Expert Talks #7: The importance of hydrogen in the transition towards a sustainable future

Source: Deloitte

“The chemical industry is the mother of all industries,” says Deloitte. It is an industry that has to deal with significant carbon emissions, but also an industry that will be part of the solution towards a sustainable future. Deloitte advises start-ups, local and international companies in the chemical industry on sustainability, and looks at different pathways and opportunities in the sector to enable sustainability. Hydrogen is one of these opportunities, which will be an important piece of the puzzle to move towards a sustainable future and society.

If you look at the added value of the chemical industry per capita, Belgium has been leading the pack for years. In May 2020, BlueChem started with the ambition to further strengthen the future of this economically important sector in Flanders.

Frederik Debrabander

Deloitte is a strategic partner that advises start-ups, local and international companies with a wide range of professional services: strategic advice, technology implementations, accounting, legal and tax advice, financial and risk advisory. “We are convinced that we have a societal role to play by contributing to the sustainable transformation of the industry,” says Frederik Debrabander; Energy, Resources & Industrials Industry Leader. “I strongly believe that we can fulfil that role with our capabilities.”

The chemical sector impacts our daily life more than we might think. “There is no sustainable world without sustainable chemistry,” Frederik states. “The chemical industry is the mother of all industries.” Strategy Manager in Sustainability Brecht D’hont: “If we want to make shift towards a sustainable world, the chemical sector is an important part of the solution. Take for example the key role of the chemical industry in sustainable transport. Producing sustainable battery components, enabling recycling of batteries, and developing lighter high performance materials are just a few of the many examples.”


There is no silver bullet that will solve the climate crisis. But Deloitte sees hydrogen as an important piece of the puzzle in the energy transition. “The chemical industry is an important solution provider to enable sustainability, but at the same time it is responsible for significant CO2 emissions. Reducing these emissions systematically and becoming CO2 neutral by 2050 is an important yet enormous challenge for the sector.

Brecht D’hont

Different solutions need to be combined to achieve this goal, such as electrification, use of biomass, CO2 capture and recycling, but hydrogen will also play an important role,” explains Brecht. “Hydrogen and its derivatives can be used both as sustainable fuel and as feedstock. Not only for the chemical sector, but also for other sectors such as the steel sector, long-distance transport, shipping, aviation etc.

The big advantage? Hydrogen is not new. Today in Europe about 10 million tons of hydrogen is produced and consumed per year. By 2050 we predict that the demand for hydrogen in Europe will exceed 100 million tons due to the role that hydrogen can play in the energy transition. An important aspect is to ensure that this hydrogen is produced in a sustainable, reliable & economic viable way”

“This increasing demand for hydrogen is a great opportunity for chemical companies to make their product and service portfolio more sustainable moving forward. We recently published a point of view about this opportunity for the sector,” says Brecht. “Chemical companies can play a unique role in the future hydrogen value chain starting from their current core strengths, such as their global assets, highly integrated supply chains, engineering knowledge and know-how in products such as hydrogen, etc. The key challenge for this typically international sector is to explore new and existing local markets, target customers in a very customer-oriented way, and achieve a positive business case by making smart choices and by partnering with the right players across the value chain . Anyone who succeeds in this will be able to strengthen their competitive position in a sustainable manner, driven by the energy transition.”

In concrete terms, Deloitte is participating in the largest green hydrogen project in Europe, NorthH2, which aims to convert 4 gigawatts of offshore wind energy into green hydrogen by 2030. “4 GW is about double what is now produced in Belgium with offshore wind energy, highlighting the size of this project,” says Brecht. “Our task is analyzing different end markets for this green hydrogen in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and translating this into a viable business case for the project. Deloitte is also involved in many other hydrogen projects. We have for example conducted a study for the Federal Public Service Economy and Federal Minister of Energy Tinne Van der Straeten on the role of gaseous energy carriers in a climate neutral Belgium.”

