MOONSHOT Research Themes

The Flemish industry carbon-smart and low in CO­2 by 2040 translates into the ambition to transition to a carbon-smart energy-intensive industry  in 2050 that contributes to a climate-friendly society. Innovative research within the moonshot initiative will ensure that a contribution is made to the development of breakthrough technologies in Flanders by 2040 to implement new and better processes, with which new and unique, carbon-smart products can be produced. The moonshot consists of four essential and closely connected research trajectories: 1) bio-based chemistry that leads to unique added-value products, 2) circularity of carbon in materials, 3) electrification and radical transformation of processes, and 4) energy innovation. These four moonshot research trajectories are supported by and can build on five core competencies (‘enablers’) for which top expertise is present in Flanders, being 1) conversion technology, 2) separation technology, 3) predictive technology, 4) energy storage and 5) energy transport.

Additional factors and new opportunities for research and innovation that will be mapped out by a ‘Context analysis/Roadmap’ study. 

In consultation with VLAIO and the Cabinet Innovation, is has been decided to start immediately with ‘acceleration projects’, which allow the build-up of critical mass around strategic research topics within the identified moonshot research trajectories (MOTs): short-term, sharply defined cluster SBOs (“sprint” cSBOs) . In addition, a limited budget will be used to accelerate research opportunities that have already proven their feasibility at low TRL. These initiatives are referred to as “Later Stage Innovation Projects”.

Click on the links below to read more about the different research trajectories.

Research trajectory ‘Bio-based chemistry’

The first moonshot research trajectory (MOT 1) will provide access to unique and added-value bio-based raw materials, materials and products via biomass. There is an urgent need to offer more sustainable alternatives to the current traditional molecules and materials based on fossil raw materials, in case the current materials will ultimately get burned and cause additional CO2 emissions. Renewable raw materials, combined with more energy-efficient processes, will reduce the CO2 footprint in Flanders. Both biomass waste streams and sustainable primary biomass streams will be converted into renewable basic building blocks in bio-refineries. Inventive new separation processes will make the difference by reducing energy requirements and production costs. The intrinsic functionalities and properties that are present in these natural products are retained and will lead to new, sustainable, safe and improved products that in turn make climate-friendly applications possible.

The following objectives will be pursued:

  1. Develop at least 2 new bio-based chemical products up to TRL 6 in Flanders by 2025, followed by at least 2 new products to TRL 6 every 5 years. The new products have at least equivalent functionality/value and/or new functionality with a potential higher added value compared to similar products based on fossil raw materials.
  2. The products and processes will be more sustainable (carbon footprint, environmental impact) than their fossil-based counterparts.

Within the following preconditions

  1. The products are based on stable, competitively priced supply chains/raw materials from the circular use of biomass and rational use of crops.
  2. The end products must be able to play an important role in (future) Flemish industrial value chains and have considerable market potential on global scale.

Research trajectory ‘Circularity of carbon in materials’

The second moonshot research trajectory (MOT2) aims at the development of a circular production and use chain of carbon and carbon-containing materials. The main objective of this research trajectory is to keep carbon in materials in circulation for as long as possible (throughout the value chain). The initial focus here is on plastics, which are omnipresent in our daily lives and which offer a wide range of properties and possibilities. For example, lightweight and innovative plastic materials in means of transport help to save energy, and packaging materials (usually made up of several layers of plastic) ensure that food can be stored in a reliable way, consequently reducing food waste. At the end of the life cycle of plastics, however, there are still major challenges, such as increasing the recycling percentage of plastics, which means that the added value per ton of carbon (as input) can be increased considerably. Extensive research into the mechanical and chemical recycling of complex plastics, which contain several types of material, will ensure that, at the end of their cycle of use, products can be transformed into building blocks for new products. Attention is paid to the development of innovative materials and their use in specific designs to improve the recyclability of products. Even with the above concepts, a (small) fraction of virgin raw materials will be needed to compensate for imperfections in recycling and reuse. Non-fossil raw materials can be used as necessary supplement, such as bio-based monomers (link with MOT1) and monomers made from the direct reuse of captured CO2 (so-called ‘Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU)’) (link with MOT3). Overall, the impact of these scenarios on sustainability will have to be studied and monitored thoroughly in order to create a true circular plastics economy.

The following objectives will be pursued:

  1. Develop technology to be able to recycle 70% of post-consumer volume (contaminated) polyolefins (TRL 6) by 2030 (by combining mechanical and chemical recycling, but with the main contribution expected from new technology for chemical recycling). With the ambition to be able to transform 75% of all polyolefin-type plastics at the end of their cycle of use into building blocks for new products, by 2040.
  2. Develop technology to be able to recycle 60% of post-consumer volume of heteropolymers (TRL 6) by 2030 (by combining mechanical and chemical recycling, but with the main contribution expected from new technology for chemical recycling). With the ambition to be able to transform 80% of all heteropolymer-type plastics (polyamides, polyurethanes, PET) at the end of their cycle of use into building blocks for new products, by 2040.
  3. By 2030, 2 chemical platforms for more easily recyclable plastics (‘chemical design for recyclability’) will be developed up to TRL 6. These platforms are focused on high-quality plastics for technical applications (heteropolymers).

