Closing the loop in carton packaging recycling

The project PolyAl Circular will improve the recycling potential of PolyAl, the fraction remaining after fiber extraction from drink and food carton packaging recycling, by developing a scalable chemical recycling process. The project will support companies in incorporating more recycled PolyAl in their products and make carton packaging an even more competitive material in the circular economy.

Carton packaging

Carton packaging, also known as drink carton or beverage carton, is very effective in protecting foods, such as milk and fruit juices. Today, Flanders recycles most of the carton packaging once used by consumers. During the recycling process, however, a fraction called PolyAl remains. This by-product consists of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and aluminium. Unfortunately, only limited recycling outlets for PolyAl currently exist. Therefore, a large amount of this material is not handled in an environmentally sound way, being incinerated or sent to landfills across Europe.

A valuable feedstock

PolyAl has, however, been identified as a feedstock of significant potential for chemical recycling technologies. Preliminary tests have already indicated that recycling PolyAl into high-quality secondary raw materials is feasible, which would effectively close the loop in carton packaging recycling. Yet, some challenges remain.

Circumventing hydrotreatment

Most importantly, a hydrotreatment step is deemed necessary to convert the recycled material into usable LDPE feedstock. Although effective, hydrotreatment’s high cost forms a barrier in the scale-up of the chemical recycling of PolyAl to commercially relevant levels.

Therefore, PolyAl Circular seeks to identify and optimize a cost-efficient scalable alternative to current hydrotreatment that (i) displays a better economic and environmental performance compared to hydrotreatment and (ii) yields high-value market-ready products.

A circular economy

By developing an innovative and cost-efficient chemical recycling process for PolyAl, this project will support companies in incorporating more recycled polymer from PolyAl in their products and make carton packaging truly circular. In addition, the innovations pursued by PolyAl Circular will also represent a significant step forward for the chemical recycling of polyolefins in general.

Project type: ICON
Approved on: 21/10/2021
Duration: 01/11/2021 – 31/10/2024 (36 months)
Total budget: €2.828.783
Subsidy: €1.827.377

PolyAl is an innovation project under the umbrella of Catalisti, the spearhead cluster that accelerates innovation into business in Flanders’ chemical and plastics sector. The project is also supported by Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO). To accomplish the project’s ambitious goals and ensure that all process steps are aligned, several industrial players across the value chain are involved. Tetra Pak is the leading producer of carton packaging. INEOS is Europe’s largest olefin producer and supplier of LDPE. Indaver is a clean tech company, active in chemical recycling. Umicore develops catalysts for the chemical industry. These four industrial parties are complemented by three knowledge institutes with a demonstrated track record in advanced catalysis (KU Leuven CSCE), plastic recycling process development (UGent LCPE), and environmental sustainability assessment (UGent STEN).

Project Partners

Questions about this project? Please contact catalyst Stef Koelewijn (skoelewijn@catalisti.be).


Evaluation of the recyclability of food packaging materials in function of their compostion and barrier properties

In the intercluster COOCK project proposal Multi2Recycle, Catalisti joins forces with Flanders’ FOOD, Pack4Food, UHasselt and VKC-Centexbel to work on the future of circular food packaging. Specifically, this project will seek to answer the following question:

“How can a multilayer plastic food packaging be recyclable and, at the same time, have the optimal barrier properties to ensure the shelf-life of food products?”

In the Multi2Recycle project, the goal is to develop ‘Design for Recycling’ guidelines for multilayer plastic food packaging, incorporating both recyclability and optimal barrier properties. The maximal acceptable concentration of a certain type of barrier material (e.g. metallisation, EVOH) will be defined in function of the packaging recyclability. Afterwards, we will investigate how this translates into the shelf-life of the food product. In addition, the packaging recyclability will be validated on the level of the sorting and recycling sector.

Packaging: problems & prospects
Circular food packaging remains high on the agenda, with both European and Belgian authorities setting ambitious recycling targets. In line with our innovation programme on Circularity and Resource Efficiency, Catalisti continues to focus on sustainable food packaging that enables both optimal product protection and maximal circularity, for example through the Multi2Recycle project. Plastic converting, packaging, sorting and recycling companies are invited to join the Advisory Board of this project.

Join us!
Industrial input and participation is crucial for reaching the project goals. Therefore, Catalisti and its partners are cordially inviting plastic converting, packaging, sorting and recycling companies to participate in the Multi2Recycle Advisory Board. Is your company interested in this project and its goals? Then join the Advisory Board by sending a signed Letter of Intent (LOI) to Otto van den Berg (ovandenberg@catalisti.be). Click HERE to download the LOI template, including a more detailed project description.

