KU Leuven opens TRANSfarm: test center for development of sustainable, circular innovations
Three years after its official opening, TRANSfarm is ready for use. KU Leuven's farm complex in Lovenjoel (Bierbeek) has been transformed in recent years into a modern research center for circular bio-economy. The aim is to scale up innovations, develop them further and thus bring them into practice more quickly.
The cultivation of new crops for a more plant-based diet. The processing of green by-products into alternative chemical feedstocks. Biomedical research into new vaccine technologies. More sustainable production of new building materials. The scaling up of hydrogen panels that can be deployed anywhere as a renewable energy source.
Even though they are diverse research projects, they share a common ground: sustainability and a circular approach. These are just a few examples of what TRANSfarm stands for, KU Leuven's new research center that officially opens this week. The test center supports researchers to scale up innovations in bioeconomics and biotechnology from lab level to pilot scale, with a view to getting them to market and society faster.
"KU Leuven is strongly committed to developing circular and sustainable processes for agriculture and industry, but the step from lab to practice is usually not evident," explains director Wouter Merckx. "TRANSfarm offers our scientists the opportunity to accelerate this process. Hence our name, which stands for translational - practically applicable - research and transformation in agriculture."
TRANSfarm is the successor to the Zootechnical Center in Lovenjoel. The model farm was built in 1928 to provide food for the nearby Salva Mater psychiatric center. In addition, the farm also served as a research center for the university. In the course of history it evolved along with science and society.
In recent years the site has undergone a true transformation. The old stables and sheds have made way for a modern and sustainable farm complex with lab areas and new animal quarters. This leaves room for traditional research on farm animals, mainly poultry and pigs. In addition, there are eight units for animal research at a higher biosafety level, which is essential for biomedical research on, for example, vaccines and drugs.
A new pilot hall has been built to provide space for different types of research to further develop their technology. Among other things, the Solhyd project will start up a pilot production line there: the innovative hydrogen panel, developed at KU Leuven, converts sunlight and water vapor directly into hydrogen gas. TRANSfarm is also home to the BioCon project, which focuses on refining woody biomass (plant residues and waste wood) to develop sustainable alternatives to fossil raw materials.
TRANSfarm not only houses innovative research, it also wants to be progressive itself by working as climate-neutral as possible. The new building project functions without fossil fuel: six thousand square meters of solar panels provide the energy. The indoor climate in the various animal units and research areas is guaranteed by the use of heat pumps. A chain of filters together with the biological air washer reduce the stable emissions such as nitrogen, dust and odor. This fossil-free approach is in line with the European research project Hyperfarm, of which TRANSfarm is coordinator.
The new construction project and the renovation work will cost KU Leuven seven million euros. In addition, TRANSfarm can count on support from the Flemish government, through the post-coronance plan. It is investing almost two million euros in research infrastructure into primary agricultural production, protein transition and processing of biomass streams.
"Society is facing great challenges to develop without further burdening the climate and nature. The need for innovation is particularly great," says Gerard Govers, Vice Rector of the Science & Technology Group and responsible for Sustainability Policy. "If we want to solve these complex issues, we are going to have to work together across the boundaries of different disciplines, and with the help companies. TRANSfarm provides the right conditions to make this happen."
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