Belgium - water and wastewater market
Belgium is one of the most densely populated and heavily industrialized nations in the world. Belgium's small area and dense population has created an acute environmental awareness, consistently ranking this smaller European nation as one of the top 20 destinations for environmental exports.
The Belgian water treatment market is comprised of industrial and residential wastewater and drinking water treatment, and includes both equipment and services. Recently, the three regions of Belgium-- Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels--implemented major infrastructure projects and made considerable investments aimed at the treatment of virtually all wastewater by 2010.
While the Belgian water treatment market is very developed with limited opportunities expansion, water and wastewater treatment equipment and supplies dominated the nearly $500 million of U.S. environmental exports to Belgium in 2007. The best prospects for international companies are in equipment and supplies. It is recommended to approach the Belgian market through partnerships, strategic alliances and joint ventures with local firms.
Suppliers that can pre-position via partnership with local firms and organizations may be able to take advantage of commercial opportunities resulting from this shift in approach.
In Belgium, Wastewater treatment is a public/private market. It is the responsibility of each of the three regions of Belgium to implement EU water treatment directives in a timely manner. Currently, Belgium has infrastructure to treat the wastewater of approximately 66 percent of the total population.
The drinking water treatment market in Belgium is strictly public, though pressures are growing from notable French water companies to privatize this segment. None-the-less, there is a growing market in Belgium for additional filtering at home and small commercial (like restaurants) points of use, whether for perceived water safety, actual water safety due to the numerous older structures at the end of the distribution system, or simply for taste and aesthetic considerations. This is in spite of the fact that drinking water providers insist there is no need for such systems.
Today, it is estimated that 10% of Belgium's 3.8 million households now use additional point of use treatment-everything from simple pitchers with activated carbon filters to more elaborate in-house reverse osmosis and membrane systems. This rate of use will continue to grow, though projections for this segment are not now available.
Among young ecologically sensitive consumers, there is concern about bottled water, now packaged nearly exclusively in plastic thus presenting additional environmental concerns related to waste and recycling. Further, today, the initial cost of installing home point of use systems is more competitive as both the price of bottled water continues to rise, and as residential systems becomes more competitive. The growing number foreign competitors exhibiting such systems at major European trade shows like the biannual Aquatech Amsterdam is testament to this growing market.
Currently, there is a growing market for small-scale WWTP facilities with a capacity of under 2,000 PE (population equivalent), particularly in Wallonia. EU legislation requires all household communities to have their sewers connected to a water treatment system by 2005, but this has not been achieved. At present, the majority of households have met this requirement. However, a number of rural communities will have to install small-scale private water treatment systems.
There is an increasing demand for components for tailor-made water treatment systems as well as technologies that reduce water use. This demand has lead to the growth of local companies in industrial wastewater treatment. Many of these companies specialize in the design, engineering, and construction of water treatment systems, known as 'start to finish' firms. They specialize in tailor-made systems, usually implementing membrane-filtering technology.
A niche market exists for supplying ozone generators for use in water treatment plants. Although there are many established Belgian aerator companies, there is an opening for companies that produce aerators for high-water towers and areas where there is a high concentration of biomass. Additionally, there is a need for dioxin atomizers to eliminate the smell produced by the water. Equipment should be competitively priced, as buyers must resell it as part of the water treatment plants they build.
There are also opportunities for companies that can safely treat and recycle sludge without incineration. Environmental decision makers are searching for new and innovative ways to address this problem-as highlighted by Project Neptune-and the market in sludge treatment remains open to competitors.
There is also a growing market in Belgium for potable water. Many Belgian companies are looking to expand into this area, but the market remains open to all companies. Membrane-based water treatment systems for drinking water are popular and American technology is perceived as superior in this field.
Under EU directives, major environmental procurement is tendered through EU public procurement, which is open to international companies. However, U.S. firms should be aware that contract awards for EU tenders involving large water projects are heavily driven by local politics and involve a significant amount of lobbying Belgian authorities.
Municipalities in Belgium often work with established public and/or private partners. It is imperative that international companies interested in bidding for projects seek local partners or form joint ventures with local companies to enter the environmental sector. Additional means for investigating and entering the Belgian environmental market include contacting regional governments and public agencies, and working with local consulting and engineering firms.