Upgrading Steel Mill Off Gas to Caproic Acid and Derivatives Using Anaerobic Technology

One of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is the drastic reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the atmosphere to minimize/mitigate the impact of global climate change. The European Union is taking up a leading role by imposing stringent emission regulations to all member states and industries. The European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) forms the basis of the EU’s policy to combat climate change, and requires industries in Europe to decrease their GHG emissions year by year, to reach a 43% lower emission level in 2030, compared to 2005. A crucial aspect to achieve the emission reduction is the transition to a carbon-neutral economy, in which the emission of CO2 to the atmosphere is avoided.

In this context, the possibility to capture CO2 at point sources, which account for 45% of the emissions in Europe, and transforming it into added-value products, is gaining attention. The steel industry sector is one of the largest GHG contributors. In their strive for GHG emission reduction, strategies such as improvements in energy efficiency, resource recycling, utilization and recovery have already been implemented, but further emission reduction can only be achieved by capturing CO2 emissions. Valorisation of CO2 into chemical building blocks is possible through biological or chemical processes. Biotechnology is in particular a very interesting way to valorise these waste gases due to their low energy requirements and mild reaction conditions. Traditional disadvantages of biotechnology, such as low yields, low substrate affinity and low selectivity have been overcome in recent years.

ArcelorMittal is exploring the use of syngas fermentation technology as part of the CO2 emission reduction strategy, with pilot projects at the plant in Gent. New fermentation technologies of industrial gases have been tested at pilot scale and are ready for scale up. Many of them are focussing on the fuel market to take off their fermentation products, and are facing a low revenue from the end products, which sometimes require an energy-intensive distillation process to meet the quality standards. The CAPRA technology is offering an alternative to avoid this expensive distillation, and turns the fermentation products into a high value chemical.

The composition of syngas fermentation broth, a dilute mixture of ethanol and acetic acid, with a high ethanol/acetic acid ratio, makes it an ideal substrate for further biological upgrading through anaerobic conversions. Ethanol/acetic acid mixtures can be transformed to medium-chain carboxylic acids by biological chain elongation, resulting in a bio-oil with higher value (more than double) compared to fuel. This bio-oil, composed mainly of caproic and caprylic acid, readily phase-separates, circumventing energy-intensive distillation, and facilitating downstream processing of the final product. The bio-oil can be further processed in the chemical industry, where sources of caproic and caprylic acid are rare, while interest is growing.

As of today, the feasibility of converting syngas effluents to C6-C8-rich oils has been proven through a limited number of studies and solely at lab-scale. To pave the road for the development of a process to upgrade syngas fermentation effluent via biological chain elongation, a number of research questions and challenges need to be addressed. Also, little is known about the chemical conversion routes to produce high-value, marketable products from the generated bio-oil. Furthermore, the optimal approach to assess the sustainability and profitability of new processes in the bio-economy is lacking.

The CAPRA project brings together industrial and academic partners with the required expertise to solve these research challenges. The CAPRA project will:
  • Assess the critical operational parameters of the biological chain elongation process to determine 1) the best product recovery system; 2) the required nutrient additions for the chain elongation process; and 3) the optimal operational conditions (CMET, OWS);
  • Scale-up the chain elongation process to lab-pilot level, to upgrade real syngas fermentation effluent to a medium-chain carboxylic acid bio-oil at the kilogram scale, in a continuous process (OWS, CMET, ArcelorMittal);
  • Transform the produced bio-oil into high-quality added-value products for different applications such as plasticisers (Proviron);
  • Evaluate the process value chain based on its sustainability and profitability, using newly developed tools (EnVOC, VITO, OWS; with input from ArcelorMittal, CMET, Proviron).
The research carried out within CAPRA will bring the valorisation of syngas fermentation products well beyond the state-of-the-art, delivering to the steel industry a technology to capture CO2 into added-value products. For instance, the coupling of the CAPRA process to a syngas fermenter converting the off-gas of AM Gent would result in the production of 35,000 tonne caproic acid oil per year, showing the high potential of the CAPRA value chain. Also, CAPRA develops a new biotechnological platform that can be translated to other industrial sectors, such as waste management. This has the potential to generate employment and strengthen the role of Flanders as a leading region in the bio-economy.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 26/10/2017
Duration: 01/01/2018 – 31/12/2020
Total budget: €1.544.413
Subsidy: €990.344
Project Partners


