Editorial Feature

Nanotechnology in Belgium: Market Report

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Belgium is situated amidst Germany, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, the UK and bordering the North Sea. It is a federal state in Western Europe and spans more than 30,528 km2. Belgium is nestled in the middle of the most densely populated and most prosperous areas in Europe.

It has a population of almost 11 million people as of 2012. Brussels is not just the capital of Belgium and Europe but is also one of the three regions—along with Wallonia and Flanders— that together make up the federal state of Belgium.

Belgium’s open and globalized economy is based on private enterprises. The sophisticated transport network and central location have together helped Belgium in connecting with the rest of Europe and attaining a diverse commercial and industrial base. Belgium’s economy is backed by a dynamic workforce, and high exports per capita.

Key exports include metals and metal products, chemicals, finished diamonds, food products, and machinery and equipment. As per 2011 estimates, Belgium’s GDP totaled $418.6 billion, with a growth rate of 2.0% from $410.8 billion in 2010.

Belgium is placed in the second place, ahead of Singapore and behind Hong Kong, in the global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Attraction Index published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Nanotechnology Organizations in Belgium

Belgium has several world-leading networks and organizations dedicated to promoting nanoscience, and also exploring the future and challenges of nanotechnology. Mentioned below is a brief introduction to the top nanotechnology-related organizations in Belgium:

  • Nano Center of Excellence—A nanotechnology hub at the University of Antwerp
  • Nanotechnologies for Tomorrow’s Society (NanoSoc)—A network of nanotechnologists, natural and social scientists, stakeholders, and Flanders citizens, that explores the opportunities and challenges in the use of nanotechnologies in new materials, smart environmental technologies, and lab-on-a-chip.
  • Nanotechnology (CORDIS)—A web service offering details about past nanotechnology-related projects throughout the European Community's programs.
  • Nanowal—Nanotechnology network for the Walloon region
  • Virtual Institute on Nano Films (VINF)—A global non-profit organization dealing with nanocoatings.
  • Flanders Nano Bio Alliance—A Flemish network focusing on research and business in biotechnology and nanotechnology.
  • Grand European Initiative on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology using Neutron and Synchrotron Sources (Gennesys)—A network of institutions and experts, who support nanomaterials science and technology.
  • Institute for Nanoscale Physics and Chemistry (INPAC)—Focuses on a systematic analysis of the effect of nanostructuring on the physical and chemical characteristics of nanostructured materials.
  • Institute for Materials Research—A center for materials utilized in microelectronics.
  • Interfacultary Center of Biomaterials—Carries out research programs on different disciplines including dispersed materials such as surface coating, hydrogels, and micro- and nanoparticles.
  • Interuniversity MicroElectronics Center (IMEC)—A globally leading research center in Europe in disciplines such as microelectronics and nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology Companies in Belgium

As a versatile field, nanotechnology finds applications in a variety of industries, ranging from the food industry and water treatment to information technology, medicine, and space research. The top nanotechnology companies in Belgium that cater to these various sectors are mentioned 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. Its head office is located in Antwerp, Belgium. The company develops unique and new applications of nanotechnology to a range of industries, and this can be attributed to its multi-national team of R&D scientists.

In 2011, it created a groundbreaking “Nano Fill Power” material, capable of enhancing the Fill Power by 15% and anti-bacterial function on MRSA and laundry washables. The company’s earlier product/service offerings include nano treatment service for the garments and textiles industry, and nanometer particles for the cosmetic industry.

Ablynx

This is a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering and developing Nanobodies®, a unique class of therapeutic proteins based on single-domain antibody fragments, for several serious human diseases, including hematology, inflammation, pulmonary disease, and oncology. The company presently has almost 25 programs in the pipeline, and seven Nanobodies at the clinical development stage.

it4ip

This private company deals with patented technologies licensed from the University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium and is supported by a group of founders from this university and from the industry. it4ip specializes in designing, manufacturing, and supplying unique porous templates or membranes, and associated R&D services based on ion track technology of polymers. Pilot, prototype and small/medium volume membranes and engineered components are supplied by the company based on its IP and expertise.

Nanocyl S.A.

Nanocyl is a top global manufacturer of specialty and industrial Carbon Nanotubes Technologies (CNTs). It enables customers to successfully nano-engineer their future with industry-leading R&D, advanced production capabilities, value-added products, and globally renowned technical support.

Nanocyl focuses its technology and expertise on the practical application of carbon nanotubes. It incorporates carbon nanotubes into both new and existing materials, resulting in the enhanced performance of metals, composites, polymers, and biomaterials. Nanocyl offers a variety of high-performance, carbon nanotube-based products.

