Enabler 1: a strong metallurgical tradition in Belgium and Flanders
In the early industrial era, Belgium’s metal industry flourished, making our small country the 5th largest economy in the world. Coal mines were instrumental to the start of steel production (Cockerill), as were copper and cobalt mines in Congo or zinc mines in East Belgium for the non-ferrous metals refining.
As mining declined, recycling was strongly developed. In one of the most densely populated areas in the world, recycled materials are abundant. High recycling rates are driven by the excellent recyclability of metals and their high price compared to other basic materials. Also, the impact of secondary production on environment and energy usage is low compared to primary production. Today, metallurgical companies in Flanders/Belgium excel in recycling metals from secondary sources, with high recovery rates and low energy usage.
Moreover, metals play a key role in today’s energy transition from fossil-based to zero-carbon and also new technologies in metals’ production or repair, like additive manufacturing, and advanced processing along the full value chain of a metal product, including sustainable thermomechanical and surface processes to guarantee high quality and durable performance, are important topics for Flanders to invest in and go beyond the current state-of-the-art.
This industrial competence has always been supported by a strong educational and research effort from universities and research centres.
Enabler 2: a network of companies and institutions
Metallurgical plants not only recycle consumer goods, but also intermediate products from other plants. By refining each other’s intermediates, these companies achieve higher recovery rates than they would on their own. This (economy-driven) ecosystem of companies acting together leads to world-class overall recovery rates. The whole value chain around metal recycling and production is present in Belgium/Flanders: from scrap collection to product manufacturing and by-product valorisation. The existing network of companies is well-positioned to transition into a fully circular industry.
Challenges for the future
With the Paris agreement, industry has to become climate-neutral by 2050, and show large reductions by 2030. Many processes in steel and non-ferrous production are using fossil products, be it for thermal or chemical application. Technologies will have to be adapted or innovated.
Europe has launched the Green Deal, a program that will make European society (including industry) climate-neutral. Green technologies are part of the solution to get there. Metals play an important role in solar and wind energy, as well as in battery technology. Europe including Flanders has limited resources for these metals, compared to other world regions. The circular economy will maximise reutilisation and decrease dependency on metals import. This demands a circular metals industry.
Within the sector, players are well aware of the unique position of the “Flanders Metals Valley” as a network rooted in a long tradition. FMV is a stellar example of industrial symbiosis leading to improved performance for all players and impressive recycling and recovery rates, compared to other industries. The role FMV can play as an example for a more sustainable future is creating enthusiasm.
At the same time, the metals industry is sometimes perceived as stemming from the past, as being polluting or not being innovative. We aim to shake off that image and motivate talents to invest themselves in our network and create a better future. This starts at school by becoming interested in industry, and at university, by choosing a metals/materials and/or chemistry oriented discipline, by being able to visit plants or participate in challenging and relevant research projects.
Decision to organise
These circumstances have lead a group of companies within the KU Leuven HiTemp Centre to operationalise the FMV as an organization and unite the stakeholders of the closed loop of metals.
FMV is initiated from the bottom up, by people in the practice of the metals industry and universities who while being at the core of ground-breaking research for the future also want to be relevant to industry’s challenges of today.
By acting as a network, FMV stands strong to tackle opportunities and ultimately become a recognised excellence centre, a point of attraction for the circular metals industry.
We see that by meeting and teaming up, the closed loop of metals becomes more efficient. By communicating, we jointly develop solutions within our network for particular material streams that would otherwise leave the region and Europe. Joint research efforts originate from joint interests. Actions to improve the image of the industry are much more effective r when tackled as a group.
Although communication is important, we focus on action in the chosen domains: image to society, innovation and education. Members join FMV to share, develop and then act. Taking initiative and being open to contribute in the efforts is essential. What a member gets out of FMV is equivalent to the effort put in it.
Driven by the industry
FMV focuses on very concrete topics and concerns in the evolution towards its goal of a climate-neutral circular industry. It is the role of the industrial partners to deliver these topics and evaluate the relevance of proposed actions.
Actions and initiatives taken must be concrete and bring tangible results. Most actions will be carried out directly by FMV members.
Some issues may already be tackled in large consortia or research programs. FMV will not be the vehicle for this type of subsidized projects, but FMV can be a door for its members to get to know and join existing programs.
Likewise, a topic raised in FMV may be the motivation to start a joint research project. FMV will not be funding this project, but will direct the members towards existing funding mechanisms.
A light legal structure: under the umbrella of SIM
Since we start bottom-up, the first action is to foster enthusiasm and generate actions. A low threshold for participation is important.
There is no remunerated manager or management board, as this would imply membership fees before value is created for (and by) the members. The legal structure is kept light.
A Special Interest Group (SIG) within the SIM organisation is a gathering of members with a common interest. SIM membership is not required for the members of the SIG, and the SIG will have its own internal regulations. The financials are summarised in the SIM financial report.
Mission and vision
Flanders Metals Valley is a catalyst for a vibrant, climate-neutral and circular metallurgical cluster in Flanders, dynamically embedded in an international industrial ecosystem. Flanders Metals Valley stimulates enthusing education and groundbreaking research in the domain of sustainable metallurgy.
A climate-neutral and circular metallurgical cluster in Flanders, innovative and future-oriented, recognised as an essential, competitive pillar of the Flemish industry.
Limited to Flanders ?
It was decided to set FMV up as a Flemish initiative, for practical reasons and because many drivers are to be found regionally.
But it is clear from the start that circular economy has no limitations in the form of any border, be it geographical or topical. FMV is open to include members and to collaborate with partners from Flanders and outside of Flanders, acting with the same or complimentary goals.
Workgroups and steerco
There will be a workgroup per topic:
- Image to society
- Research and Innovation
- Education and Training
The steerco will follow up the action in the workgroups and decide on support if needed. There is a majority of industry-related people in the steerco, to instill industrial relevance at all time. The workgroup moderators are part of the steerco, as are the coordinator(s) and the chairperson (from industry).
Steerco and workgroups consist of members contributing time and effort on a voluntary basis. Of course, the actions taken by the FMV network will benefit FMV and its members.
Convert our enthusiasm into action
Organise the workgroups
The workgroups are the instruments of our action. They will gather a first time during the workshop on 23/06/2021, where they will decide on further organisation and action plan. This will be an online event. The discussion will be moderated by a moderator per group.
A common Teams platform
This is currently being installed, as a place where information, ideas and work can be shared.
Use this if you have news from your company or other information related to the climate-neutral circular metals industry. The coordinator(s) can post this information on the FMV LinkedIn page for you.
Also feel free to tag #Flandersmetalsvalley as often as you like!
The website will host the most important information about FMV for the outsiders. We can promote member companies and actions evolving from the different workgroups. The coordinator(s) can update the content of the website. They are also the recipients of any mails addressed to [email protected]