On Tuesday, April 16, during the Antwerp Innovation Night, the AHA!-awards 2023 were presented to the most innovative researchers and companies in Antwerp. This year’s winners are no strangers to C2W | Mens & Molecule and all work in the field of climate innovation.

The University of Antwerp and the Antwerp Universities of Applied Sciences present the AHA! Awards to recognize the efforts of researchers who translate their ideas into innovative products, processes, or businesses for the industry and/or society. Within the company categories, two awards were presented: the One-to-Watch Award for the most promising start-up and the Innovation Award for the most remarkable innovation.


This award was granted to D-CRBN, a spin-off from the university of Antwerp, which has successfully converted carbon dioxide into valuable raw material on an industrial scale. Using a plasma reactor, they capture carbon dioxide and split it into carbon monoxide. Their ambitious goal is to capture 1 million tons of CO2 per year. C2W | Mens & Molecule has been following the company closely for some time, and in 2021, Marysa van den Berg wrote an article about (in Dutch) the founding of D-CRBN.

Over the past three years, D-CRBN has experienced significant growth. This year, out of 1083 applications, they were the only Belgian company to receive a €2.5 million grant from the EIC Accelerator program. ‘With the grant we just obtained, we aim to further scale the technology and transition from TRL 6 to TRL 8-9 [Technology Readiness Level, from demonstration to commercial application, ed]’, said David Ziegler, CCO of D-CRBN, in an interview on our website in March 2024.

This success illustrates D-CRBN’s promising future in fulfilling its mission to reduce CO2 emissions and accelerate the transition to a sustainable industry.

Innovation Award

This year’s AHA! Innovation Award for most innovative company was presented to Aquafin, a water purification company, for its efforts in converting wastewater into raw materials for green energy generation. Aquafin is tasked with the public mission of purifying domestic wastewater, but the organization also maintains a strong focus on innovation and sustainability.

In October 2022, C2W | Mens & Molecule wrote about how Aquafin, in collaboration with research organization VITO, imec and the Flemish government, conducts research on the water quality of Flemish rivers and canals. Following the dry summers of 2017 and 208, West Flanders experienced severe salinization and drought problems. The aforementioned organizations worked together to improve water quality forecasting, allowing for better anticipation and implementation of countermeasures. Read the full C2W article here!

Promising and Achieved

In addition, two AHA! Awards were granted to researchers: the Promising Award and Achieved Award. The Promising Award was presented to Sammy Verbruggen, a bioengineer who leads a research team in the field of photo(electro)catalysis for various energy and environmental applications, including hydrogen gas production and air purification.

KVCV-member Annemie Bogaerts, along with Tom Breugelmans, received the AHA! Achieved Award. Bogaerts, one of Europe’s leading experts in plasma research, focuses on innovative applications of plasma in green chemistry and medicine. She uses plasma research for instance to fight cancer cells or to convert CO2 into high-value chemical building blocks and renewable fuels. In an extensive interview with C2W | Mens & Molecule (in Dutch) in September 2019, she shared insights on the relevance of plasma research for biomedical applications and climate research. In 2021, we revisited Bogaerts to discuss (in Dutch) the then-new discovery of a microwave radiation-based plasma reactor that fixates nitrogen.

Breugelmans, who shares the joint first place of the AHA!-Achieved Award with Bogaerts, is an expert in electrochemistry and reactor engineering. He, too, offers valuable insights into how to address the challenges of energy and climate issues. His research and enthusiastic doctoral candidates have been featured on our website before (in Dutch). Former PhD students Bert de Mot and Sander Neukermans gained valuable insights and experience during their time at Breugelmans’s research group, and joined forces to create the company Oxylum. Their goal is to use electricity to convert CO2 into formic acid.

These winners share a common goal: contribute to climate innovation. Their efforts are critical in the global fight against climate change and contribute to the ambition of countries like the Belgium and the Netherlands to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. With their ground-breaking work, they are taking an important step in the right direction towards a more sustainable future.