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Belgium is a federal state in Western Europe, located between Germany, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, the UK and bordering the North Sea. It spans over 30,528 km2 and is nestled in the middle of the most prosperous and most densely populated area in Europe. Belgium is home to about 11 million people as of 2012. Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium and Europe, but it is also one of the three regions - along with Flanders and Wallonia - that together make up the federal state of Belgium.
Belgium has an open and globalized economy that is based on private enterprises. Its advanced transport network and central location have helped in connecting with the rest of the Europe and achieving a diverse commercial and industrial base. The economy of Belgium is backed up by high exports per capita and a productive work force.
The country’ key exports are chemicals, metals and metal products, finished diamonds, machinery and equipment and food products. As per 2011 estimates, the GDP of Belgium was $418.6 billion, with a growth rate of 2.0% from $410.8 billion in 2010.
Belgium has notched up second place, behind Hong Kong and ahead of Singapore, in the global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Attraction Index published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Nanotechnology Organisations in Belgium
Belgium has many world-leading organisations and networks committed to promoting nanoscience, as well as exploring the challenges and future of nanotechnology. A brief introduction to the key nanotechnology-related organisations in Belgium is given below:
Nanotechnology Companies in Belgium
Nanotechnology, being a versatile field, finds applications in a myriad of industries,from water treatment and the food industry to medicine, information technology and space research.The major nanotechnology companies in Belgium that cater to these diverse sectors are listed below along with a brief introduction to each of them:
NanoGroup Europe – Nano-Group Holdings Ltd. is wholly owned by Nanotech R&D Investments Ltd. Head office is situated in Antwerp, Belgium. Thanks to a multi-national team of R&D scientists, the company develops new and unique applications of Nanotechnology to different industries. In 2011, they developed an innovative "Nano Fill Power" material, that can enhance the Fill Power by 15% and anti-bacterial function on MRSA and laundry washables. Their earlier product/service offerings include Nano treatment service for textiles and garments industry and nanometer particles for the Cosmetic industry.
Ablynx – Ablynx is a biopharmaceutical company engaged in the discovery and development of Nanobodies®, a novel class of therapeutic proteins based on single-domain antibody fragments, for a range of serious human diseases, including inflammation, haematology, oncology and pulmonary disease. Today, the Company has approximately 25 programmes in the pipeline and seven Nanobodies at clinical development stage.
it4ip – it4ip is a private company based on patented technologies licensed from the University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium and is underpinned by a group of founders from this university and from the industry. it4ip designs, manufactures and supplies unique porous templates or membranes, and related R&D services based on ion track technology of polymers. They supply pilot, prototype and small/medium volume membranes and engineered components based on our IP and know-how.
Nanocyl S.A. – Nanocyl is the leading global manufacturer of specialty and industrial Carbon NanotubesTechnologies (CNTs). The company helps customers successfully nano-engineer their future with value-added products, industry-leading R&D, advanced production capabilities, and world-class technical support. Nanocyl focuses its technology and know-how on the practical application of Carbon Nanotubes. It integrates Carbon Nanotubes into new and existing materials, resulting in the improved performance of polymers, metals, composites and biomaterials. It offers a host of high performance, Carbon Nanotubes-based products.
UmicoreNanomaterials - Umicore is a global materials technology group. It focuses on application areas where its expertise in materials science, chemistry and metallurgy makes a real difference. Its activities are centred on four business areas: Catalysis, Energy Materials, Performance Materials and Recycling. Each business area is divided into marketfocused business units offering materials and solutions that are at the cutting edge of new technological developments and essential to everyday life. Umicore generates the majority of its revenues and dedicates most of its R&D efforts to clean technologies, such as emission control catalysts, materials for rechargeable batteries and photovoltaics, fuel cells, and recycling.
Solvay – Solvay is an international chemical Group committed to sustainable development with a clear focus on innovation and operational excellence. The company produces innovative vinyl products such as NanoVin, which is a nanocomposite having clay nanoparticles and PVC. Solvay offers a broad range of products that contribute to improving the quality of life and the performance of its customers in markets such as consumer goods, construction, automotive, energy, water and environment, and electronics.
NanoMEGAS – NanoMEGAS was created in 2004 by a team of scientists and experts in the field of electron crystallography and catalysis. Their tools are dedicated to help TEM and X-ray users to solve unknown nanocrystal structures using advanced electron diffraction tools in any TEM. Their unique precession interface the Spinning Star in combination with electron diffractometer Pleiades can be adapted to any commercial TEM (100-400 kV , old as well as brand new) to convert them to powerful structure nanoanalysis tools.
TopChim – TopChim is an established research-driven chemical company, specializing in paper and card board coating technology, based in Belgium and Brazil, operating in Europe and Latin America. The company applies the latest technologies in chemical science to develop high-performance ecological coating solutions for the paper and cardboard industry. Its pioneering work is the result of active collaboration with European institutes and universities involved in fundamental research in chemistry. TopChim is committed to continuing its search for solutions for optimal paper and paper coating production that are both environmentally friendly and economically attractive. The research efforts of TopChims’ Biopolymer science department have been translated amongst other things into the industrial-scale production of Biopolymer pigments.
Nanotechnology Education and Research in Belgium
Belgium is home to a number of world-leading universities that offer research and educational opportunities in nanotechnology. Given below is a list of universities and academic institutions in Belgium and the academic courses or research opportunities offered by them in various aspects of nanotechnology.
Recent Nanotechnology Developments in Belgium
Belgium and the Netherlands have jointly taken part in a global nanotech development trade mission, which showcased the latest developments in nanotechnology for companies and institutes operating in either country.
In another recent development, major silicon products manufacturer ON Semiconductor has joined the industrial research and development program at Imec, in order to develop sophisticated gallium nitride (GaN) on silicon (Si) power devices.
Also, Imec, along with its partners in the Solliance initiative, have announced that they have collaborated with the Institute of Materials Research of the University of Hasselt (IMO) to launch the Solar Flare Interreg Project, which focuses on thin-film PV development.
In the research arena, five students from the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) carried out nanotechnology research in Belgium in 2012. This was part of the International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program, which offers support for international students to work with researchers at Imec in Leuven, Belgium.
The recent communication by the European Commission on the Second Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials emphasizes its plans to refine EU laws to enhance safe use of nanomaterials. This will likely provide some relief to people’s fears about the possible risks of nanotechnology and offer solutions to tackle the risks too.