BlueChem-incubator for sustainable chemistry in Antwerp undergoes substantial expansion and doubles laboratory capacity

BlueChem, the unique incubator for sustainable chemistry in Antwerp, has prepared an investment dossier for substantial expansion. As a result, the laboratory capacity for innovative start-ups will more than double. This is vital because, just three years after the start, the specialised laboratories in the incubator are almost filled to capacity and interest from businesses both at home and abroad is steadily increasing. BlueChem XL will open its doors in 2025. This news was broken during a working visit by Flemish minister Jo Brouns and Antwerp's alderman Erica Caluwaerts to mark the open doors day in the chemistry and life sciences industry, which takes place every four years. 

In the BlueChem incubator for sustainable chemistry, near the largest chemistry cluster in Europe in the port of Antwerp, a dozen promising start-ups apply innovations to make production processes and materials climate neutral, circular, more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient. This concerns, for example, turning CO2 into a valuable raw material, purifying waste water to produce expensive materials such as palladium, or creating new technologies to more efficiently recycle plastics. But experiments have also involved molecular beer, proteins for sustainable food, more accurate analysis techniques for environmental measurements and drones for inspecting production installations.

International appearance

The innovative prowess of BlueChem is also gaining a foothold on an international level. This year, two foreign start-ups have decided to make their base in the chemistry incubator. Aquature is a British company, which specialises in innovative water purification technology whereby CO2 is removed from waste water and captured for reuse as a raw material. Fairbrics is a French scale-up which has developed a technology for converting CO2 into polyester, a much-used textile fibre for clothing.

BlueChem’s success formula - a specialised lab infrastructure combined with an extensive and customised service provision within a strong innovation network - is clear to all. That is why the various partners of BlueChem NV – main shareholder essenscia, city of Antwerp, POM Antwerp and VITO – have decided to back BlueChem XL, a substantial expansion of the existing incubator.

BlueChem XL

In the yet to be built “Blue Gate Antwerp Terminal North” - a new business hub at the eco-business area Blue Gate Antwerp, just 500 metres from the current incubator - BlueChem XL will cover 2,500 square metres, divided across two levels. The space will be dominated by laboratories (1,350 m2), along with a limited number of offices (150 m2). The lab capacity will double as a result: the current incubator has over 900 m2 in lab infrastructure. This is a deliberate choice because the offering of specialised chemistry labs in Flanders and even across Europe is very limited.

The development concerns an investment of 6.3 million euros and the initiators are hoping to raise half of this amount via government support from Europe and Flanders. The Government of Flanders, for instance, via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has already offered an in-principle pledge and is currently focusing on processing the application for support from the Innovation and Enterprise Fund. With these two projects, Flanders will provide support to the tune of just under 3 million euros. If everything goes according to plan, BlueChem hopes to open its doors in spring 2025.

Jo Brouns, Flemish minister of the Economy, Innovation and Work: “Flanders is a great region with respect to innovation and the chemical sector is one of the most important sectors in our Flemish economy. The success of the BlueChem incubator confirms the added value of experimentation space on a laboratory scale. Start-ups play a hugely important role in stimulating innovation in the sector. Here, you can see where sustainable chemistry could end up in the future.  The investments in the expansion of the BlueChem incubator have my full support. With this, we are developing one of the strongest chemistry clusters in the world, right here in Flanders.”

Erica Caluwaerts, Antwerp’s Alderman for Economy, Work, Innovation and Industry: “Antwerp has the largest integrated chemicals cluster in Europe and one of the biggest and most specialised in the world. The chemical industry will play a crucial role in the sustainable transition towards climate-neutrality and a circular economy. That is why, as the city’s administration, we are investing heavily in initiatives such as BlueChem, which stimulate breakthrough innovations to help make the chemical industry more sustainable. With BlueChem XL, we are working towards the chemical industry of the future.”

Liesbet Boogaerts and Barbara Veranneman, manager and chair of BlueChem: “The success of BlueChem has exceeded all expectations. This clearly demonstrates that there are many sustainable developments in the chemical sector and that there is a huge need for suitable accommodation with hyper-modern labs to support these innovations. And this is not just any old expansion. This is an exceptionally strategic investment decision that gives BlueChem extra clout to attract further promising and innovative start-ups both at home and abroad. In a very short time, the incubator has expanded into a European hotspot for technological innovations in sustainable chemicals. We now aim to reinforce this leading position.”