Read the report here


Expert Talks #6: Catalisti, from spearhead to visionary

Source: Catalisti

As a structural partner of BlueChem, Catalisti aims to bring start-ups into contact with each other, with the government and with large chemical giants intending to create a sustainable chemical sector that can maintain its global position within Flanders. With the Hexagon project, initialised more than ten years ago, Catalisti contributed in building the foundations for the first chemical incubator in Flanders.

Catalisti acts as a spider in the web of companies and governments, collectively innovating with the aim of a sustainable economy and industry, in particular in the chemical sector. The web contains more than 130 companies, large and small, which develop joint projects and -in doing so- can strengthen each other.

The core business of Catalisti is that of chemistry & plastics, a field in which Flanders belongs at the top worldwide. “We need to ensure that we not only maintain that position, but also strengthen it,” Managing Director of Catalisti, Ann Verlinden says. More than ten years ago – then FISCH, now Catalisti – started the thought exercise: how can we anchor chemistry in Flanders in a sustainable way. Needless to say, the challenges to the sector were manifold.


“After years of research, the Hexagon project (inspired by the Flemish SME EcoSynth) emerged. A kind of Technopolis, but for chemistry. But we soon realized that it would not be enough, so we needed to launch a pilot project where startups in the chemical sector that focus on sustainability and circularity could find and strengthen each other. And that is exactly what BlueChem is today”, Ann continues. This makes Catalisti one of the initiators of BlueChem, the first incubator for sustainable chemistry in Flanders.

As a structural partner of BlueChem, Catalisti wants to be a soundboard for the industry and for the startups associated with the incubator to contribute to the further expansion of the BlueChem community. “We are located in BlueChem ourselves and that allows us to be in constant contact with the various companies. We join them up so that an interaction can arise that leads to projects that aim to make the industry more sustainable. We are backed by the government to focus on these projects. But we also familiarize them with the set of supporting instruments VLAIO provides and guide them to the most suitable financing channels.”


This interaction between the incubator, the startups and Catalisti is also the most important added value for Catalisti. “BlueChem wants to bridge the gap between the startups themselves, but also between them and the established players in the sector. This is very interesting for us too, because we have the same target group in mind. From this cross-fertilization between startups, projects emerge which can be very interesting for us. Moreover, if you want to make a speedy evolution towards sustainable chemistry, you need the kind of knowledge that is not available in just one company. Thanks to our network, we can introduce start-ups to established names in the chemical sector. All projects facilitated by Catalisti and submitted for financing by the Flemish government, are analyzed by an international jury and hence receive a quality label. That presents prospects and can open doors,” Ann continues.

Meanwhile, BlueChem’s occupancy rate continues to rise and that gives hope for the future. “BlueChem is just starting up but we can see the project growing slowly but surely. Pioneering work is being done here. Together with BlueChem, Catalisti will continue to facilitate startups, with knowledge, experience and a location that meets all their needs”, Ann concludes.


Expert Talks #5: SGS, a global player on a human scale

Source: SGS

SGS specializes in testing, inspection and certification in a wide variety of sectors: from the food industry to toys, tools, cosmetics, (petro)chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Within BlueChem, SGS helps startups and scale-ups in their ambitions for sustainable chemistry.

SGS is a worldwide benchmark for quality and integrity. Every company, in every industry, is provided a specialized service to make them faster, safer, better, more efficient and sustainable by implementing excellent tools in the areas of quality, safety, environment, health and in reducing risks. SGS employs 93,000 people worldwide, of which 3,800 in the Benelux. With their network of about 2,600 offices and laboratories, SGS is continuously working towards a better, safer, more sustainable and connected world. Three keystones are essential: testing, inspection and certification.