UmicoreNanomaterials

This is a global materials technology group focused on application areas where its expertise in chemistry, materials science, and metallurgy makes a real difference. All activities of the company are focused on four business areas: Energy Materials, Catalysis, Recycling, and Performance Materials.

Every single business area is divided into market-focused business units delivering materials and solutions that are at the most advanced stage of new technological developments and vital to daily life. Umicore achieves the majority of its revenues, and devotes most of its R&D efforts to clean technologies that include emission control catalysts, fuel cells, materials for photovoltaics and rechargeable batteries, and recycling.

Solvay

Solvay is a global chemical Group dedicated to sustainable development with a clear focus on operational excellence and innovation. The company creates innovative vinyl products like NanoVin—a nanocomposite containing PVC and clay nanoparticles. Solvay offers a wide range of products that contribute to better performance and improved quality of life of its customers in markets such as construction, consumer goods, energy, automotive, electronics, and water and environment.

NanoMEGAS

This company was established in 2004 by a group of experts and scientists in the field of electron crystallography and catalysis. The tools focus on helping TEM and X-ray users to solve unusual nanocrystal structures using improved electron diffraction tools in any TEM. The company’s unique precession interface, the Spinning Star, along with electron diffractometer Pleiades can be adapted to any commercially available TEM (100-400 kV, both new and old) to transform them to powerful structure nanoanalysis tools.

TopChim

A well-known research-driven chemical company, it focuses on paper and cardboard coating technology. Located in Belgium and Brazil, it operates in Europe and Latin America. The company employs the newest technologies in chemical science to produce high-performance ecological coating solutions for the cardboard and paper industry.

Its groundbreaking work is the result of an active partnership with European universities and institutes involved in fundamental research in chemistry. TopChim aims at continuing its search for solutions for optimal paper and paper coating production that are both economically attractive and environmentally friendly. The research efforts of the Biopolymer science department at TopChims have been translated amongst other things into the industrial-scale production of biopolymer pigments.

Nanotechnology Education and Research in Belgium

Belgium, home to many renowned universities, offers educational and research opportunities in nanotechnology. Mentioned below is a list of academic institutions and universities in Belgium, and the research opportunities or academic courses offered by them in various aspects of nanotechnology.

  • KatholiekeUniversiteit Leuven—Master of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology—A course that offers insights into the use of nanotechnologies in sensors at the macro-scale and also the societal and ethical aspects of the use of nanoscience and nanomaterials.
  • Erasmus Mundus Master Nanoscience and Nanotechnology—A Master course called “Nanoscience and Nanotechnology” provided jointly by four top European research and educational institutions, including KU Leuven.
  • Université Catholique de Louvain—Research Center in Micro and Nanoscopic Materials—Provides interdisciplinary courses in nanosciences and also deals with secondary school-level activities and industrial training in nanotechnology.
  • University of Mons-Hainaut—Laboratory for Chemistry of Novel MaterialsProvides research programs in electronic, optical, and structural properties of functional nanostructures, which are perfect for use in information technology, electronics, and photonics.
  • University of Liege—Center Interfacultaire des BiomatériauxProvides courses on nanobiomaterials, targeting the use of nanoparticles in drug delivery and diagnostics.
  • University of Namur—LaboratoireInterdisciplinaire de SpectroscopieElectronique (LISE)—Provides research programs focusing on the synthesis and analysis of nanomaterials.
  • University of Mons-Hainaut—Laboratory of Polymeric and Composite MaterialsOffers courses in production, processing, characterization, and applications of polymeric and composite (nano)materials.

Recent Nanotechnology Developments in Belgium

Belgium and the Netherlands have together taken part in an international nanotech development trade mission, which exhibited the recent developments in nanotechnology for institutes and companies operating in both countries.

In another latest development, leading silicon products manufacturer ON Semiconductor has partnered with the industrial research and development program at Imec to produce refined gallium nitride (GaN) on silicon (Si) power devices.

Furthermore, Imec, together with its partners in the Solliance initiative, has declared that it has teamed up with the Institute of Materials Research of the University of Hasselt (IMO) to promote the Solar Flare Interreg Project, which centers on thin-film PV development.

In the research field, five students from the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) performed nanotechnology research in Belgium in 2012. This was done as part of the International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program, offering support for international students to work with scientists at Imec in Leuven, Belgium.

The latest communication by the European Commission on the Second Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials stresses on its plans to revise EU laws in order to improve the safe use of nanomaterials. This will probably provide some amount of relief to people’s fears about the potential risks of nanotechnology and also offer solutions to confront the risks.

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