VYNCKE builds global hi-tech installations to transform biomass and waste streams into thermal and electrical energy

Posted on 9 Jan 2023

VYNCKE is a 4th generation family business with its head office in Harelbeke. VYNCKE designs and builds industrial energy installations worldwide, in order to incinerate biomass and waste, and convert it into green energy.

Peter Vyncke took the helm as CEO in 2002. In 2017, his brother Dieter Vyncke became co-CEO. In 2021, the brothers decided to join their father in concentrating on the VYNCKE holding, so Stefaan Lauwers, COO of the organisation since 2017, was appointed as CEO. Meanwhile, Lauwers has been running operations for over a year. Where does VYNCKE stand today and what are the company's ambitions? We asked CEO Stefaan Lauwers.

VYNCKE was established long before there was any mention of green energy, is that right?
“Indeed, long before the Kyoto Protocol or European Green Deal were signed, VYNCKE was already working to reduce the ecological footprint in businesses, by converting a small closed circuit of waste streams into energy.”

Meanwhile, VYNCKE is a world-class player, yet the company is still firmly anchored in Flanders. Why was VYNCKE established here?
“It's true we are still strongly anchored in Flanders, where VYNCKE emerged from activities in the flax industry. When flax is turned into linen, the flax fibres must first be removed from the flax plant. Therefore, the flax was laid in water in order to soften the fibres. To start with, this process was done in the River Lys, but it was soon discovered that the 'retting' process could be accelerated by laying the flax in warm water troughs. At first, the water was heated with coal. Later, they burned the flax shives as fuel. In doing so they were 'avant la lettre’ in transforming waste streams into thermal energy that was needed in the industrial process.” 

And is that still VYNCKE's main activity today?
“Absolutely. We design and build energy plants which produce green and renewable energy. We work predominantly with (biomass) waste streams from industrial processes and turn this into steam, hot water or hot air using incineration. These are then reused in the industrial process. As such, we provide a local solution to put industrial waste streams to good use.”

Do you have projects worldwide?
“It was father Dirk’s dream to fly the VYNCKE flag in every country. This ambition to be active all over the world remains. We always aim to balance our contracts across Europe, Asia and the Americas.

And, above all, we want to be the reference, excelling in everything we do, not only in terms of our installation design and construction, but also in how we treat our employees - Vynckeneers - and our customers, with whom we are keen to develop a long-lasting partnership. That's why we pay huge attention to our after-sales service.”

Which industries do you target?
"As a global engineering and construction company, VYNCKE supplies solutions to the timber industry, the agricultural and food industry, plus a diverse range of sectors that are switching to or investing in renewable energy. 

Can you give us some specific examples of your applications?
“In the timber industry, most of our customers are manufacturers of wood-based panel materials, such as chipboard or MDF. The production process generates large waste streams, such as bark that is removed when processing tree trunks or sawdust created when sawing panels to size… In our installations, these waste flows are transformed into the energy that is required to dry the wood chips and to press the panels. It is mainly thanks to the activities in this sector that we grew so much at first.

The food and agricultural industry came later. One such example is the cocoa industry. We burn the husks of the cocoa beans and use them to generate the steam required in the further processing of the beans, namely the roasting. Other examples of biomass that we process in these sectors are the husks of sunflower seeds, rice chaff, and so on.”

In the Netherlands, we have implemented a project in which CO2 is reused in greenhouses. We developed a biomass installation for two tomato farms and an aubergine grower, where we are generating energy to heat the greenhouses. We installed a Carbon Capture & Utilization (CCU) system that purifies the fumes released when incinerating the biomass and filters out the CO2.

This CO2 is stored on site, then re-injected into the greenhouses in order to stimulate plant growth. It is the first project in the world to use such technology in this manner. This also led to other projects with greenhouse growers. It is a wonderful example of how greenhouse growers can play a pioneering role in the circular economy."

