Assessing the carbon footprint of construction products is usually timeconsuming and difficult. Not so with the Enperas software, the newest digital solution from the spin-off programme through which VITO is making the Flemish economy stronger and more sustainable. With this digital sustainability assessment, which results from the activities of VITO/EnergyVille, companies can cover their entire product range in no time.

Sustainable construction starts with the use of sustainable materials, including raw materials. But how does an architect, contractor or builder know which construction products qualify? By consulting the EPD, an information sheet collecting all the data on the impact of construction products on the environment, the climate and human health. The EPD (environmental product declaration) is a standardised way to quantify and report on the ecological footprint of a construction product, process or system.

EPDs collected in national database

As early as 2014, the minimum requirements that EPDs must meet were set out in Belgian legislation. For example, they must be based on a thorough life cycle analysis (LCA). This includes the environmental impact of raw materials, water and energy consumption, CO2 and other air pollution emissions, waste production, as well as the impact on human health (for construction workers as well as for building users) and the required transport. This last aspect is not unimportant: locally produced building products are preferable to products that have to be transported from the other side of the planet. The results of this analysis are compiled in an EPD and then validated by an independent third-party expert. Finally, the EPD is uploaded into a public database, managed in Belgium by the federal government.

Gaining a quick insight into LCA and ecological footprint assessment

Manufacturers of construction products therefore benefit greatly if they can demonstrate the (preferably limited) environmental impact of their products by means of an EPD. They can do this through the brand new spin-off of VITO & EnergyVille, called Enperas. It develops software that allows companies to make their own LCA and calculate the environmental costs in practice. The results of the LCA form the basis of an EPD, through which companies can offer their customers accurate and certified information about the environmental impact of their products. ‘Until now, the LCA and assessment of the ecological footprint of a product was very time-consuming,’ says Luc Plancke, CEO of Enperas. ‘By digitalising the entire process, we’ve gained a lot of time. As a result, companies can now quickly cover their entire product range.’

Making the entire chain more sustainable

The Enperas software also offers companies a powerful tool for better understanding the ecological footprint of their products. By altering parameters in simulations, they can discover how their business operations can be made more sustainable. This sustainability exercise is not limited to the company’s own activities, but can span the entire life cycle. Plancke: ‘In such an exercise, everyone in the company can get to work with our software: from the buyer who evaluates different suppliers against one another, to the product manager who makes sustainable adjustments to a product, to the person responsible for waste management.’ In addition to software, Enperas can also advise companies on the sustainability of construction products.

Software for country-specific results

In addition to European regulations, EPDs must comply with strict national  legislation on sustainability certificates for construction products, which is different in each country. One of Enperas’ strengths is that its software takes this into account and can easily convert this national test with a single mouse click. For example, results for Belgium can be immediately converted to results for France, allowing the product in question to be described from the relevant market. The increasing market demand for these country-specifi c results is the main reason why the spin-off was launched. ‘Our focus on this makes us absolutely unique and allows us to add value to a product’s ecological footprint for our customers,’ says Plancke.

Enperas spin-off for LCA/EPD-software

The decision to create this spin-off from VITO/EnergyVille’s activities was already taken in September 2019. Last year, the structure was put in place and investors were attracted. ‘You need that time to get off to a good start,’ says Bart Swaelens of VITO. Since Enperas became independent, VITO remains a shareholder of the company, which now has four employees.

The Enperas spin-off will serve the growing European market demand for LCA/EPD software and advice. VITO/EnergyVille keeps the expertise about LCA and sustainability methods for innovative research and development for and with companies and governments. Important innovations can be expected about circularity  and sustainability aspects of building stock, energy technology and systems such as batteries and power to molecules, in close cooperation with the technological R&D on sustainable energy, materials and chemistry from VITO/EnergyVille.

Tech transfer for a stronger and more sustainable Flemish economy

With the recent creation of the spin-off Enperas (which offers software for sustainability assessments of construction products) and the imminent launch of Mona (a spin-off that will develop eye scans to detect for example diabetes), VITO is doing what it should: adding value to the expertise and technology it has developed by transferring it to industry. The two spinoffs are the latest in a growing list of companies that have emerged from within VITO – about ten in the past five years.

This ‘tech transfer’ can take place in two ways: through the sale of a licence to an existing company, or through the creation of a spin-off. In most cases, this strengthens the Flemish economy, which is at the core of VITO’s mission. By doing so, VITO is injecting sustainability into Flemish industry.

Launching a spin-off

For the creation of a spin-off, the first step is to detect opportunities for adding value within VITO. ‘We have specific programmes for this,’ says Bart Swaelens Head of Tech Transfer and Venture Development at VITO. ‘Take for example ‘accelerate your business idea’ or AYOUBI, an initiative through which we encourage our employees to come up with interesting business ideas.’ Once such an opportunity has been identified, the key is to allow it to mature. ‘We then build a team around it. The quality of that team makes or breaks the success of a spin-off. A good balance between VITO expertise and external entrepreneurship is important. That’s why we’ve engaged Luc Plancke for Enperas.’ Then a business plan and a financial plan are drawn up, and it is crucial to find external investors. Once these have been found, the spin-off can be launched.

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