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Frontrunner in innovation

The sector of chemicals, plastics and life sciences looks into the future. Companies are developing game changing innovations in many different fields. The research and development work of today will drastically change our way of living of tomorrow.

Sector initiatives

The potential of microalgae oil

innovaties omegaextract

The Omega-extract project from FISCH-ICON perfects the downstream processing of long-chain omega-3 oils from autotrophic algae. The ultimate aim is to produce pilot quantities of oil (10-50 litre scale) suitable for application in the food, feed, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. These findings will be crucial in estimating the viability of implementation – both economically and technologically – on an industrial scale.

The main commercial source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids is fish oil, but this resource can be problematic. Autotrophic microalgae could provide an interesting alternative to fish oil as a source of these molecules (EPA and DHA). The advantages of this ‘autotrophic microalgae omega-3 oil’ are the presence of EPA and DHA in the form of polar lipids and a substantial concentration of carotenoids and phytosterols. These substances could potentially aid in oxidative stability and bio-availability.

Besides these advantages offered by its composition and other properties, there is a further major benefit of microalgae oil over fish oil: it does not lead to overfishing. These algae are cultivated under controlled conditions and a wide range of soil types can be employed. This approach also avoids issues of heavy metal contamination and persistent organic pollutants.

In addition to the downstream processing of algae, applications for the extracts and algae cultivation are actively being sought. The subsequent findings will no doubt be of use in determining which species of algae should be supplied, and in what quantities. The project partners in this research are Proviron, Ecotreasures, Gova, KU Leuven, VITO and UGent.

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Insects as a source of biopolymers

Chitinsect is a FISCH-ICON project to develop a new value chain for chitosans based on insect biomass. The project encompasses a great many facets, including cultivation of the insects, extraction and reprocessing of the chitosans and testing their applications within two domains: pre-sowing seed treatment and coatings for netting and ropes.

The use of insects matter is a promising new approach, providing a further source of renewable resources. This is due to its composition of proteins, fats and biopolymers on the one hand, and to the cultivation methods and capacity to convert bio-organic by-products on the other. Flies, among other insects, contain an interesting component: the biopolymer chitin. Chitin is currently harvested from crustaceans and fungi and represents an annual world market of no less than $45 billion. This market is growing largely due to the demand for quality derivatives, with applications across a wide range of sectors including healthcare, agriculture and scores of commercial industries.

A consortium of five companies, including four SMEs, is involved in developments across the entire value chain including both laboratory and piloting work. They are supported by research institutes to professionalise the cultivation of flies, refinement of the insects for the extraction of chitin, proteins and fats, the subsequent reprocessing into chitosan and chemical modifications to the end product. The partners participating in this project are Millibeter, Avore, Chemstream, I-Coats, Globachem, KU Leuven, VITO and UGent.

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A public hydrogen charging station in Zaventem

The energy world is undergoing rapid change and hydrogen is one of the available solutions to help meet the challenges of clean transport, namely reducing greenhouse gases, urban pollution and oil-based fuel dependency.

The Air Liquide Group has extensive experience with the entire industrial chain for hydrogen. Involved from the very earliest stages of the process, Air Liquide is committed to producing at least 50% of the hydrogen dedicated to energy applications by 2020 without CO2 emissions. To achieve this, the Group will be combining the use of technologies such as biogas reforming or water electrolysis.

In terms of its end use, hydrogen is the fuel of the future. It offers an alternative to fossil fuels. Used in a “hydrogen fuel cell” it combines with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, with the only emissions being in the form of water.

Hydrogen-powered electric cars today offer enhanced performance as it takes less than five minutes to charge them, giving them a range between charges of more than 500 km. For this reason, Air Liquide is actively participating in encouraging the take-up of hydrogen as a means of clean energy by contributing among other things to the creation of a network of charging stations. To date, 75 hydrogen charging stations have been designed and supplied by the Group.

As part of a European financing project, Air Liquide is building a hydrogen charging station in Zaventem on the Toyota site. The deployment of this project involves regular contact with the relevant authorities with responsibility for the environment, external security, mobility and local development. In July 2015 they issued the necessary environmental and construction permits.

The Air Liquide station will have a hydrogen charging capacity for 20 to 30 cars per day. In addition to private vehicles, coaches will also be able to charge there.

baanbrekende innovaties Air Liquide waterstof

The environmental impact

Promoting hydrogen as an energy source makes it possible to combat various forms of pollution. A hydrogen-powered electric vehicle is not only silent (no noise pollution) but generates no NOx, CO2 or fine particle emissions, which contributes to:

  • Reducing global warming (with a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas in comparison to combustion-powered vehicles for an equal distance covered).
  • Reducing the impact of fine particles for those suffering from respiratory problems such as asthma for example.

The impact on the Belgian economy

By reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, the hydrogen industry can have a positive impact on our trade balance by reducing imports.
Similarly, improvements in air quality through reductions in fine particle emissions will make it possible to reduce health expenditure.

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