Qpinch: from residual heat to CO₂-free energy

In the chemical industry, steam is indispensable for production processes. ‘But you always end up with residual heat, up to 100 degrees hot. Companies often can’t do anything with it, so they end up discharging it into the air or water’, Wouter Ducheyne explains. With his company Qpinch, he has developed the technology to generate CO₂-free energy from this residual heat.

Industrial heat recovery

Wouter Ducheyne is burgerlijk ingenieur scheikunde en startte zijn carrière bij BASF, net als alle andere chemische bedrijven een grootverbruiker van energie. ‘Als maatschappij focussen we ons zo hard op elektriciteit dat je zou vergeten dat we het grootste deel van onze industriële energie verbruiken als warmte.


Wij ontwikkelden een oplossing die een volgende stap is in energie-efficiëntie. De inspiratie voor deze benadering vonden we in de natuur: hoe slaan de mens, en eigenlijk alle organismes, energie op en hoe laten ze die los?’

Wouter Ducheyne and UGent refine process for industrial heat recovery.

Together with UGent, we refined this process for industrial heat recovery. Unlike heat pumps, the  patented Qpinch process uses hardly any energy. The result? Up to 30% savings in electricity costs, significantly shortening the technology’s ROI period’, says Ducheyne.

Ook voor andere sectoren

Qpinch has now been in existence for ten years. Its first industrial customer was the international chemical company Borealis. Among other sites in Flanders, Borealis has a plant in Zwijndrecht, in the port of Antwerp. ‘Our technology, in Europe’s largest chemical cluster, has the potential for CO₂ savings of 200 megawatts a year. Does this make us THE solution for the green transition? No, but we are part of the overall picture, alongside solar and wind energy, both of which are not always available. Crucially, we are able to provide industry with constant power’, adds Ducheyne.

We are part of the overall energy transition picture. And our solution works 24 hours a day, a crucial factor for the manufacturing industry.

Wouter Ducheyne, CEO Qpinch
Wouter Ducheyne is CEO of Qpinch, a company that converts industrial waste heat into renewable energy.

It’s no coincidence that Qpinch – which in recent years has grown to a scale-up with some 20 employees – is based in the port of Antwerp. ‘We were able to set up our pilot plant in a vacant warehouse in the heart of the port, near to our customers and easily accessible to employees.


To make an impact with our facilities, we need to scale up, aiming for large volumes. Here in the port, we have just the right large companies. And they don’t have to be chemical companies; for example, we have now entered into partnerships with food companies’, says Wouter Ducheyne.


Could Qpinch’s technology also be used for residential purposes? ‘Using heat to heat homes or offices is not optimal. For such heating, low temperatures are sufficient, and you only need energy for about a third of the day, so it would be wasted. Industry, on the other hand, runs 24 hours a day and often needs heat at high temperatures.

Multinationals playing a pioneering role in Flanders

In Ducheyne’s view, the entire region between Zeebrugge and Antwerp is one big economic zone. ‘Especially when you start looking at it from an international perspective. Thus, any upscaling can only be welcomed. I only see advantages in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges merger. The ecosystem is growing and with it the visibility of what we are doing. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that many multinationals are pioneering new technology here. We can also count on Flemish and European subsidies to make the investment for companies more affordable. And they can subsequently export this CO₂-saving innovation to other countries within the group.’

Partnership with Borealis

The international chemical company Borealis was Qpinch’s first commercial partner. ‘As a start-up, the company was able to attract massive interest after winning the 2015 Emerging Technology award in the British Royal Society of Chemistry’s annual competition. Borealis and Qpinch then teamed up with UGent’s Professor Christian Steven to commercially scale up the technology,’ says Erik Van Praet, Vice President Innovation & Technology at Borealis.


‘Unlike conventional heat pumps, Qpinch’s closed-loop process minimises our operating costs and power consumption. The technology is scalable from 1 to 50 megawatts (MW) and is thus able to process huge amounts of residual heat. The partnership with Qpinch was an important step forward in Borealis’ efforts to reduce its CO₂ emissions and make its operations more energy-efficient and sustainable. We are currently saving some 2,200 tons of CO₂ a year, equivalent to the emissions of 1,500 small family cars per year.’


The heat recovery plant is located next to Borealis’ existing plant in Zwijndrecht. ‘That first commercial-scale installation was not only a milestone for Qpinch, but a beacon for the entire chemical sector’, says Wouter Ducheyne of Qpinch. ‘Our partnership with a leading customer like Borealis will allow us to further upscale our technology, putting us on the road to expanding our business globally’.

With the switch to a circular economy and major investments in the energy transition, climate and energy transition is taking shape.

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