The metallurgical industry in Belgium and Flanders has a strong metallurgical history. To see where we are going, we must first have a look where we are coming from …

A brief retrospective look in the history of the metal industry 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. On top of this, metals are highly suitable materials to be recycled as the can be used again and again without deterioration of their quality and durability. They are infinitely recyclable. This combined with their high prices, compared to other basic recycled materials, and the fact that the impact on the environment and energy usage of secondary production is low compared to primary production made this circular industry flourish.

As a result, 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 which 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 who have now all joined forces within Flanders Metals Valley.

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 for thermal or chemical application. Technologies will therefore have to be adapted or innovated.

Europe has launched the Green Deal, a program that will make the European society and industry climate-neutral. To get there, green technologies are part of the solution. Metals play an important role in green technologies as for example in solar and wind energy, as well as in battery technology. As Europe, including Flanders, has limited resources for these metals, compared to other regions in the world, our strong circular economy will maximise the reutilisation of these metals and decrease dependency on the import.

Enthusiastic response

Within the metallurgical sector, players are well aware of the unique position of the “Flanders Metals Valley” as a network rooted in a long tradition. Our organisation 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 Flanders Metals Valley 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 our 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.

Here is an overview of the innovations our members and industry have already realised and are currently working on.

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