Sustainable Membrane Technology-Based Solutions for Solvent-Rich Wastewater Treatment

Today, huge amounts of waste water from chemical/pharmaceutical companies is transported for incineration at specialised facilities, even though these companies have large on-site waste water treatment plants. Companies as Janssen and Omnichem thus have to treat in this way several 1000s of tons per year per factory. Currently, biodegradation of these streams via conventional waste water treatment is excluded, since these waste water contain (1) Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API’s), (2) other ecotoxic substances, (3) too large volumes of solvent and/or salts, and/or (4) traces of metals such, as Zinc or Palladium as remainders of homogeneous catalysts.  This forced external waste water incineration represents not only a high financial cost, but also a detrimental environmental impact.


Membrane technology is world-wide considered as a very powerful method to treat different types of waste water. However, for the treatment of the challenging, recalcitrant, salt- and solvent-rich waste waters of this project, high-performance nanofiltration membranes with sufficient solvent-resistance and/or extreme pH stability will be required. Although during the last two decades quite some research effort has taken place in this field, few applications have so far found their way to industrial implementation. This can generally be ascribed to the novelty of the technology. However, for this specific case,  the multitude of requirements for the membranes mentioned above, makes the treatment extra challenging, emphasizing the limited process understanding/predictability, and high uncertainties with respect to scalability and long-term robustness.

This project aims at realising a breakthrough in this field by developing innovative, efficient and economic membrane-based technology solutions for the sustainable treatment of these very complex solvent-rich waste waters in a holistic approach. The partners envision that the most optimal processes will be hybrid processes combining appropriate, robust membranes in synergy with powerful pre- or post-treatment (e.g. adsorption, advanced oxidation or others), allowing a (semi)-continuous on-site treatment of large volumes of waste with minimal effort. The intention is that the purified water can be processed in the existing waste water treatment plant, and, where possible, valuable compounds as precious metals can be recuperated. This will not only decrease costs, but close material loops and add to a more circular economy.


Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 26/10/2017
Duration: 01/11/2017 – 30/04/2020
Total budget: €1.520.228
Subsidy: €1.271.039
Project Partners


Plastic Recuperation and Valorisation Fit for Use

The PROFIT project will reverse engineer products with recycled content and define and produce feedstock from recycling which are fit for use. Starting from applications and plastic products the project will define properties and specifications for feedstock. Using these specifications, novel separation techniques will be developed for 2 different complex and mixed plastic waste streams. This approach throughout the value chain and through reverse engineering allows a cost effective and efficient process. Water management and use of chemicals will be optimized through water purification techniques. Using Life cycle analysis, these any claims on efficiency and sustainability will be continuously monitored.

Project Results

On 25 November 2020, Ghent University hosted a webinar to present the final results and conclusions of the two Catalisti-ICON projects MATTER & PROFIT. The webinar presented some techno-scientific insights in valorising plastics from comingled waste, chemical vs. mechanical recycling and what the new P+MD bag will mean for Belgium. The main conclusions and their implications for plastic recycling were discussed during a panel conversation moderated by Kim Ragaert (Ghent University), with panelists Erik Moerman (Indaver), Nico Kimpe (Vanheede), Jan Van Havenbergh (Catalisti), Steven De Meester and Philippe Gendebien (Fost Plus). The information about PROFIT starts at 01:28.

Project Details
Project type: ICON
Approved on: 01/12/2016
Duration: 01/01/2016 – 31/12/2019
Total budget: €622.182
Subsidy: €403.337
Project Partners


Symbiose: Vlaamse bedrijven wisselen reststromen uit

Bij industriële symbiose wisselen bedrijven nevenstromen met elkaar uit. Op het Symbioseplatform ontmoeten vragers en aanbieders van materialen elkaar. Een ervaren symbioseteam helpt om de juiste contacten te leggen, samen met kennis- en onderzoekscentra.

De OVAM ondersteunt het symbioseplatform, omdat symbiose leidt tot gesloten materiaalkringlopen. Zo vermindert u de hoeveelheid bedrijfsafval en valoriseren we waardevolle reststromen.

Symbiose infographic Hoe werkt het?
Op het platform vindt u een databank aan vragen en aanbiedingen. U kan daarin materialen opzoeken. Denk aan reststromen, recyclaten of alternatieve grondstoffen die u in uw bedrijf kan inzetten. Of u kan nagaan welke bedrijven op zoek zijn naar een materiaal dat in uw bedrijf als reststroom vrijkomt.