Sustainable transition

Within BlueChem, the focus of SGS is on testing, certification and specialized advice in the fields of sustainability, environment, safety and health. “SGS specifically offers services relating to sustainability, compliance with legislation and regulations with regards to the environment and safety on the one hand, and various services aimed at soil quality, waste and residual flows on the other. We also pilot startups and scale-ups towards a sustainable transition. By advising these companies from the start, we want to implement our vision to contribute to a sustainable world,” Kristof Van Hoecke, responsible for marketing, sales and communication at SGS, says. “We strive for a future proof and connected world. Hence, these services seamlessly match with BlueChem’s objectives, which makes this collaboration even more interesting.”

At SGS, we are convinced that sustainability is an important factor for the whole society and companies that value sustainability will perform better. After all, the sustainable transition also opens up new opportunities. “Companies that are able to make the switch to a sustainable business model and develop new products or services or set up a future-oriented business model, surely have a competitive advantage”

Chemical lab waste

SGS Emergency, Waste and Chemical Services (EWACS) has been implementing world-class hazardous waste management systems for over 30 years, and this in the most ethical and transparent way possible. “Our systems not only ensure that dangerous waste is collected, but also that it is treated according to industries best-practice and in full compliance with the ever-evolving legislations. Our company was proud to have already shared this experience with numerous BlueChem startups in the past, and will continue to do so in the future”, says Sales Executive Henri Delhaye.

Chemical lab waste usually consists of complex matrices, making it difficult to re-use these substances, especially in small volumes. “Therefore, we present labs some base rules for source sorting their chemical waste, whereafter SGS takes over and transports it to the SGS licensed environmental center in Melsele. Here it is further handled and (pre-)treated for final disposal, depending on its waste type and chemical properties. SGS makes sure that the resulting waste materials are sent to licensed treatment centers, where they can be re-used as (a) valuable resource(s) or as an energy source for various thermal processes.”

“Being a partner of BlueChem, SGS can share its vision and knowhow with starting entrepreneurs. We have a vast knowledge and expertise in advising and helping start-ups and scale-ups,” Kristof concludes.

BNP Paribas Fortis - sustainability

Expert Talks #4: Environmental Biotechnology, the key to sustainability

BNP Paribas Fortis - sustainability
Tobias Wilms, Life Sciences Advisor at BNP Paribas Fortis

BlueChem is the first incubator in Belgium with an explicit focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in the field of sustainable chemistry. Startups and scale-ups within the BlueChem incubator are supported in their development by strategic partners such as BNP Paribas Fortis. Tobias Wilms holds a PhD in biochemistry and works as a Life Sciences Advisor at BNP Paribas Fortis. As a strategic partner, BNP Paribas Fortis wants to assist start-ups and scale-ups in their search for investors, in setting up their business structures and in addition act as an investor for sustainable developments.

Within BlueChem, a number of startups are also committed to the pursuit of sustainable improvements in their fields and these ventures can be supported by BNP Paribas Fortis. The bank offers start-ups access to its extensive network, helps to structure the financing of the project and can provide input on the business plan.

Life Sciences Advisor at BNP Paribas Fortis, Tobias Wilms explains: “Nowadays, a considerable focus is put upon ‘Environmental Biotechnology’, which investigates how agriculture can be made more sustainable. Currently we must recognize that producing food is ecologically harmful, having a major impact on the environment. We still see that chemical pesticides are being used to protect crops. These pesticides are harmful to the environment and the biodiversity, and that’s why they are increasingly banned. As a result, to keep food production going, alternatives are needed!”

European Green Deal

It is a pursuit that perfectly fits into the framework of the ‘European Green Deal’, a plan introduced by the European Commission to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050. This means that net-zero greenhouse gas emission has to be obtained. What is nevertheless emitted by 2050 must be captured or immediately compensated. “The big issue within the food sector now is how to make the transition to a sustainable food system, while maintaining sufficient food production,” Tobias adds. The pursuit for sustainable and organic alternatives is in full swing.