Project Details
Project type: COOCK
Approved on: 18/11/2021
Duration: 01/11/2021-31/10/2023
Total budget: €838.558
Subsidy: €838.558
Project Partners


Enabling advanced functionalisation of powder particles 

The ICON project FUNY will investigate whether the existing process to add functionalities to powder coating particles can be made more sustainable. The project proposes to integrate two core technologies for the production of such particles: atmospheric plasma technology and coating reactor technology. This combined technology will open up opportunities for the functionalisation of powder coating particles in a wide variety of applications, and support companies in making their processes more sustainable

Powder coating technologies
Powder coatings are applied in the industry to change the surface properties of all types of products. They can, for example, enhance a product’s adhesion, wettability or corrosion and wear resistance.

Today, the main technology used to add particular functionalities to powder coating particles is based on a wet chemical process. More specifically, a solvent is often evaporated to leave behind a homogeneous shell layer around powder coating particles.

This wet coating process has some drawbacks. First of all, there are environmental concerns as the wet coating process requires solvents and toxic reagents, results in waste solutions, possibly leads to volatile organic compound emissions, and has a relatively high energy consumption. Secondly, this process can also suffer from agglomeration issues, especially with small particle sizes.

A more sustainable solution?
To deal with these drawbacks, the ICON project FUNY will investigate if a more sustainable technology can be used to add functionalities to powder coating particles. The project proposes to integrate two core technologies for the production of such particles. The first is MPG’s atmospheric plasma technology, an emerging technology to chemically modify the surface of materials at the nanometre level. The second is PROCEPT’s coating technology.

Advantages all around
The combined technology proposed by FUNY has advantages all around. It is a one-step process that can be scaled to large volumes. It is more environmentally friendly than traditional powder coating technologies as it is solvent-free, is more energy-efficient and produces less waste. It is operational at ambient temperature, enabling treatment of even the most heat-sensitive powder materials. Finally, the combined technology also has the potential to bring additional benefits by increasing homogeneity, optimising depth of penetration, and adding completely new functionalities to powder coating particles.

Functionalizing powder particles through a combined plasma-fluid bed reactor technology opens opportunities in a wide variety of applications, from the optimalisation of drug carriers (Janssen Pharmaceutica), over the adaption of cellulose esters (Eastman), to improvements in sealants and adhesives (Soudal). Overall, the innovative technology will support industries in making their processes more sustainable.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 18/11/2021
Duration: 01/11/2021-31/10/2023
Total budget: €2.801.965
Subsidy: €2.029.102
Project Partners
FUNY is an innovation project under the umbrella of Catalisti, the spearhead cluster that accelerates innovation into business in Flanders’ chemical and plastics sector. Integrating plasma and coating reactor technologies is a complex endeavour. The FUNY project therefore joins companies and research institutes with expertise in various fields. It includes MPG, PROCEPT, Eastman, Janssen Pharmaceutica and Soudal, as well as research partners KU Leuven, UAntwerpen, UGent and VITO. The project is also supported by Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO).
Questions about this project? Please contact catalyst Laura-Lynn Fockaert (lfockaert@catalisti.be).


Increasing the amount of biomass in foams: biobased polyols for flexible polyurethane foams in automotive applications

BIOPOL4MOTIVE will support car manufacturers and their suppliers in making polyurethane (PU) foams used in car acoustic interiors more sustainable. The project will create two grades of PU systems specifically developed for manufacturing flexible PU foams with a substantial biobased content, without functional loss, and at attractive cost.

Sustainable PU foams
Due to their high performance at low weight and their competitive cost, PU foams are the material of choice for car acoustic interiors. Today, fossil-based methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and polyols are used to produce these PU foams. As car manufacturers and their suppliers strive towards increased sustainability and a reduced CO2 footprint, they are looking for ways to incorporate more sustainable materials into their PU foams.

One such sustainable material is biobased polyol. Currently, however, the chemical structure, inconsistent quality and cost of bio-polyol are curtailing its full potential. PU foams containing more than 10% bio-polyols, for example, exhibit an immediate loss of functionality. To overcome this challenge and increase the amount of bio-polyols in PU foams, innovative solutions are needed.

New bio-polyols
BIOPOL4MOTIVE offers these solutions by developing new bio-polyols and modified MDI, targeting use in automotive acoustic applications. In practice, the project aims to create two grades of PU systems developed for manufacturing flexible PU foams (i.e. high-resilience and visco-elastic) with a substantial biobased content. This will be achieved by developing the bio-polyol polymer and the MDI pre-polymer including the bio-polyol, delivering the required biobased content without functional loss and at attractive cost.

