New northern facilities for scaling up innovation
  • Innovate

New northern facilities for scaling up innovation

Sauce manufacturer Oliehoorn - with production locations in Drachten and Zwaag - takes the strategic decision to conduct product development from now on at FACT in Leeuwarden. Meanwhile, the Amsterdam start-up Photanol is settling down at ZAP in Groningen - in the run-up to a demo plant in Delfzijl - to further scale up their green chemistry concept. What can these new innovation centers mean for the Northern Netherlands business community?

We meet directors Koos Oosterhaven (FACT) and Rob van Linschoten (ZAP) at the Zernike Campus in Groningen. Both are elated that the centers - which opened their doors in the fall of 2018 - are now truly ready and can begin to play a linking role in the Northern Netherlands.

'If you want to develop as a region, investing in people is just as important as investing in machinery and innovation,' the gentlemen argue. 'They hang together, depend on each other. Therefore, the strength of our facilities lies in the combination. We provide test space and modern equipment to scale up innovations, while also focusing on developing needed manpower, such as the process technologists of the future.'

The regional HR agendas of government and companies are deliberately an important basis for the activities developed within the FACT and ZAP. Underlying this is a significant demand for replacement - an increasing outflow due to an aging population - but also the changing requirements placed on professionals in the process industry.

How do you include personnel at all levels in the innovations? How do you ensure that talent, knowledge and experience are retained for the Northern Netherlands? And how do you structurally convert these into responsible growth and innovation? These are essential issues for the continuity of business in the northern regions.

Work in progress

At FACT and ZAP, the answer to these issues preferably comes in actions. It is about work in progress, within an interplay between education and companies. With a focus on research, but above all on innovations in work practice and what is needed to achieve this.

From the perspective of (process) technology, but also from the perspective of human capital. 'Companies have to get rid of the idea that training is a 'car wash' through which you can send future or existing employees just as purposefully,' says Oosterhaven. 'That no longer works in this day and age. Innovations of machines and production processes are linked to new ways of working that require much more self-directed qualities. From everyone, including college graduates. It's about learning to see what is needed and keep moving with it.'

'Lifelong learning is more than ever the credo,' adds Van Linschoten, 'Add to that the necessary greening of the industry and you know that change is happening on all fronts. That drives innovations, only many companies lack the space, equipment and manpower to experiment or to scale up small-scale initiatives further. Moreover, an R&D culture is really something else than production, and we facilitate that culture. In a flexible way that is also financially attractive.

Yes, it comes at a price, but by investing together in capital-intensive equipment, innovation becomes feasible and affordable. In a place where you also prepare needed manpower for the future.'

This is where you want to be

Companies see the opportunities this brings. For example, BioBTX - which extracts chemical building blocks from liquid biomass and recycled plastics - commissioned a pilot plant within the new innovation hall just weeks before the official opening of ZAP.

Van Linschoten: "Interested parties know how to find us. We also recently made agreements with Photanol, an Amsterdam start-up that wants to test the production of chemicals from blue-green algae, CO2 and sunlight on an industrial scale. Together with AkzoNobel, they will build a pilot plant in Delfzijl and in the meantime they will settle in ZAP. Here they can take intermediate steps and invest in skilled people who will soon also be needed in the pilot plant. A wonderful development for all parties'.

FACT also has that appeal, but within the food industry. 'We are making agreements with several parties,' Oosterhaven says. 'With sauce manufacturer Oliehoorn, the ball is already in the church. They needed pilot equipment and are strategically placing their R&D set-up at the FACT, in order to do product development trajectories at and with us. Here they will find modern processing equipment, analysis and advice, interplay with education and a meeting place of potential employees and partners.Nieuwe noordelijke faciliteiten voor opschalen innovatie

You have all the facilities here and are a short distance from knowledge and innovation, which makes it a place you want to be as a company.

Well regulated

The fact that the permits have already been arranged by FACT and ZAP is also a big plus for companies. 'That saves a lot of time and energy,' the directors note, 'Where you would otherwise have to go through a whole mill first, here you can start tomorrow, so to speak. Moreover, we make clear agreements when confidential elements are involved.

We realize that not all parts of a pathway lend themselves to learning assignments.' Although for both men there is no doubt that the strength of the FACT and ZAP lies precisely in the combination of education, research and activity. 'Otherwise you would be better off bringing in a party like TNO,' Oosterhaven says soberly. 'With us, the intention is to share knowledge and translate innovations together practically into work practice. That includes training.'FACT and ZAP therefore also like to enter into discussions with industry organizations.


'In a time of aging, greening and necessary innovation, training budgets must be used smartly. We can play a pivotal role in creating agile craftsmanship. Because we are a pilot facility for upscaling innovative processes, but also the connecting link between education and work practice.

New recruits are important, but so is retraining. Especially in the Northern Netherlands, where there is a shortage, everyone is desperately needed. Our centers have state-of-the-art equipment and people are learning new roles together with automation, robotization and big data. The scale at which that happens, most companies cannot create on their own. That is why we are very happy to be able to offer these facilities now in the Northern Netherlands.'

Northern Netherlands attractive pilot area

The already existing Water Application Center (WAC) in Leeuwarden and Green PAC in Emmen fulfill similar roles in the Northern Netherlands for the water sector and the chemical and plastics industry, respectively. Joep de Vries of NOM sees the expansion with FACT and ZAP as a great added value for the Northern Netherlands: 'With these innovation centers, the North is a very attractive pilot area. Combining innovation and training also creates a powerful booster for new business and employment.'


The Food Application Centre for Technology (FACT) in Leeuwarden is an initiative of Van Hall Larenstein, Nordwin College, Province of Fryslân and companies in the food industry. The research and training facility supports sustainable and healthy product and process innovation on a pilot scale and trains well-qualified staff.

Among other things, companies can optimize production lines, test new process technologies and investigate how to use raw and residual materials more intelligently. By investing together in state-of-the-art equipment - such as the DigiCooker - costs of experimental pilots are shared. Read more about the FACT on the Van Hall Larenstein website.


ZAP stands for Zernike Advanced Processing and is a unique test environment for biobased experiments focusing on green chemistry, biorefinery and smart processing. Here, entrepreneurs can test and scale up laboratory results in a semi-industrial environment.

ZAP is a partnership between Hanzehogeschool Groningen, Noorderpoort and the University of Groningen and is made possible in part by SNN and the Province of Groningen. The ZAP facility offers knowledge institutions, SMEs and large companies the infrastructure to work powerfully together on innovative research and educational innovation. Read more