Within the following preconditions:

  1. By 2040, the technology must enable to obtain 75% of all plastics that are put into circulation in Flanders via (mechanical & chemical) recycling (or biomass or CCU).
  2. Resulting in a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions (e.g. through the combustion of end-of-life plastics) in the order of 1 million ton of CO2/year.

Research trajectory ‘Electrification and radical process transformation’

In the third part of the moonshot (MOT3), attention is directly focused on CO2 emissions. The net emission of CO2 must be avoided by radical transformation of current processes, in order to achieve a carbon-smart industry. A switch to electrified industrial processes (e.g. cracking installations) and the application of innovative and low-energy separation processes and mild biotechnological conversions (see MOT1) is part of the solution. There is also a need for innovation in the conversion of electricity to heat, which is much more efficient than the current traditional conversion via resistance. These large efficiency gains are needed to close the price gap between natural gas and electricity as fuel. Extensive research is also needed into capturing carbon that is emitted as CO2. For example, the industry can be fed with smart carbon (see MOT2) or the captured CO2 can be stored (temporarily) (so-called ‘Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)’). However, there is a high cost barrier associated with capture of CO2. Therefore, the challenge here is to capture CO2 efficiently with new technologies and in an integrated way, to subsequently convert it into usable raw materials (such as monomers for plastics, cf. MOT2) or to store them. Carbon-free hydrogen is essential for these conversions and at the same time offers opportunities for sustainable production of ammonia (from nitrogen gas and carbon-free hydrogen); the current production process of ammonia (from nitrogen gas, water vapor and carbon monoxide) is characterized by significant CO2 emissions. Hydrogen and ammonia can also act as an energy carrier in the transport and storage of energy (link with MOT4, energy innovation).

The following objectives will be pursued:

  1. 60% reduction in ‘CO2 emission/ton produced’ by the (petro)chemical industry (main contribution to be expected from electrification of steam cracking and ammonia production, replacement of distillation by membrane processes, substitution of the traditional chemical processes by biotechnology), for which at least 1 technology will be developed to TRL 6 by 2035.
  2. Economically profitable CO2 capture & purification, both capture from point sources (originating from chemistry, steel and energy production) and Direct Air Capture. At least 1 technology will be developed up to TRL 6 by 2025.
  3. Economically profitable conversions of captured CO2 as a raw material for the Flemish industry. The most important contribution can be expected from the conversion of CO2 to CO, MeOH and DME; and the subsequent conversion of C1 feedstock into added-value products. At least 1 technology will be developed up to TRL 6 by 2025.
  4. Cost-efficient (< €2.000/ton) hydrogen production (either remote or in-situ), characterized by low CO2 emissions. At least 1 technology is to reach TRL 6 by 2025.

Within the following precondition:

  1. CO2 capture and purification is economically viable for capture at point sources at €20-30/ton and for Direct Air Capture at €50-100/ton.

Research trajectory ‘Energy innovation’

Many of the technologies in the aforementioned moonshotresearch trajectories, however, depend on the availability of cheap carbon-free electricity, heat and hydrogen* for commercial success.  However, the need for sustainable energy generation also poses a number of challenges for the energy system: increasing electrification, and the switch to carbon-free energy require additional investments. Moreover, technologies based on sun and wind have an intermittent character: energy production is becoming less predictable. Breakthroughs in the field of carbon-free energy production and the development of flexible innovative applications and storage, together with local energy (grid) optimization between industrial processes and energy deployment, with the focus on the costs and benefits of new value chains, sustainability, infrastructural needs and new opportunities for cross-border industrial areas are therefore also necessary within the set moonshot ambition, and will be studied within the fourth moonshot research trajectory (MOT4).

A substantive MOT proposal is developed by the relevant spearhead clusters (catalisti, Flux50) and, going forward, they will operationally monitor and direct MOT4.

The overall ambition, by 2040, is to develop technologies that enable to offer 80% of the total energy demand of the Flemish industry-intensive industry (chemical, petrochemical and steel sectors) as CO2 neutral/sustainable energy$ in an economic cost-effective way, which corresponds to a CO2 emission reduction in the order of 10 million ton CO2/year, with disruptive contributions in the following areas:

  1. By 2030, develop at least 3 innovative technologies to TRL 6 to provide CO2 neutral/sustainable energy$ to meet the increasing energy demand (estimated at 70 TWh) of the industry, followed by at least 2 innovative technology every 5 years (TRL 6).
  2. Develop at least 2 innovative technology to TRL 6 for transport and storage of energy$ by 2030, with at least 1 innovative technology to TRL 6 every 5 years thereafter.
  3. By 2030, the development of a novel generation of flexibility algorithms, 3 innovative processes “designed for flexibility” and a portfolio of cross-sectoral models that ensure that +20% of the industrial energy$ demand is provided by flexibility.

Within the following preconditions:

  1. CO2neutral/sustainable energy generation is economically viable when the price is comparable to energy prices form internationally competitive regions for the chemical industry.

* Carbon-free hydrogen is produced in a fundamentally different way: by separating water with sustainably generated electricity into oxygen and hydrogen (via electrolysis).

$ Electricity, heat and other energy vectors

For additional information on the moonshot initiative, please consult the Concept note in the downloads section.