Setting promising start-ups and high-potential innovation projects in sustainable chemistry on the path to growth and success. That is the objective of BlueChem, a new incubator for sustainable chemistry that will open its doors at the Blue Gate Antwerp business park in 2020. In doing this, the initiative aims to guarantee and strengthen the future of the economically important chemical sector in Flanders. BlueChem is a unique public-private partnership in which the private sector accounts for half of the investment. The private partners are essenscia, Bopro (BSI) and DEME (DEC). The government partners are the City of Antwerp, VITO, POM Antwerp, PMV and AG VESPA.

Flemish Minister for Economy and Innovation Philippe Muyters announced today that he is allocating €3.4 million of European funds to BlueChem, the future incubator for sustainable chemistry. The City of Antwerp is putting in €4 million. The federation of chemistry and life sciences, essenscia, the main shareholder, is taking the lead in the operation of BlueChem, together with the City of Antwerp, POM Antwerp and VITO.

We are investing in BlueChem to contribute to the innovative and sustainable development of the chemical sector. Thanks to the intense collaboration between chemical companies, start-ups and SMEs and research and knowledge institutions, BlueChem must develop into a catalyst for top innovations through which Flanders can make a difference globally. Promising ideas are to be given support here to allow them to grow from lab experiments to new chemical companies,” says Wouter De Geest, Chairman of essenscia.

Antwerp is one of the largest chemical clusters in the world. Nevertheless, it turns out not to be easy to apply this knowledge and expertise when setting up new innovative companies. For example, starters and innovation projects need a location where they can benefit from customised services in combination with adapted infrastructure. BlueChem offers the right facilities in the right place.

Location

The incubator will have a surface area of 3,375 m² and will offer a mix of flexible workplaces, private offices and laboratories that can accommodate starting companies, SMEs and large companies as well as research centres and educational institutions. The new Spearhead cluster for Chemistry and Plastics will also be housed there to detect and assist promising innovation projects. The opening is planned for early 2020. The building will cost €8.68 million and will be located at the Blue Gate Antwerp site. “This is an important step for Blue Gate Antwerp. BlueChem enables us to position ourselves as an important place for R&D and thus attract other companies,” says Peter Garré, Managing Director of Bopro (BSI).

European support

BlueChem is being supported by the European Union and is receiving €3,473,589 from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). “The objective of our ambitious cluster policy is to continue to innovate and strengthen Flemish industry by allowing entrepreneurs and knowledge institutions to collaborate among themselves and together in order to accelerate innovation. Industry 4.0 and the circular economy are spearheads in this regard. BlueChem fits in perfectly with this strategy and is thus receiving our full support. This is why we are also providing 10% co-financing alongside the ERDF resources,” says Philippe Muyters, Flemish Minister for Economy and Innovation.

BlueChem will also be supported by a new Investment fund that is to be set up by the City of Antwerp that will invest in equipment for the incubator. “All together, we are investing €4 million in the building, operations and the Investment fund, making the city of Antwerp the largest financier of BlueChem. We are doing this because, as a city, we consider innovation in our industrial sector to be a major priority,” says Caroline Bastiaens, Alderman for Economy of the City of Antwerp.

Furthermore, the University of Antwerp is investigating the possibility of also accommodating its chemical contract research for companies at Blue Gate Antwerp in its own building right next to BlueChem. This would offer powerful synergies with the start-ups that establish themselves at BlueChem. “We strongly believe in synergies between companies, government and the academic world. We are achieving this synergy here, as well as in the digital innovation project,” says Bart De Wever, Mayor of the City of Antwerp. “BlueChem will become a strong element in our international investment promotion activities, and we will strongly promote BlueChem during the city’s mission to Shanghai and Seoul at the end of this year.

The BlueChem project is supported by eight partners that share in the capital of two companies (one for the building and one for operations). Three private partners hold a majority share: essenscia (the chemistry and life sciences federation) in operations and BSI (Bopro Sustainable Investments) and DEC (DEME Environmental Contractors) in the building. The latter two are also private partners in the Blue Gate Antwerp project. The government partners are the City of Antwerp, AG VESPA, PMV (Participation Company Flanders), VITO (Flemish Institute for Technological Research) and POM (Provincial Development Agency) Antwerp.

Innovation focus

Innovation is a strategic priority for essenscia. Five years ago, FISCH was founded. This is the innovation platform for sustainable chemistry that has been recognised by the Government of Flanders since last month as a new spearhead cluster for Chemistry and Plastics. With the Patent Unit, essenscia is helping sector companies protect their intellectual property. Initiatives such as the Innovation Circle and the Innovation Fund have grown out of the biannual essenscia Innovation Award to help start-ups develop a business plan and raise venture capital.

BlueChem is the next step in this innovation story. It will mainly focus on the effective use of waste and side flows, process optimisation and the development of sustainable products and renewable chemicals.

 

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