The working visit by the minister and alderman took place on the occasion of the four-yearly open-doors day for chemistry and life sciences, an event organised by sector association essenscia. This weekend, around fifty chemicals, plastics and pharmaceutical companies across Belgium will open their doors to the public at large. It is a great opportunity to visit laboratories and production installations that would otherwise not be accessible and discover more about the many job opportunities and sustainable innovations in the sector.

British start-up Aquature chooses BlueChem as European base for unique water treatment technology

British start-up Aquature has moved into BlueChem, the incubator for sustainable chemistry in Antwerp. The company has developed an innovative water purification technology that produces hydrogen on the one hand and captures CO2 for reuse on the other. At BlueChem, Aquature will focus on further research and the development of pilot plants.

Aquature's innovative water treatment technology uses renewable energy and a breakthrough bio-electrical process to treat industrial wastewater. This process creates green hydrogen and removes CO2 from the wastewater whilst producing a variety of green chemicals as a side product. The CO2 can be captured and reused as feedstock for synthetic fuels, among other things. This turns the whole process carbon-negative and energy positive. Afterwards, the treated water can be reused in industrial production processes.

Aquature wants to apply its technology initially in the food and drinks industry as well as the agriculture and paper industry. Key benefits for customers are reduced energy costs, a reduction in scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions as well as reduced supply chain dependency due to inhouse production of chemicals.

Bjoern Pietruschka, managing director of Aquature: "If you are a foreign start-up in the circular economy looking for labs with support services in a unique ecosystem that has a direct link to industry, you will quickly find BlueChem. We are convinced that the exciting mix of start-ups and international players makes BlueChem the perfect base to launch our young company internationally."

Liesbet Boogaerts and Barbara Veranneman, manager and president BlueChem: "BlueChem is on the map as the hotspot for innovation in sustainable chemistry and circular economy. Nationally and internationally. The fact a British start-up chooses to host its first foreign operations at our incubator is further proof of this. We will therefore continue our efforts to maximise BlueChem's innovation potential and play it as an international trump card."

More information:

VIB Bar.on

Start-up Bar.on raises 1.8 million euros for the development of molecular beer

Start-up Bar.on, one of the newest tenants in BlueChem, recently raised 1.8 million euros to develop a new technology for producing planet-friendly beer in just a few seconds.

Every beer has a unique taste and its own story. Moreover, brewing beer is an ancient and traditional process that has become indispensable in today's society. However, according to start-up Bar.on, the beer industry is at a turning point. In view of climate change and the emerging zero waste policy, the industry will also have to adapt. Bar.on has therefore joined forces with VIB (Flemish Institute for Biotechnology) to bring molecular brewing technology to the market. With the necessary technology, flavour cartridges and tap water, consumers can brew beer anytime, anywhere, including non-alcoholic beer.

Bar.on's groundbreaking molecular mixing technology attracted the interest of investors, enabling the start-up to raise a starting capital of no less than 1.8 million euros.

Read the original press release here:

Port of Antwerp

Triple Helix builds recycling plant on NextGen District

NextGen District
Source: Port of Antwerp

Triple Helix is one of the first two companies who will officially build a pilot plant on Port of Antwerp's NextGen District. Port of Antwerp released the news after the agreement was signed by both parties.

Startup Triple Helix, located in BlueChem, will open recycling factory SurePUre to give new life to polyurethane foam, from discarted mattresses, car seats and insulation panels, among other things. Those pure chemicals can be reused, for example in the production of new polyurethane products. SurePUre will work in a fully circular manner and will provide its own energy needs.

About NextGen District

NextGen District will be thé hotspot for circular economy in Antwerp. The 88 ha site will give a circular future to the former General Motors area. Innovative players within the circular process and manufacturing industry will make end-of-life products reusable, research circular carbon solutions and carry out test projects with renewable energy.


Read Port of Antwerp's article here.