Soy products

Calidris Bio, a startup in BlueChem, investigates fermentation technology to be used for the production of a high-quality protein source with a low ecological footprint based on captured CO2 and renewable energy. With this innovation, the start-up aims to develop an alternative for the current environmentally harmful protein-rich products such as soy. “If such protein-rich foods can be replaced by sustainably produced alternatives, the emission of greenhouse gases will be reduced considerably. Moreover, Calidris Bio focuses on fermentation using micro-organisms to produce proteins and as a result capturing CO2 from the air. So it’s a win-win situation,” Tobias explains. “As a bank, we are looking at how we can support Calidris Bio and other startups in order to contribute in building a sustainable world.”

Meat from the lab

Peace of Meat, another company in the BlueChem incubator, is developing a platform for sustainable meat production. “Cattle emit a huge amount of methane, occupy acres of land and need loads of fodder. That is why the meat industry is such a huge polluter. Producing cultured meat in a laboratory can significantly reduce the meat industry’s ecological footprint. But it will still take a while before we eat steaks coming from a laboratory. We presume that it will not be the case for another ten years or so, but we are determined to offer the labs all the help and resources they need to make it work”.


Expert Talks #3: Deloitte, a strategic partner for companies in the transition towards a circular economy


Assisting start-ups and growth companies at home and abroad, enabling sustainable innovations for the chemical industry of the future and stimulating them to grow on an industrial scale. That is the mission of BlueChem. It is the first incubator in Belgium that focuses specifically on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. BlueChem is the ideal location for startups and young scale-ups working on themes like valorisation of waste and side streams, process optimization and the development of renewable chemicals and sustainable products. To achieve this goal, the incubator can rely on strategic partners, such as Deloitte, to share their expertise.

Deloitte is the leading professional services provider in Belgium and is heavily invested to support small and large, public and corporate organisations with their sustainability challenges. The combination of expertise in audit, accounting, legal and tax and advisory makes Deloitte the ideal partner to face the most complex sustainability challenges such as those in the chemical industry.

Catalyst for sustainability

“We see BlueChem as a catalytic environment  towards a more sustainable and circular chemical industry.  The start-ups play a key role in developing radically innovative ideas and accelerating adoption by the larger industrial players ,” Senior Manager Monitor Deloitte Thomas Van Kerkhoven, points out. “With Deloitte Legal, we assist BlueChem and the participating companies with strategic legal advice,” Senior Associate Climate & Energy at Deloitte Legal Dominique Vanherck adds.

Deloitte envisions what the circular economy of tomorrow should look like. “The keyword here is ‘cooperation’,” Pieter Willot, Manager Sustainability & Circular Economy, explains. “Even more than with traditional business models,  additional value is created through collaboration between the various stakeholders. This collaboration enhances circular opportunities, and allows companies to maximize the value of their services and products without losing valuable raw materials. An example of such collaborative project in practice where Deloitte is involved as a facilitator and coordinator in enabling this circularity, is the PlastiCity-project, where a consortium of partners are committed to continuously improve the recycling of plastics through creation of new, short-loop connections in the value chain. This consortium is led by the city of Ghent. In addition, the University of Ghent acts as a knowledge center. And recycling companies such as DPL and Van Werven and waste collector GRCT are supporting this project from within the industry.”

Green Deal

“Legislation also plays a major part in the transition towards a circular economy and as regulatory lawyers,we assist companies with navigating through the complex legal landscape. We closely monitor all regulatory developments related to circular economy. In 2019 for example, a European directive was adopted to reduce the impact on the environment of certain plastic products, the Single-Use Plastics Directive. Among other things, the directive introduced a ban on the marketing of a range of single-use plastic products in the EU,” Dominique explains. “Since 2021 we also have the European plastic tax, a tax on non-recycled plastic packaging waste, as part of the EU’s Recovery Fund. With the Circular Economy Action Plan, embedded into the EU Green Deal, the EU has sharpened its ambitions regarding the circular economy. In future, we expect further legislative changes that will have an impact on the business operations of companies, but which we believe shall also trigger many opportunities for start-ups.”

