Flanders CO2 neutral by 2050: €400 million investment in technological solutions


Flemish minister Philippe Muyters is launching a 'Moonshot', an innovation programme worth no less than 400 million euros to focus on promising technological innovation with an unambiguous ambition: to make a major contribution to a CO2-neutral Flanders by 2050 and to conquer the world with this technology.

One of the important elements to combat global warming is reducing energy consumption and CO2 in the air. That challenge is one of science, our society and our industry together. By working together on less CO2 emissions, more CO2 capture and better CO2 reuse, we can achieve a successful climate strategy. That is why Flemish minister Philippe Muyters is launching a 'moonshot', an innovation programme worth no less than 400 million euros to focus on promising technological innovation with an unambiguous ambition: to make a major contribution to a CO2-neutral Flanders by 2050 and to conquer the world with this technology.

The transition to a climate-friendly Flemish economy and society, in which virtually no greenhouse gases are emitted on net, is anything but straightforward. Flanders has a high population density, energy-intensive industry and a lack of space for alternative systems. Drastically reducing the use of carbon is almost impossible; carbon itself is an indispensable element in our most essential consumer and energy products. Reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions, therefore, requires a radical change in the way carbon is used.

Flemish Minister for Economy and Innovation Philippe Muyters: "The solution lies in innovation. Carbon is a valuable product, but we urgently need to use it differently in our society and industry. If we manage not only to emit less CO2, but also to capture more CO2 or take it out of the air to reuse as a valuable building block, it will be invaluable for our climate."

To make that essential difference, Minister Muyters is launching a 'moonshot', an ambitious, integrated and widely supported effort of 400 million euros in innovation and research to make the big leap needed to successfully meet the climate and energy challenge. With this long-term investment of €20 million for 20 years, Flanders is challenging promising research to develop breakthrough technologies. Innovations that can demonstrate that they can significantly reduce CO2 emissions, increase CO2 capture or improve CO2 recovery will receive further support. For example, by completely rethinking current processes, it is feasible to significantly reduce net CO2 emissions. We must also look for an efficient way to capture and store CO2, initially at point sources, the major emitters, but also the free CO2 emitted by people, houses, cars, etc. (CCS, Carbon Capture and Storage). A third necessary step to realise a carbon-circular industry is to be able to reuse CO2 as a building block in the production process at a cost that is competitive with the use of regular carbon sources such as oil and gas (CCU, Carbon Capture and Utilisation).

We do not have to start from scratch for this. Flanders has a strong knowledge base with top universities, colleges and research institutes, a highly educated population, and promising technology is also being developed by industry and is already cautiously being put into practice today. In recent decades, major energy-consuming sectors in Flanders have already taken important steps to drastically reduce their CO2 emissions and developed products that contribute greatly to reducing or avoiding additional CO2 emissions, such as insulation materials or lightweight materials for transport.

"Industry has already made a significant contribution in reducing CO2 emissions and increasing energy efficiency over the past decades. But the challenge we now face with the whole of society and the world is huge. We need to look for new technologies, products, processes and raw materials. Carbon is not the problem, but the solution. Above all, we need to use it in a smarter way. As home to the largest and most specialised chemical cluster in Europe, Flanders has all the assets to do so," says Wouter De Geest, chairman of Catalisti.

The Flemish industry, responsible for a third of total CO2 emissions, has already come a long way, but new technological breakthroughs are needed for an industrial transition. Minister Muyters: "Today, it is still the case that it is often cheaper for large energy consumers to emit CO2 than to capture CO2 and start recycling it. However, we are not going to solve the climate problem by taxing our companies to death and driving them away. By doing so, you move the problem of CO2 emissions to places where there is less ambition to meet the climate challenge and you get economic destruction here. If, on the other hand, we can ensure that it becomes interesting for our industry itself to co-invest in technological solutions and switch to environmentally friendly processes, we all gain, not least the climate."

So the industrial sectors that account for most CO2 emissions in Flanders - the chemical, refining and steel sectors - have an important role to play in realising the moonshot ambition of making Flanders CO2 neutral by 2050. They must be part of the solution and the plan therefore provides for close cooperation. Together with them we will make the commitment, but only if the other sectors, such as construction, transport and agriculture, and society as a whole follow us in this, can we really make this ambition a reality.

Given the crucial role played by chemistry and plastics in both CO2 emissions and their avoidance, the Catalisti spearhead cluster will have a central directing role in the moonshot programme. The moonshot programme is also supported by essenscia vlaanderen, the sector federation of chemistry and life sciences, the Belgian Petroleum Federation, the Steel Industry Association and Febeliec, the association of industrial energy users. The five other spearhead clusters are also closely involved: the Blue Cluster (offshore economic projects), Flanders' FOOD (food), Flux50 (energy), SIM (materials) and VIL (logistics).

"The chemical sector provides the essential building blocks with which other sectors can make their products and processes more sustainable. So it is a great responsibility to be allowed to drive this pioneering research, in collaboration with research institutes, companies and other cutting-edge clusters. This is the start of a long journey of discovery with an uncertain outcome. That is simply the risk of innovation. But we are confident that together we can achieve crucial breakthroughs," says Jan Van Havenbergh, Managing Director Catalisti.

Moreover, in this moonshot with the ambition of making Flanders CO2-neutral by 2050, there is a huge economic opportunity. With the resulting technological breakthroughs and energy innovations, Flanders can position itself as a top region for research and innovation in the energy-intensive sectors of our society.

Flemish minister Muyters: "The moonshot is a major investment in our scientific research and in the climate, but also in our economy. The important innovations it gives us can be put on the market worldwide, to make another important contribution to the climate. In this way, the climate challenge becomes an opportunity for Flanders."