BlueChem and BNP Paribas Fortis renew partnership

BlueChem incubator for sustainable chemistry and BNP Paribas Fortis renew partnership for another three years

 As a long-term partner, BNP Paribas Fortis has extended its strategic collaboration with BlueChem, the incubator for sustainable chemistry in Antwerp. Over the next three years, BNP Paribas Fortis plans to further assist promising start-ups and growth companies in the industrial development of their sustainable innovations to help guide the chemical sector through the transition story of the European Green Deal. In the meantime, this collaboration has resulted in concrete achievements and results, including the planned construction of a revolutionary recycling factory for polyurethane.

BlueChem is the first incubator in Belgium that specifically focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. It is a unique collaboration between government, industry and knowledge institutions with the joint ambition of offering young companies the best chance of success in developing sustainable and pioneering innovations for the chemical industry of the future.

BlueChem, located in the climate-neutral business park Blue Gate Antwerp, offers customised lab infrastructure, tailored services and direct access to knowledge and expertise within an extensive network of international chemical companies, renowned research centres and all five Flemish universities.

The chemical industry, an important and strategic sector for the Belgian economy, has made considerable efforts in the area of sustainability in recent years. Nevertheless, just like society as a whole, the chemical sector faces major challenges in the transition to a circular economy and in developing solutions to the challenge of climate change.

In BlueChem, twelve promising start-ups and university spin-offs are now working on new recycling techniques, crucial climate technologies for the capture and reuse of CO2, circular production processes and more sustainable food production. In the chemical sector, it takes a lot of time, courage and money to successfully scale up such innovations from a lab setting to industrial application.

BNP Paribas Fortis: a leader in sustainable entrepreneurship

From the start in May 2020, BNP Paribas Fortis joined BlueChem as a strategic partner, helping start-ups and scale-ups find investors and set up their business structures. But the bank itself can also act as an investor in sustainable developments. This is fully in line with the bank’s efforts to promote sustainable entrepreneurship.

BNP Paribas Fortis has a centre of expertise, the Sustainable Business Competence Centre, that closely follows innovative, sustainable developments and uses this knowledge to support companies in their sustainability transition. As an exclusive participating bank, BNP Paribas Fortis offers start-ups access to a wide network, helps structure the financing of their projects and fine-tunes a future-proof business plan.

The innovative growth company Triple Helix is one of the first companies to move into BlueChem and has been supported by the bank from the start. They are preparing the construction of 'SurePure', a unique, next-generation recycling plant to process polyurethane waste streams for reuse in new applications.

Steven Peleman, Managing Partner Triple Helix Group: "By regularly talking to us from the start and listening to our needs, the bank itself identifies the areas in which it can best support our company. And I’m not just talking about the financial situation. For example, BNP Paribas Fortis is also on the lookout for new strategic partners, helping us to strengthen our credibility and bringing in potential investors. After all, for our circular business model, a highly developed ecosystem is crucial and a bank that looks beyond the purely financial is a real added value."

Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking & Member of the Executive Board : "We are very proud to be a partner of BlueChem, which, like our bank, feels strongly about sustainable development and open innovation. We are pleased to make our network and expertise available to this very important industry for our country. If the chemical sector reduces its ecological footprint, it will have an immediate and important impact on the climate. It is therefore a deliberate choice to immediately extend our partnership with BlueChem by three years. Through these initiatives, we aim to help companies and sectors meet the conditions set out in the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s plan to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050.”

Barbara Veranneman, Chairperson BlueChem NV and Director International Affairs essenscia: “BlueChem is running at full speed and this success is partly due to its strong strategic partnerships like that with BNP Paribas Fortis. As a result, with our incubator for sustainable chemistry, we offer not only the right accommodation in the right place – extensive lab infrastructure close to one of the largest chemical clusters in the world – but also a specialised, tailor-made service. This access to top expertise is a special asset allowing start-ups and scale-ups to be optimally guided and to focus on their core task: bringing sustainable innovations to the market. We would like to thank BNP Paribas Fortis for this long-term relationship of trust and look forward to working together to build the sustainable chemistry for the future.”

Kékulé Cycle XIX

D-CRBN, InOpSys and BlueChem @ Kekulé Cycle XIX

This autumn, the University of Antwerp and the Royal Flemish Chemical Society (KVCV) are organising the nineteenth edition of the Kekulé cycle, with this year's topic being 'Sustainable Game Changers'. During this series of lectures, a number of authorities from the government, industry and academia will present their work and visions. In addition, some companies, incubators and startups will be guests.