The project will lead to a significant increase of sustainable content in PU-based car acoustic interiors, while preserving the use and production of light-weight, cost-competitive PU foams in the automotive value chain.

Project Details
Project type: O&O
Approved on: 16/06/2021
Duration: 01/04/2021-31/12/2023
Total budget: €2.553.157
Subsidy: €1.276.579
Project Partners
To execute the project, a partnership covering the entire PU foam value chain was established: from a polyol producer (Oleon), over a PU raw material and formulated systems producer (Huntsman), to a supplier of sustainable lightweight components for acoustic and thermal management (Autoneum).
Questions about this project? Please contact catalyst Bert Boekaerts (bboekaerts@catalisti.be).

Flemish Bioeconomy Label
In the framework of the Flemish government’s policy plan for the bioeconomy, BIOPOL4MOTIVE was awarded the Bioeconomy Label by VLAIO.

Financed through the recovery plan ‘Vlaamse Veerkracht’, the policy plan for the bioeconomy seeks, amongst others, to stimulate spearhead clusters like Catalisti and support their collaborative innovation projects.

BIOPOL4MOTIVE is the first cluster project to be awarded the label, as it matches one or more of the focus themes identified by the policy plan, including the conversion of biomass and/or biological waste into useable materials and products.


Enzyme Prediction Toolbox

The intercluster project Enzymares, supported by Catalisti, Blauwe Cluster and Flanders’ FOOD, will develop an enzyme prediction toolbox to speed up enzyme discovery and reduce the time-to-market for new enzymes. The innovative toolbox will contribute to the success of enzymes as sustainable bio-catalysts and thus support companies in making their processes and products more sustainable.

Enzymes everywhere
Enzymes are ubiquitous. They are used in fine and specialty chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and (aqua)feed products, textiles, cosmetics, and so many more industrial applications. As they are non-toxic and biodegradable, enzymes are an attractive alternative to chemical additives or catalysts. In fact, enzymatic catalysis has the potential to make industrial processes cleaner as well as more resource- and energy-efficient, thereby contributing to a more sustainable industry.

Given their wide array of applications and their sustainable profile, it’s no surprise that the global demand for enzymes is growing rapidly. Specifically, the hunt is on for new or better performing enzymes in terms of substrate selectivity, inhibition sensitivity, chiral selectivity, pH and temperature range. There is also an increased focus on enzyme performance in extreme conditions (e.g. high salt tolerance, hyper-thermostability, barophilicity, cold adaptivity).

Several sources…
Luckily, biological resources, and particularly marine environments, offer an enormous opportunity for enzyme exploration. Moreover, while current research has focused on tapping enzymes from microbial organisms, more complex eukaryotic organisms may represent yet another untapped reservoir of discovery.

… but difficult to discover
Tapping this reservoir and finding the right enzymes is, however, not straightforward. Today, most new enzymes are found through high-throughput functional screenings of genomic libraries and a comparison with biological databases.

Once interesting enzymes have been identified, their performance in industrial applications is assessed. This assessment can take years and, even then, the majority of enzymes identified through the screening process proves not to be particularly useful. In short, finding the right enzymes is extremely time-consuming and resource-demanding, slowing down their valorisation and application.

Optimising the enzyme discovery pathway
The intercluster project Enzymares seeks to speed up enzyme discovery by developing an enzyme prediction toolbox. The toolbox will optimise the enzyme discovery pathway through:
  1. an improved high-quality database that integrates different types of molecular and biological data
  2. the inclusion of ecological information about the organism and its habitat, as organisms inhabiting extreme habitats are far more likely to produce enzymes capable of performing under extreme conditions
  3. the inclusion, at an early stage, of process parameters and performance needs, to make sure that enzymes are indeed fit-for-purpose, to significantly increase the number of qualitative hits, and to reduce the time-to-market
All in all, a toolbox that integrates and includes different types of molecular data, ecological information, process parameters as well as performance needs will increase the chances of success in the enzyme discovery pathway. Furthermore, by exploring the diversity of enzymes in more complex organisms, a “new world” of previously unknown enzymes may become available for valorisation by the industry and may expand the application potential of enzymatic catalysis in industrial processes.

Through its innovative toolbox, Enzymares will contribute to the success of enzymes as sustainable bio-catalysts and thus support companies in making their processes more sustainable.

