apple tree circular, accelerate the bio-economy, and contribute to climate objectives.

"B³ET is a beautiful example of different stories coming together," says jury member Ralph Moreau, Science & Technology Director Climate Tech US at FIT. "First and foremost, a strong team and a local story as well, based on a local type of biomass, in this case, apple trees. But at the same time, a scalable model. Moreover, the business model is entirely based on a climate-neutral principle. And this actually from a to z, from planting the trees to processing them, with the valorisation cascade of different by-products. I myself strongly believe in the future of bio/sustainable chemistry, as a complement and replacement for petrochemistry. And this also nicely aligns with VITO's expertise, with which the company can now work, through the VITO4STARTERS prize.

Bio-resources for the food and cosmetics sector

The B3ET team extracts polyphenols, lignin, and cellulose from uprooted apple trees with less CO2 than the apple tree absorbed during its life. "By reusing apple trees as a bio-based raw material, we produce, among other things, antioxidants bio-vanillin and low-calorie sugar. At the same time, we eliminate the need to burn these trees, thus avoiding CO2 emissions," says Hannes Withouck, co-founder and science manager at B3ET. Truly something to be proud of and to support in further growth and rollout, as judged by the VITO4STARTERS jury as well.

Turning theory into practice thanks to pilot infrastructure and labs from VITO

With this support from VITO, the B3ET team hopes to make progress in linking processes and conducting a life-cycle assessment (LCA) to calculate the yield of resource extraction in detail compared to costs and CO2 savings. But certainly, being able to test their innovations in real laboratory environments and with VITO's pilot infrastructure (for example, for lignin) is a great opportunity. The team wants to explore what the maximum yield of polyphenols from wood is in a lab, rather than just in theory. This is crucial for scaling up to an industrial level, and in this, VITO's expertise and infrastructure offer undeniable added value.

Second edition of VITO4STARTERS on 25 July 2024

After this edition, VITO4STARTERS will, as is now customary, be present at Love Tomorrow in Boom on July 25. Nils Wuytens, program director of VITO4STARTERS: "It promises to be a special edition. We not only offer a platform to 10 finalists but also give away several prizes. In this way, we hope to accelerate even more sustainable startups!" Registrations for the Love Tomorrow edition are open, and all information can be found on the website:

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