The programme of each lecture will be as follows:

7 pm: Reception
7.30 pm: Introduction by session chairman + Kekulé lectures
9.30 pm: Closing speech + networking reception and connection with guest companies (incubators and startups)

On 26 October, BlueChem and D-CRBN will host the lecture "The green deal: answer to the climate challenge".

On 30 November, InOpSys will be a guest at the lecture "Water,... no longer a commodity".

Antwerp incubators The Beacon and Darwin will also join two lectures as guest companies.

Programmes, registrations and more info on the Kekulé cycle can be found on

NextGen District

Triple Helix to be pilot plant at NextGen District in Antwerp port

With its project Sure PUre, our tenant Triple Helix will be one of the first factories to get a place on NextGen District, the former General Motors site in the Antwerp port area. The Antwerp Port Authority announced this last week when launching the names of the first candidates to set up shop in NextGen District.

NextGen District is no less than 88 hectares in size and is intended to become a hotspot for pioneers in circular economy. The site will give "end-of-life products" a second or third life, explore circular carbon solutions and conduct experiments with renewable energy.

Triple Helix's Sure PUre project will plant a recycling plant at NextGen District for polyurethane foam and PET shells, which will be converted into polyols.

You can find more information about the first candidates here.
More information about Triple Helix can be found here.


Biotech company PUXANO moves into BlueChem

May is an interesting month for BlueChem this year. Not only do we celebrate our first birthday, we can also welcome our newest tenant. Meet nano-driven biotech company PUXANO, founded in the spring of 2021 and ready to start in BlueChem.


PUXANO is an expert consultancy that aims to accelerate protein research in all fields and industries by using a combination of nano- and bio technology. The team exists of Wouter, Sam, Marie-Aline and Thomas, four young structural biologists and nano technologists. They are driven to develop sustainable solutions for customers that are active within the field of drug development, enzymatic processing and diagnostics.

In their lab in BlueChem, the start-up focuses on all chemical and biochemical steps: quality control, purification, binding analysis and structure determination. In that way, proprietary technology can accelerate the development of new drugs and make production processes more efficient and sustainable.

In addition to their lab at Bluechem, PUXANO also works within core facilities for nanotechnology and electron microscopy at Ghent University and UAntwerpen.

Want to know more?

Barbara Veranneman

Barbara Veranneman takes Frank Beckx's place as chairperson of chemistry incubator BlueChem

Barbara Veranneman of essenscia, the sector federation for chemistry and life sciences, has been elected chairwoman of the Board of Directors of BlueChem NV, the incubator for sustainable chemistry in Antwerp. She succeeds Frank Beckx, who recently joined the employers' federation Voka. Ann Verlinden, who became general manager of Catalisti, the spearhead cluster for innovation in chemistry and plastics, has also been appointed to the Board of Directors. Together with manager Leentje Croes, three women are helping to define the strategic lines of BlueChem, a chemical incubator.

Frank Beckx has chaired BlueChem since its inception in his role as managing director of essenscia vlaanderen. Now that he has recently transferred to Voka, as director of the knowledge and lobby center of the Flemish Business Network, he is passing on the torch to 36-year-old Barbara Veranneman. She is Director of International Affairs and Legal Advisor at essenscia, the sector federation of chemistry and life sciences that is also the main shareholder in BlueChem.

Barbara Veranneman holds a master's degree in law from KU Leuven and the University of Sidney, with a specialization in international and European environmental and energy law. She also completed a management course at the international business school INSEAD in France. She started her career as a lawyer at the firm Loyens & Loeff and has been with essenscia since 2011.

In addition to her extensive legal expertise, Barbara Veranneman also specialises in everything to do with foreign trade and international trade agreements. In terms of innovation, through her involvement in the essenscia Patent Unit, she is familiar with the protection of intellectual property and the specific innovation needs of start-ups and scale-ups. Together with manager Leentje Croes (33), she forms a strong female tandem for the daily management of the incubator.

"I want to fully commit to developing BlueChem's innovation potential to the maximum and to play it off as an international asset."