Project Details
Project type: SBO, intercluster with Blauwe Cluster and Flanders’ FOOD
Approved on: 20/05/2021
Duration: 01/09/2021 – 31/08/2025
Total budget: €2.699.884
Subsidy: €2.699.884
Project Partners
To tackle the complexity of the enzyme discovery pathway, a multidisciplinary approach is crucial. Therefore, Enzymares brings together experts in ecology, microbiology, protein (bio)chemistry, bioprocess technology, bioinformatics and machine learning. The intercluster project is supported by three Flemish spearhead clusters: Catalisti, Blauwe Cluster and Flanders’ FOOD.
Industrial Advisory Board
AB Mauri, Ajinomoto Bio-Pharma Services, B4Plastics, BASF, Bienca, Cargill, ChemStream, DEME, Flen Health, IMAQUA, Innovad, INVE, Kemin, Nutrition Sciences, Open Analytics, Proviron, Puratos, Tereos.

Questions about this project? Please contact catalyst Martijn Mertens (mmertens@catalisti.be).


True Recycling Upscaling of Flexible Packaging in the Plastics Circular Economy

Key innovative players in the packaging value chain are joining forces in the TRUCE project to develop new building blocks for highly functional, flexible packaging solutions as well as a lean recyclability protocol. The innovations pursued within this project, with respect to end-of-life of plastic packaging, are yet another important step towards a truly circular economy.

In a nutshell
Goal of the TRUCE project is, first of all, to develop new building blocks for highly functional, flexible packaging solutions that can be combined into fully recyclable mono-polyethylene (≥95% PE) structures.

The combined expertise of packaging design from Amcor, polyethylene production, design and recycling activities from Borealis, specialty additives from Eastman, adhesives from Bostik, packaging line and food product requirements from Puratos and recyclability testing and predictive modelling from Ghent University will result in new innovative packaging designs and bring certainty to the recyclability at both small and larger scale.

The first application testing will be performed at Puratos and will result in a proof of concept for these new recyclable flexible packaging structures. Ghent University will perform the life cycle assessment (LCA) study of the innovative packaging designs. Finally, the consortium is completed by spearhead cluster Flanders’ FOOD, which actively supports the project.

Recyclability protocol
TRUCE also seeks to develop a robust and targeted recyclability protocol, which is both lean and representative for the targeted recycling stream. This will, on the one hand, allow the project partners to do fact-based analyses of the improved recyclability of the newly developed structures at state-of-the-art recycling facilities. On the other hand, the protocol could align and integrate with existing evaluation systems, to bring the best of both worlds to industrial application and accelerate the implementation of recycling-ready structures into the market.

By involving a wide range of industrial partners throughout the value chain, TRUCE enables the testing of the developed structures on dedicated packaging lines at industrial scale, taking a critical step towards product testing in an operational environment and assuring functionality of the packaging towards the shelf-life performance of the packaged good. Life cycle assessment will help quantify the environmental sustainability performance of the new innovative packaging designs (with the building blocks of highly functional flexible packaging solutions) in particular applications. All in all, the results to be obtained by this project will represent yet another important step towards a truly circular economy.

Project Details
Project type: COOP, intercluster with Flanders’ FOOD
Approved on: 18/12/2020
Duration: 1/01/2021 – 31/12/2022
Total budget: €2.236.912
Subsidy: €1.170.153
Project Partners


The interregional ValBran project focussed on enhancing the value of wheat bran, an agricultural co-product derived from flour mills and biorefineries that is mainly used for animal feed. The project finished in December 2020. Scroll down to learn more, or read the end report.


Starting from the carbohydrates of wheat bran, ValBran aimed to develop biotechnological and green chemistry pathways for the sustainable production of high added-value surfactant molecules, as a substitute for oil-based molecules. The plant-based molecules were required to respect four conditions: have a lower cost than the oil-based equivalent, have at least equivalent properties to those of the oil-based equivalent, do not compete with food, and have minimal environmental impact. Targeted applications were detergency, cosmetics, phytosanitary agents and food additives.

A second ambition consisted of strengthening the cross-border cooperation between the bio-economy sectors of northern France, Wallonia and Flanders. This aim was reflected in the broad project consortium, which included partners from all three regions.


Specifically, the project focussed on two categories of surfactants: alkylpolyglycosides (APG) and sugar esters. Its approach consisted of developing several laboratory-scale processes and the selecting the most promising process for pilot-scale transfer. This was followed by an economic and environmental analysis of the developed process(es).


The project lasted 4 years and finished in December 2020. It has shown that wheat bran has great potential for the sustainable production of surfactants. It proved possible to produce biological surfactants with interesting properties via enzymatic technologies. Yet, the production cost of the biological surfactants remains an issue, as it is higher than the cost for producing oil-based surfactants. Tests at pilot scale will have to be carried out to demonstrate the economic viability of the processes.

