Today, it is quite impossible to imagine a world without plastics. In Europe 58 million tonnes are produced each year! But it is only just over one hundred years ago, in 1907 to be precise, that Leo Baekelandt, a Belgian scientist living in New York, invented the so-called Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic. The full explosion of plastic production and commercialisation had to wait until the 1950's.

Their specific properties, including ease of forming, light weight, strength, functionality, recyclability and corrosion resistance, result in the increasing use of plastics.

What are plastics?

Plastic is a material consisting of any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that are malleable and that can be moulded into solid objects. They are most frequently made from petrochemicals, however, more and more plastics are now being made from renewable and/or recycled materials, a trend that is heavily promoted by the European Union and national goverments.

The product's success however also resulted in a worldwide waste issue, with plastic polluted oceans, and plastic debris encountered in the most remote and desolate places on earth, making recycling a very important theme for the plastic processing industry as well.

Research topics

Optimisation of (bio)polymers

Product and process optimisation of (bio)polymers to enhance their processability and to create new (high tech) applications:

  • thermoplastic elastomers from the currently used systems to the new generation
  • plasticised PLA formulations for textile extrusion, plastic processing & coating
  • development of biopolymer grades to be used in packaging


  • natural fibre reinforced plastics (flax, hemp, wood, cellulose,…)
  • development of functionalised plastics (adding antimicrobial, flame retardant, conductive and other properties)
  • foaming technology to create lightweight structures

End-of-Life and Recycling

  • identification and characterisation of recycled polymer
  • recycling and valorisation of thermoplastic polymers and of thermoset composites
  • upgrading of polymer blends by means of compatibilisation
  • markers for better recycling
  • REACH compliance of recycled materials

Process development

  • optimisation of energy consumption during plastic processing


Centexbel-VKC has created a vast plastic extrusion and processing platform, located in Kortrijk, for research experiments and professional training session, that is also accessible to the industry for experiments and prototyping.