Janssen Pharmaceutica first business to use heat from geothermal drilling


The pharmaceutical giant in Beerse is pumping water from 2.4km below the earth surface to heat all of its offices and labs

Enormous energy needs

Pharmaceutical company Janssen has inaugurated the first deep geothermal drilling site in Belgium that’s on the premises of a business. It will use water from deep below the earth’s surface to heat its premises in Beerse, Antwerp province.

The €40 million project is part of the company’s aim to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 30% by 2021, or 15,900 tonnes a year. The drills pump water that has been heated to 85°C at a depth of 2.4km below the earth’s surface. The water will be extracted and used to heat offices and other buildings via a heat network, then will be returned below surface via a second pipe to be reheated naturally.

Janssen Pharmaceutica has sites in Beerse, Geel, Olen, Merksem and in Wallonia and employs more than 5,000 people developing and producing medicines. “Our energy use on the Beerse campus is as great as the whole of the city of Turnhout,” said CEO Stef Heylen at the inauguration yesterday. “We want to make our biggest site green.”

The majority of the investment was paid by parent company Johnson & Johnson. The Flemish Energy Agency has invested €6 million, the Agency for Innovation and Development €2 million and the European Regional Development Fund €1.5 million.

This investment is crucial for the future of green energy in Flanders

- Minister-president Jan Jambon

For the government of Flanders, this is a unique opportunity to test the new energy source. “This investment is crucial for the future of green energy in Flanders,” said minister-president Jan Jambon. “We are not investing to provide Janssen with heat but to learn from this test project. Here we can study whether deep geothermal drilling can be made efficient and economical. Janssen can be an important example for other businesses in terms of green energy.”

Companies in Germany and Iceland “have already shown that geothermal energy is sustainable and inexhaustible,” Heylen added. “In addition, by 2020 almost all of our electricity will come from an offshore wind farm in the North Sea. As an industry, we are not part of the problem, as many people think, but part of the solution.”

Geothermal research has been carried out in Flanders for several years. In Mol, research centre Vito drilled to a depth of more than 3km in search of hot water to heat around 2,000 homes, but currently only Vito’s own buildings and the nearby Nuclear Research Centre are heated using geothermal energy.

Photo courtesy VRT