Without a doubt, plastic is one of the most interesting materials. Thomas explains: “In circular economy you have to start with the idea to maximize value retention. Plastics offer enormous opportunities in that area, but then we have to focus more on closing the small ‘loops’ such as reuse and repairability. We must be able to recycle what is left after those processes,” Thomas adds. “Worldwide, a large part of the waste still disappears in nature or in a landfill. Despite the fact that Belgium is one of the frontrunner countries in terms of pre-sorting, the use of the available recycling technology remains underexploited.”

“We also see that the main producers of plastics are positioning themselves in order to ensure the influx of plastic waste, so that in future they are equipped to put more recycled plastics on the market. This way, plastic waste is effectively treated as a full-fledged raw material and the Circular Economy for plastics becomes a reality, step by step. At Deloitte, we have published a point of view paper about ‘Circular Plastics’, which bundles in a clear way the various actions that are currently being taken by the various stakeholders. We invite everyone to have a look and to reach out to us to discover what potential the Circular Economy can bring for their business.” Pieter concludes.

SAS Artifical intelligence

Expert talks #2: Artificial Intelligence in a box

SAS Artifical intelligence
Sébastien Verhelst and colleague at Smart Factory in a Box, source: SAS

Technology company SAS has launched ‘Factory in a Box’ to introduce companies to the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence and, above all, its optimal use. Within BlueChem, startups and scale-ups are immersed in this new technology, still unknown to a wide range of people and businesses.

SAS has been involved in analytics for 46 years and focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for years. SAS is the world’s largest private technology company and wants to leave its mark on startups and scale-ups within the BlueChem incubator. “Today, a company cannot do without AI. On the other hand there is often not enough know-how within companies about how to get started with that tool. That is why we think it is important to incorporate AI from the outset into the foundations of a startup. They are the future. In established companies it is often more difficult to apply AI within the operational processes”, says Wim Mues, Regional Director SAS.

Factory in a Box

“Today everyone has a basic understanding of AI, but few know how to really get started with it. AI is only effective when you apply the options correctly, otherwise it is merely a tool that requires a huge amount of energy,” Analystics Expert Sébastien Verhelst adds. To demonstrate the added value of AI to companies, SAS developed a hands-on workshop ‘Factory in a Box’, in cooperation with the University of Leuven. BlueChem’s startups and scale-ups also participate in this immersion in AI, which takes just half a day. “AI, or the model you are going to apply, is an asset to a company and has an impact on the processes of its entire operation. It opens doors, boosts productivity, but it also induces new business models. That is what we want to demonstrate with this immersive workshop.”

“If you look at the startups within BlueChem, these companies are still very much in an experimental laboratory phase. The data-outcome is often still processed in Excel. We want to demonstrate that thanks to AI, it is possible to work much more efficiently to collect, to process and, more importantly, to gain insight. The big advantage for startups is that they can get out of their experimental phase faster,” Wim says.


Within the financial world and within banking, the use of AI has already been implemented more, compared to the field of manufacturing businesses.

“Industrial processes are derived from fundamental physical, mechanical or chemical engineering laws. That is why SAS has the advantage of having a hybrid team of data scientists and industry experts at its disposal.”, Sébastien explains, who had an engineering training himself.

But what exactly can one expect from a workshop such as ‘Factory in a Box’? Each participant is put in the role of a process-manager who analyzes and checks whether the pilot installation, developed by SAS, is functioning properly. During the process they will have to define -individually- certain criteria or KPIs in order to judge and evaluate the performance of the installation. “Subsequently, they have to develop a business case with the aim of optimizing the installation on the basis of the data analytics. That way we combine the best of two worlds: the world of the engineer and that of the data. Using this concept, we mainly want to democratize Artificial Intelligence and ensure that companies of the future can apply AI in the best of circumstances.”