So, the biomass replaced the fossil fuel that is needed in the industrial process?
“That's right. By burning the biomass we kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, we process waste streams on the premises and, on the other hand, we turn this into green energy. We currently cannot keep up with demand. In many industrial sectors, awareness of our enormous dependence on fossil fuels has grown tremendously. These players are keen to prevent a situation in the future where they are unable to guarantee their production due to a shortage of fossil fuels. They wish to gain independence from these fossil fuels and ideally in a sustainable way.”

Does VYNCKE also have solutions for companies who do not generate their own bio-waste streams?
“In fact, that is a sector we have also been targeting recently; Industries that do not produce their own bio-waste streams and who wish to make the transition from fossil fuels to other kinds of fuel. For example, they are now buying wood chips as an alternative to fossil fuels. However, there is a lot going on in this market. After all, in the long term, biomass will not last for ever, since more and more of those biomass materials will be recycled for other purposes. 

We are going to focus increasingly on those fractions of largely industrial complex waste streams whose mix of materials cannot be recycled due to insufficient quality. Therefore, we are currently building an installation in a French sawmill, where it is no longer the waste from the sawmill that is burned. This waste wood is recycled for the production of sustainable pellets, wood chips for use in horticulture or agriculture… The company buys industrial waste for its energy installation.
There is one common factor across all of our projects: they are complicated processes involving complex fuels, strict emissions standards, etc.”

Which markets does VYNCKE target?
"We continue to focus heavily on our traditional markets in the timber and agricultural industry, where typical biomass waste streams are available, and are doing this all over the world. When it comes specifically to industrial and commercial waste, we notice a significant difference, e.g. between the North and South of Europe in the way waste is perceived.

So, in countries like Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium, much progress has been made in recycling or converting waste into thermal energy. However, in the South - for example, Spain and Italy - a lot of waste is still dumped there. In these countries, there is still huge potential for recycling, whereby the residue could be converted into energy. 

That is what we wish to target: converting fractions, that can no longer be re-used, as efficiently as possible into energy, in close proximity to the industrial process where the energy is consumed. In technical terms, this is harder, since it often involves more complex compositions, and streams that are tricky to process. This is what makes us stand out from companies that build large waste incineration installations.”

So, is your growth exponential at the moment?
“We are a technology company, and we only design and build custom-made installations. We wish to continue growing organically. Our turnover increases by about 10% each year and we build about 25 installations annually. That number remains pretty constant. The growth lies more in the increasing size and complexity of the installations. What was once the dream of father Vyncke, flying a VYNCKE flag in every country, is no longer the key ambition. Each year, we put between 1 and 3 new countries on the VYNCKE map.”

Why are you not more ambitious in your growth?
"The fact we make customised installations and are a knowledge company means that everything depends on the people who work here. We pay a lot of attention to the well-being and development of our employees. We want them to flourish, to give them the chance to acquire knowledge and skills, and to gain confidence in a project. This means we cannot expand our workforce by more than 10 to 15% a year. That is really the most an organisation like ours can manage. In other words, we also aim for sustainability in our personnel policy.”

Are there also other ways in which you focus on sustainability within VYNCKE itself?
“Absolutely, and we are keen to go even further in the future. Besides the positive impact of the installations we build for our customers, we also want to continue reducing our own ecological footprint and we also assess our suppliers in terms of sustainability and make certain requirements when they wish to collaborate. We consider how we can serve our customers in the most sustainable way… 

We also notice that our task does not stop once the installation has been commissioned. We often see that installations are not exploited correctly and that optimisations are frequently possible. Using digital applications, we wish to be able to capture and analyse data remotely, and take action to maintain the optimal running of the installation at all times.”

Facts & figures

  • Founded in 1912
  • Headquarters in Harelbeke
  • 140 million euros turnover/year
  • 385 employees
  • VYNCKE Group has 12 branches worldwide: in Brazil, Spain, Sweden, the Ivory Coast, Flanders, Germany, the Czech Republic, India, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

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