VITO accelerates the transition to a sustainable world

Annual report 2015

“VITO has become a strong player in the Flemish science and innovation landscape”

In the past 25 years, VITO has grown to become a strong player in the Flemish science and innovation landscape, with extensive international connections. VITO has aimed its research...

VITO has aimed its research focus at cleantech and sustainable development. Currently, we are fully committed to the nexus between energy, materials and chemistry, more specifically, the interaction between and reinforcement of these three VITO cleantech research areas.

On September 14th 2015 on the former Balmatt site, the starting signal for the first deep geothermal drilling in Flanders was given. VITO considers it the start of a project on the sustainable integration of energy, materials and chemistry.

VITO continues to support companies and federations by developing and transmitting knowledge, with special attention to SME's.

The VITO researchers and employees have established a great track record in the last 25 years. VITO is number ten on the Belgian list of highest number of patents submitted. VITO also does well at acquiring European research grants. In 2015, as in the years before, VITO had an ever-mounting budget at its disposal, which resulted in a record number of SCI-papers and research projects with companies and SME's in particular. In 2016, VITO will celebrate its 25th birthday. VITO is doing better than ever and has a beautiful future ahead.

Em. Prof. Dr. Harry Martens Chairman of the Board of Directors

VITO drills for geothermal energy in the Kempen

3 610 metres: that’s how deep VITO drilled at the Kempen Balmatt site in 2015. The researchers were hoping to find a geothermal water reservoir with a temperature of at least 124 °C, high enough to generate renewable energy. A pump test at the beginning of 2016 verified the success of the pioneering project: VITO struck water with a temperature of 128 °C. In order to use this water to generate renewable heat, VITO is now drilling a second wellbore to inject the pumped water back into the deep underground. If all goes according to plan, the ‘geothermal doublet’ will be ready for use yet this year, and VITO, SCK and Belgoprocess can begin using geothermal energy as an environmentally friendly energy source as early as the winter of 2016-2017.

In addition to heat, VITO also wishes to generate electricity. This is possible with the installation of an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC). The Balmatt site could supply heat and electricity to more than 5 000 families and many companies in the region. VITO’s goal now is to begin the implementation of district heating networks as quickly as possible. These are essential to efficiently bringing the heat to the customer.

Watch the progress of the exploratory drilling in this movie

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From CO2 to valuable biochemicals

Climate change and CO2 go hand in hand. One strategy to combat climate change is to reuse CO2 and convert it to biochemicals with a commercial value. To facilitate this, VITO is developing biological and bioelectrochemical processes with practical industrial applications. For example, in 2015 the CO2MPASS project was launched, with VITO as an important partner. In this research, CO2 and hydrogen are converted into useful monomers and polymers with the aid of bacteria and enzymes.

Bioelectrochemical processes use bacteria with the aid of electric current to convert CO2 into useful chemical products such as acetate and ethanol. This current is added by electrodes. VITO brought two patented gas diffusion electrodes on the market that in 2015 finished in the top 10 of ClimateLaunchpad. Because the electrodes are gas porous and were coated with bioactive layers that contain bacteria or enzymes, they can be adjusted according to the desired reaction. Interested companies can contact VITO to have specific reactions tested.

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Flanders pioneer in recycling

The transition to a circular economy is necessary: this can be seem among others from our dwindling supply of raw materials. At the same time, we are using more and more goods. Hence, recycling is essential. Flanders has been working for years in the field of recycling, and these efforts have not gone unnoticed abroad. Thus in early 2015, the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM), along with its partners including VITO, won the Circular Economy Award 2015 at the World Economic Forum.

Recycling is a priority research area for VITO. It is developing numerous industrially applicable recycling concepts, such as the recovery of high-quality construction materials from dredging sludge and steel slag, or critical metals from smaller streams. Furthermore, VITO also supplies innovative business models that accelerate the transition to a circular economy. It is doing this for example in the recently launched EIT Raw Materials consortium. Knowledge about recycling materials will be rolled out through outreach programmes from six co-location centres, one of which is located in Leuven. VITO is helping to pool the expertise of companies, universities and research institutes. Thus VITO is investing in Flemish know-how and spreading the best practices from here to other European countries.

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VITO valorises research at home and abroad

2015 was a banner year for VITO: we proved that we not only conduct research and develop technology with which Flanders is able to tackle the major societal challenges of the future in the fields of climate, energy and sustainable industry. By valorising our expertise, we also aim to create economic value. In 2015, for example, we launched two spin-offs in which VITO technology is being further developed into solutions with a good market potential. Laser Cladding Venture is focusing on a new sustainable coating technique, and UniFly NV is a drone management platform with ambitions on the world market.

And there’s more. We launched the innovation plan ‘Brilliant’, with which we will involve companies at an earlier stage in the research. Our aim is to place greater emphasis on joint development, with attention to the needs of industry. This facilitates a smoother valorisation process. We also established the subsidiary VITO Middle East in the Middle East. This division allows us to valorise internationally the Flemish solutions that VITO launches.

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VITO pursues excellence in all its forms

Excellence at every level: that is the motto behind the HR policy of VITO. Which is why VITO is implementing an HR strategy for researchers that is in line with the European Charter and Code for Researchers. Four focus areas have been identified: attracting outstanding international talent with a stimulating work environment, supporting flexibility and talent mobility by giving employees the opportunity to learn about the procedures used in other companies, sustainably making use of researchers thanks to a range of development programmes, and optimising the performance of each employee and the organisation, thanks to a 'good condition’. This is done with team and group activities, and comprehensive information and training possibilities.