Hebt u interesse in een bepaalde vraag of aanbod? Dan kan u op het platform contact opnemen met het bedrijf waarmee u een samenwerking wil starten. Zonder enige verplichting. De aanbieder of vrager van dat materiaal kiest zelf wanneer het zijn identiteit en detailinformatie deelt.

Ondernemingen bepalen de details van een symbiose-overeenkomst volledig autonoom. Ook de financiële component.

Doe een beroep op het symbioseteam wanneer u een vraag hebt. Zij bieden hulp en expertise over praktische, technologische, logistieke en juridische zaken. Het symbioseteam is een ervaren team, dat onafhankelijk van de OVAM werkt.

De OVAM ondersteunt deze hoogwaardige materiaalvalorisatie bij bedrijven zodat zij meer materiaalkringlopen kunnen sluiten en minder (primaire) materialen verspillen. De OVAM heeft evenwel geen zicht op de individuele bedrijfsdata binnen het online platform, deze zijn enkel zichtbaar voor het Symbioseteam. De OVAM gebruikt enkel de geaggregeerde symbiosedata in haar beleidsmonitoring van de circulaire economie.

Meer weten? Lees onze antwoorden op de veelgestelde vragen of contacteer

Onze garanties:
  • U ontvangt gratis hulp en expertise van een ervaren symbioseteam, zowel over technologische, logistieke als juridische zaken.
  • U bepaalt altijd zelf met wie u uw informatie deelt.
  • Uw samenwerkingen zijn een economische meerwaarde: u kunt uw afvalkost omzetten in een materiaalopbrengst.
  • De milieu-impact van uw bedrijf gaat omlaag.
  • U vergroot uw kennisnetwerk.

Het Symbiose-project startte in september 2012 en werd gesubsidieerd door het Agentschap Innoveren en Ondernemen tot en met december 2015. Catalisti maakte actief deel uit van de uitvoering van het project van september 2014 tot december 2015.


PU Insulation Recycling: Study of the technical, economic and environmental feasibility of the recycling of construction, demolition and production waste

Polyurethane foam has been widely used as efficient insulation material in construction for many years. Yard waste and demolition waste end up in containers with mixed construction waste, and after sorting are incinerated with energy recovery. The amount of polyurethane foam scrap from construction yards is still relatively small, but the volume will grow strongly in the coming years.

The PURE project will research recycling techniques for a more high-quality recovery of polyurethane foam insulation in a ‘Closing the Closest Loop’ concept. The techniques should be technically and economically feasible, but also ecologically meaningful.

Project Details
Project type: HS
Approved on: 28/05/2014
Duration: 01/09/2014 – 31/08/2015
Total budget: €201.490
Subsidy: €80.596
Project Partners


The study BlueChem (2012-2016) investigated the technical and economical feasibility of an incubator/accelerator for sustainable chemistry in Flanders and if the Blue Gate Antwerp site (the former ‘Petroleum Zuid’ site) can be a suitable location. The study, consisted of two fases after which a final business plan and technical plan were made. Both these fases were subsidized and supported by Agentschap Innoveren & Ondernemen.

BlueChem will open in 2020 on the climate-neutral business park Blue Gate Antwerp, in the heart of one of the largest chemical clusters in the world. It is not easy in the chemical sector to convert promising innovations into new companies. It takes a lot of time, dare and money to move from a lab setting to an industrial production scale.


BlueChem offers adapted infrastructure, tailor-made services with financial support and direct access to knowledge and expertise within an extensive network of international chemical companies, renowned research centers and five Flemish universities.

BlueChem is the right accommodation at the right place to allow pioneering ideas, with a strong focus on sustainability and the circular economy, to grow from lab experiment to new chemical companies.

The incubator offers a mix of fully equipped and customizable labs, individual offices and flexible workplaces where starters, SMEs, large companies, research centers and knowledge institutes can come together. Catalisti will also take an active role in BlueChem to detect, start and guide promising innovation projects.

For the building project, BlueChem can count on the support of the European and Flemish government. Europe invests more than 3.4 million euros through the Europees Fonds voor Regionale Ontwikkeling (EFRO). Flanders contributes 868.397 euros through the Hermes Fund. The city of Antwerp invests 4 million euros.

More info
More specifics and contact details can be found on the BlueChem website