Barbara Veranneman, president BlueChem NV

Barbara Veranneman, Chairman of BlueChem NV: "One year after its opening, BlueChem is already firmly established at home and abroad as the place to be for innovations in sustainable chemistry. It is thanks to my predecessor Frank Beckx that this incubator got off to a flying start, convinced that more innovative power in chemistry will result in more sustainability in our economy and society. I want to dedicate myself fully to continuing to work on this basis, together with partners from the very beginning POM Antwerp, city of Antwerp, VITO and Catalisti and in collaboration with chemical companies Air Liquide, BASF, Borealis, ExxonMobil, INEOS and Vopak who have been committed from the start to developing BlueChem's innovation potential to the maximum and playing it as an international trump card."

"Together with Barbara and the full Board of Directors, we are going for even more start-ups, more successful innovations and more international exposure."

Leentje Croes, manager BlueChem NV

Leentje Croes, manager BlueChem NV: "I would like to thank Frank Beckx for the trust and inspiring cooperation during the past years. Together with Barbara and the entire Board of Directors we are now going for more start-ups, more successful innovations and more international exposure. With the explicit ambition to help make a difference from BlueChem for the climate and the transition to a circular economy by launching breakthrough technologies, introducing more efficient production processes and commercializing sustainable products."

The labs and offices in the BlueChem incubator are already more than half occupied. Ten promising start-ups are working there on the chemistry and circular economy of the future. This ranges from the recovery of valuable metals from industrial wastewater to the conversion of captured CO2 into a valuable raw material and the development of new reactors and technologies for chemical processes with a lower ecological footprint. Better recycling techniques for plastics and new protein applications or meat alternatives for more sustainable food production are also high on the innovation agenda.

Today, BlueChem's Board of Directors also welcomed Ann Verlinden as a new director. She succeeds Jan Van Havenbergh, her predecessor as general manager of Catalisti. Ann Verlinden is a civil engineer in chemistry with a specialization in environmental technology from the KU Leuven. She obtained her PhD at the University of Leeds-Bradford, where she focused on powder technology, and previously worked for companies including ExxonMobil Chemical and BASF Antwerp, two partner companies in BlueChem.

Jan Van Havenbergh remains active in BlueChem as manager of the Moonshot innovation program for a climate-friendly industry, which is supported by the Flemish government.

"The cross-pollination between start-ups and international companies, between academic knowledge and industrial expertise is what makes BlueChem unique and effective."

Ann Verlinden, Managing Director Catalisti

Ann Verlinden, Managing Director Catalisti: "There is no better home base than BlueChem imaginable for organizations engaged in sustainable chemistry innovations. From here, together with universities, research centers and numerous companies, we are writing a great story for the chemical sector to take the lead in the climate transition. The cross-pollination between start-ups and international companies, between academic knowledge and industrial expertise is what makes BlueChem unique and effective."

1 year of BlueChem

1 year of BlueChem: more than 100 jobs, 18 companies and numerous innovations for the chemistry of the future

Antwerp, 4 May 2021 – 108 jobs, 18 innovative start-ups and businesses, the home for coordinating the Moonshot innovation programme for a climate-friendly industry and multiple specific projects for applying breakthrough technologies in industrial pilot installations. One year after opening, BlueChem, the first incubator for sustainable chemistry in Belgium, has generated impressive figures and made significant achievements. The available lab and office space is already half-filled, conversations with new start-ups are currently underway and the initiative is also gaining greater international resonance.

Providing optimum support for start-ups, and scale-up so that they can successfully develop their promising chemistry innovations and expand them to an industrial scale - that is the mission of BlueChem, the incubator for sustainable chemistry situated in the Blue Gate Antwerp ecological business zone. Even though it was opened in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, the first year seems to have run relatively smoothly. With 18 tenants - 10 start-ups, 6 partner businesses, and innovation partners Catalisti and VITO - the occupancy level has exceeded expectations.

CO2 as a raw material and efficient proteins

Two new start-ups joined in March. A-Maze, a recruitment agency that is dedicated to the port industry and that focuses on attracting employees with the right skills for the energy and climate transition and the circular economy, and D-CRBN, a spin-off from the University of Antwerp, which is working on an industrial process that uses plasma technology to convert captured CO2 into a raw material for the chemical sector.