VITO encourages its employees to continually evolve in line with the organisation’s objectives and strategy. By supporting entrepreneurship, commercial talent and competence development, the organisation encourages the growth of each employee. The result is FIT@VITO: VITO is an organisation that excels because it is supported by a network of satisfied employees, customers and stakeholders.

See how VITO employees contribute to tomorrow’s society in this movie.

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Units & themes

Sustainable chemistry

Sustainable chemistry:
Innovative chemistry is a lever for a sustainable society

The chemical sector is still making intensive use of fossil-based raw materials. These, however, are mainly imported from outside Europe and are finite. Globalisation and the rise of new economies are also making the strong position of the European and Flemish chemical industry less obvious. Thus, the sector must reinvent itself in order to remain profitable. VITO is developing technologies and industrial processes that support and accelerate this transition in the chemical sector. A reorientation towards renewable resources, increasing efficiency and commitment to reuse and recycling seems inevitable. Therefore, VITO is creating new value chains based on renewable raw materials such as biomass and CO2. A second line of research focuses on process intensification to make chemical processes more efficient and more sustainable. Finally, VITO is studying possibilities to reuse industrial waste streams.

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  • We aim for innovative end products
  • Biotechnological processes pivotal in CO2 value chain
  • Extracting valuable components from solvents and waste streams

Sustainable energy

Sustainable energy:
The energy transition starts now

Our energy system is faced with a vital transition to greater energy efficiency and more renewable sources of energy. Using demo projects and living labs, VITO is preparing the government, the energy market and consumers for the energy revolution of tomorrow. EnergyVille – a research collaboration between KU Leuven, VITO and imec – is developing integrated storage for batteries, is working on more efficient photovoltaic modules and is studying energy networks with special attention being paid to fourth-generation district heating networks and DC (direct current) grids. VITO is developing simulation models for companies and governments to deal strategically with the new energy context. This research is not limited to technological innovations to the energy system, but also takes account of social trends and consumer behaviour. The laboratory phase is long behind us.

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  • Battery management systems are indispendible to new energy networks
  • Energy efficiency through intelligent control
  • District heating on the rise
  • Towards sustainable and climate-neutral cities

Sustainable materials management

Sustainable materials management:
Accelerating the transition to the circular economy

To address the increasing scarcity of raw materials, Europe and Flanders are focusing on the circular economy. Sustainable materials management is no longer nice to have, but has become a necessity due to strongly fluctuating commodity prices. The opportunities for Flanders – with a world-renowned port and a strong chemical industry and recycling sector – mainly lie in developing the recycling industry. VITO is developing practical technological solutions to convert waste streams into products with value. An extensive network of industry partners and government institutions not only provides relevant knowledge about the value of industrial waste and residual flows and how to extract this value, but also gives a unique insight into how materials flow in the economy. The social dimension of the economic transition is also important. VITO is supporting industry and policy makers in exploiting the full potential of the circular economy.

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  • Upgrading bulky waste streams
  • Our knowledge bridges government and industry
  • We are developing functional catalysts for the fine chemical industry
  • BBT and EMIS have been improving the environmental performance of our industry for 20 years
  • Laser Cladding Venture launched

Sustainable health

Sustainable health:
Personalised healthcare is the future

Thanks to the quality of our healthcare, we are living longer but must also deal more with lifestyle diseases and chronic illnesses. The high costs of treating these are putting pressure on our healthcare system. Preventive healthcare is becoming increasingly important. VITO is developing applications and measurement methods for this. Researchers assist in the identification and validation of new biomarkers, the development of diagnostic tests, and in the improvement of equipment. Sensor applications and methods are also being developed to evaluate environmental factors. VITO is developing instruments for on-body measurements, including applications with which doctors can monitor their patients remotely. This research is often at the service of policy. VITO conducts air quality research, supports Flemish policy around care for the environmental and environmentally hazardous substances, and contributes to European directives on hazardous materials.

Read more
  • Research into biomarkers gets a new boost
  • The pharmaceutical and medical sectors see a future in our applications
  • Effect biomarkers can predict increased health risk at an early stage
  • Air pollution measurement and remediation
  • Integrated safety assessments

Sustainable land use

Sustainable land use:
Air and satellite images and computer models to advise government and business

VITO keeps a close watch on Flanders and the world. Critical resources – such as food, air, water, soil, ecosystems, energy and space – are threatened with scarcity, and need to be safeguarded now for future generations. VITO’s Spatial Environmental Aspects unit develops computer models and information technologies with which governments and companies can monitor, predict and better manage the use of resources. The Remote Sensing unit is using a new generation of satellite, aircraft and drone imagery to underpin strategic decisions about land use. The collected data will be used among others for global harvest forecasts, crop monitoring, monitoring coastal erosion, visualising sediment transport during dredging operations, and monitoring urban planning. Numerous national governments and international agencies rely on ready-made images, maps and information from VITO to support their decisions.

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  • Cities are preparing themselves fort he effects of climate change
  • Water quality and availability remain major challenges
  • Placing a value on nature
  • Quick action in emergencies
  • More efficient agriculture thanks to digital camera images
  • Daily images are becoming sharper
  • Digital camera images to detect small objects

VITO projects across the globe

The dark blue colour indicates countries in which VITO executes projects.

Countries benefiting from VITO projects

the annual report 2015

In cooperation with companies, the government and end users, VITO strives for a sustainable and thriving economy and society. In order to do so, VITO develops new technologies and creates custom-made, innovative solutions. Read all about it in this annual report.

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