With these workshops, SAS targets a wide range of users, from engineers to CEOs. “If the top of a company doesn’t keep up with the story, you can’t change much at the base,” that is the fundamental idea behind it. If you want to know more about AI, you can subscribe to the next available workshop. For more information go to and

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Port of Antwerp

Expert talks #1: The road to circularity: from BlueChem to NextGen District in Port of Antwerp

Port of Antwerp
Source: Port of Antwerp

The former General Motors site will become a hotspot for circular economy and will be known as NextGen District. Port of Antwerp – one of the strategic partners of BlueChem, the incubator for sustainable chemistry – is fully engaged to develop the 88-hectare site into an environment where innovative companies have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their circular concepts. One of the start-ups in BlueChem is in the running to claim one of the very first spots.

BlueChem is the first Belgian incubator that specifically focusses on sustainable chemistry within a circular economy. The incubator, located at Blue Gate Antwerp, aims to help promising start-ups and growth companies to scale up their sustainable innovations in the chemical industry.

Focus areas are the processing of waste and side streams, process optimization and the development of renewable chemicals and sustainable products. Port of Antwerp is one of the many strategic partners that helps entrepreneurs within BlueChem to grow by linking them up with suitable contacts for pilot projects and industrial upscaling, for example in the NextGen District.

Hotspot for circularity

Neighbouring worldwide renowned companies such as Air Liquide, BASF, Borealis, ExxonMobil, INEOS, and Vopak, the NextGen District is located next to Europe’s largest chemical cluster. “This location is a dream come true.”

Dries Van Gheluwe, Advisor Business Development at Port of Antwerp, explains: “This exact location initiates a lot of opportunities for companies within the NextGen District to be part of an existing network, both in terms of the sales and utilities market, and in terms of residual flows.” It mainly focuses on companies whose main target is circular processes and models, recycling, sustainability and reducing CO₂ emissions.

A win-win for all parties

That is what the circular economy is all about: using waste flows from plastics or residual flows such as water, steam, heat and chemicals within circular processes. “It is a win-win situation for all parties involved. Circular companies process flows that can be used within the chemical cluster”, Van Gheluwe states.

“By reducing the circular activity to the level of the molecule, this cycle can be repeated infinitely. That is why products not only get a second life, but even a third and a fourth. It is our ambition that everything which is produced here, will be separated at the end of their useful life and reused as raw materials for our local companies.”

Obviously, this constant flow of components has to be transported. Van Gheluwe sees various possibilities. “This can be done by rail, through pipelines, over water and the road. To ensure that we develop the site as sustainably as possible, we are investigating which services we can organize collectively.”

DEMO zone, PARK and LOTS

NextGen District must also be a site where companies are given the opportunity to fully develop themselves in often new technologies. To achieve this, Port of Antwerp has divided the district into three entities.

“The DEMO zone offers a place for projects that are still in a phase of development and want to demonstrate their lab technology on a larger scale. While PARK provides extra space for projects that want to show themselves on a larger scale. LOTS on the other hand offers well-established, bigger players considerably larger surfaces. In this way we give different types of projects and companies, from young to mature, a chance to create their base in the NextGen District.”

Port of Antwerp has already presented the first candidates with a chance of winning a concession within the NextGen District: Novali, Biondoil, Laupat Industries and Triple Helix‘ Molecules as a Service (THX MaaS), a BlueChem start-up. Triple Helix’s Sure PUre project aims to build a recycling plant at NextGen District for polyurethane foam and PET shells, which will be converted into polyols.

“Being a proud partner of BlueChem, we shall help entrepreneurs to evolve, connecting them to relevant contacts for pilot projects and industrial upscaling, suitable for the NextGen District. This will contribute to an innovative ecosystem that enables us to secure a sustainable future for the chemical cluster in the port of Antwerp.”

Interested companies can still submit their candidacy until October 20, 2021.
All information can be found on the website

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