Learn more about the project results by reading the the end report.

Project Details

Project type: INTERREG
Duration: 31/12/2016 – 31/12/2020
Total budget: €1.745.826
Subsidy: €872.913
Website: www.valbran.eu

Project Partners


Multiphase Processing with Microfluidics, Cavitation and Acoustic Streaming

MMICAS aims to investigate novel processing technologies (i.e., ultrasound energy and nozzle technology) for the continuous manufacturing of multiphase systems. A knowledge platform will be built, leading to a fundamental understanding of the technologies being studied and resulting in sufficient process knowledge to enable scale-up to industrial scale.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 10/12/2020
Duration: 01/01/2021 – 31/12/2023
Total budget: €2.684.458
Subsidy: €1.879.104
Project Partners


Real-time data-assisted process development and production in chemical applications

The DAP2CHEM project aims to stimulate the transition of chemical and life science companies towards I4.0. The project will generate generic knowledge for real-time data usage by these companies through AI systems for improved process development, optimisation and manufacturing excellence.

Challenges and hurdles
Industry 4.0 (I4.0), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digitalisation are revolutionising industries across the globe. As underlined by Catalisti’s 2019 DIGICHEM study, chemical, pharmaceutical, and plastics-producing and -processing companies are interested in implementing Big Data Analysis and AI in their production processes in order to generate business value. Yet, implementation of these technologies within the sector remains rather limited due to a range of sector-specific challenges and hurdles.

To overcome some of these hurdles, DAP2CHEM aims to stimulate the transition of chemical and life science companies towards I4.0. The project will generate the necessary generic knowledge for real-time data usage by these companies through AI systems for improved process development, optimisation, and manufacturing excellence in the chemical and life science industry. It will also expand the knowledge base at Flemish research institutes concerning (hyperspectral) image processing and analysis, advanced analytics and hybrid AI, thereby bridging the gap between academic fundamental knowledge and applicability in an industrial context (explainability and integratability).

Achieving these project goals requires expertise in both Operational Technologies (OT) and Information Technologies (IT) for the process and discrete manufacturing industry. Cronos, an early actor in the I4.0 space, will provide this expertise.

Three test cases
In turn, the fundamental knowledge acquired by the knowledge institutes will be verified in three proof-of-concept test cases at Procter and Gamble (P&G), Ajinomoto Bio-Pharma Services and Janssen. These test cases will:
  • Gain fundamental insights in advanced vision for inline anomaly detection of randomly shaped and randomly oriented objects at high-speed processes with reduced labelling efforts. The objects selected for DAP2CHEM are P&G’s washing pods.
  • Gain fundamental insights, develop, and apply thermodynamic/AI hybrid models for advanced process control and translate this in active control strategies in a development and manufacturing phase. In the case of Ajinomoto Bio-Pharma Services, this is a Raman-based control of a two-step continuous flow system. In the case of Janssen this is a constant-level solvent switch in batch equipment.
Looking ahead
The DAP2CHEM test cases will prove the feasibility of new technologies and will capture best practices. They can be used as a blueprint for other related in-house applications by the participating companies, or as an example for other chemical and pharmaceutical companies in Flanders and beyond.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 17/09/2020
Duration: 01/10/2020 – 30/09/2022
Total budget: €3.234.372
Subsidy: €2.075.310
Project Partners

Ongelimiteerde Recyclage

The EFRO project Ongelimiteerde Recyclage, or Unlimited Recycling, seeks to further promote the circular economy by exploring the possibilities of unlimited recycling, gauging the applicability limits of recycled materials, and stimulating the use of those recycled materials. In this respect, overcoming prejudices about the use of recyclates in end products will be an important component of the project.

Through Circular Inspiration Days, the project will engage companies to brainstorm around eight recycling themes that are of specific interest to the textile and plastics sector. Co-creation sessions with companies and knowledge institutions will actively aim to seek concrete solutions for sectoral issues. Through these sessions, are aimed at. Finally, this collaborative approach is intended to lead to new economically-relevant products.

On 19 October 2021, during the Circular Inspiration Day III, the project’s end results and inspiring stories will be shared with interested companies! More info about this event.

More info about this EFRO project: https://tuawest.be/home/projecten/ongelimiteerde-recyclage/.

Project Details
Project type: EFRO
Duration: 01/05/2019 – 30/04/2021
Total budget: €968.700
Subsidy: €387.480
Project Partners