The most recent acquisition, since 1 May, is PUXANO. This young company uses innovative nano- and biotechnology to improve and accelerate protein research. The patented technology can also be applied to the development of medicines, the use of antibodies or as a catalyst for making various production processes more efficient and sustainable.

Taking water purification and plastic recycling to a higher level

The innovative prowess of BlueChem has now been put on the map both at home and abroad. Inopsys, which purifies waste water from chemical and pharmaceutical companies and recuperates valuable metals such as zinc and palladium, realised capital growth of around EUR 5 million for international expansion. Peace of Meat, a pioneer in cultivated meat, was taken over by Israeli company MeaTech 3D and is working from BlueChem on further commercialisation. Triple Helix has specific plans to build a recycling facility of the latest generation in the port of Antwerp in order to recycle polyurethane (PU) from used mattresses or car seats into insulation material and, in the long term, to make the use of polyurethane entirely circular.

The trail-blazing technologies from Calidris Bio (nutritious proteins for producing animal food on the basis of renewable energy and captured CO2) and Creaflow (photochemistry with revolutionary flow reactors that ensure lower energy and raw material consumption in chemical and pharmaceutical production) are also generating increasing interest. IBEVE installed a unique scanning electron microscope in BlueChem for accurate analysis of asbestos fibres and other dust particles, and Arpadis is working in the incubator on climate-friendly alternatives for raw materials from paints, adhesives and insulation.

Unique ecosystem for sustainable chemistry

All these innovations, the close collaboration with universities and research centres, and the strong connection with partner companies Air Liquide, BASF, Borealis, ExxonMobil, INEOS and Vopak make BlueChem a European hotspot for sustainable chemistry. This has not gone unnoticed by The Financial Times. It awarded the city of Antwerp the FDI Strategy Award ‘Specialism Chemicals’ and specifically referred to BlueChem as a particular asset. The jury report said: ‘Thanks to the strong partnership between the academic world, the government and the business world, a unique ecosystem in sustainable chemistry has been created in Antwerp.'

Over the past year, BlueChem has welcomed SGS Belgium as its sixth strategic partner, following BNP Paribas Fortis, Deloitte, Deloitte Legal, Port of Antwerp and SAS Institute, in order to support start-ups with advice with respect to the environment, health and safety. The incubator also concluded a cooperative accord with essenscia’s Innovation Circle, whereby young entrepreneurs can be supervised by an experienced mentor. Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation Hilde Crevits announced EUR 500,000 of operational support to offer the start-ups in BlueChem the perfect framework for increasing their chances of success, while the city of Antwerp, through the BlueChem Kickstart Fund, gives start-ups with BlueChem up to 700 euro/m² of financial support for setting up their labs.

BlueChem is an initiative of essenscia, the sector federation for chemistry and life sciences, the ‘Provinciale Ontwikkelingsmaatschappij’ (POM) Antwerpen, the city of Antwerp, research organisation VITO, and Catalisti, the spearhead cluster for innovation in the chemical and plastics industry. From its base at BlueChem, Catalisti also coordinates the Moonshot programme for climate innovation, whereby the Flemish Government will invest EUR 400 million over the coming 20 years in scientific research into renewable technologies for low-CO2 and carbon circular industries. This concerns, among other things, the capture and reuse of CO2, the electrification of production processes, improved recycling techniques, hydrogen projects and the use of biomass such as wood or agricultural waste as raw materials.

Leentje Croes, manager of BlueChem NV, says: “The first anniversary of BlueChem is a real celebration. The incubator is running at full speed and a few of the innovations in sustainable chemistry and the circular economy are on the cusp of an industrial breakthrough. In a very short period of time, BlueChem has expanded to become the central cog in pioneering chemistry technology in Flanders. This central position in the innovative chain is to be further developed in the coming years, by means of complementary collaborations with neighbouring pre-incubator BlueApp and the NextGen District in the port of Antwerp. Thanks to these partnerships, start-ups can gradually expand; testing ideas in BlueApp, making professional breakthroughs thanks to specialised accommodation and support from BlueChem, and carrying out industrial scale-ups in a demo factory or pilot installation in the port.”