Groundbreaking ceremony for BlueChem, the very first incubator for sustainable chemistry in Flanders

In Antwerp today, the first sod was turned for the construction of BlueChem, the very first incubator for sustainable chemistry in Flanders and Belgium. The chemistry incubator offers the right infrastructure and customised services to enable promising start-ups, growth companies and open innovation projects to develop successfully to an industrial scale. BlueChem is a unique partnership between industry, government and knowledge institutions to anchor the economically important chemical sector in Flanders in the long term. The opening is planned for the spring of 2020, but discussions are already underway with the first prospective tenants.

Incubator BlueChem should accelerate sustainable innovations and anchor chemical sector in Flanders

With BlueChem, Flanders is fully committing to sustainable chemistry. And where better to do this than in Antwerp, at the heart of a world-class chemical cluster. This makes BlueChem one of the first realisations at the climate-neutral Blue Gate Antwerp business park, a leader in sustainability in Flanders. Chemistry federation essenscia vlaanderen participates as the main shareholder in the operation of the incubator.

In the chemical sector, it is not easy to make promising innovations develop into new companies. It takes a lot of time, money and courage. BlueChem offers the right facilities in the right place to offer innovations in sustainable chemistry the greatest possible chance of success. With BlueChem, we are going for more starters in chemistry, more excellence in research at our knowledge institutions and more innovative strength in the chemical sector, the economic engine of Antwerp and Flanders. We are world leaders in chemical production. We also want to achieve that in chemistry innovation with BlueChem,” says Frank Beckx, Managing Director of essenscia vlaanderen and Chairman of BlueChem NV.

BlueChem has many assets: a prime location with over 3,300 m² of flexible workplaces, offices and fifteen laboratories, extensive services, financial support for the purchase of specialised equipment and direct access to knowledge and expertise within an extensive network of chemical companies, research centres and all five Flemish universities.

Catalisti – the Flemish spearhead cluster for chemistry and plastics – plays an active role at BlueChem to help start up and support promising innovation projects. In addition to BlueChem, the University of Antwerp is building Blue_App, a complementary pre-incubator for research projects in the field of sustainable chemistry. Blue_App focuses on research, BlueChem on commercialisation and industrialisation.

BlueChem places particular emphasis on the effective use of waste and side flows as a pioneer in the circular economy. Other innovation themes are process optimisation and the development of renewable chemicals and sustainable materials. How do we recover useful chemicals from waste? How can we use a greenhouse gas such as CO2 as a valuable raw material? What chemistry is needed to make products even more reusable and recyclable? These are questions that BlueChem wants to answer.

The total investment in BlueChem amounts to €11 million, of which €7 million is for the construction of the building. The City of Antwerp is the largest investor, with €4 million. BlueChem is receiving a maximum subsidy of €3,473,589 through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Flanders in turn is investing €868,397 in the project via the Hermes Fund.

With our ambitious cluster policy, we are focusing on specific sectors and clusters that are closely aligned with the strengths of Flemish industry and knowledge institutions, through which we can also make a difference internationally. This also makes sustainable chemistry a clear spearhead,” explains Philippe Muyters, Flemish Minister for Work, Economy, Innovation and Sport. “BlueChem fits in perfectly with this strategy and so receives our full Flemish support.”

With the groundbreaking ceremony for BlueChem and Blue_App, Antwerp is literally building a new ecosystem for sustainable chemistry”, says Mayor Bart De Wever. “Our ambition is to make good use of the existing knowledge and expertise in chemistry in our region by setting up new innovative companies. In this way, we guarantee and strengthen the future of the chemical sector in Antwerp and, by extension, in Flanders.”

We are pleased that BlueChem and Blue_App are the first realisations at Blue Gate Antwerp. Both projects fit seamlessly into the ambitious vision of this very first eco-effective and water-bound business park in the country”, says Caroline Bastiaens, Chair at Blue Gate Antwerp Public Holding and Antwerp Alderman for Economy.

BlueChem is a unique public-private partnership in which the private sector accounts for half of the investment. The project is supported by eight different partners that provide the capital needed through two companies. BlueChem nv handles the operation and day-to-day activities of the incubator. The project partners are the principal shareholder essenscia, POM (Provincial Development Agency) Antwerp, the City of Antwerp and VITO (Flemish Institute for Technological Research).

BlueChem Building nv is responsible for the construction of the incubator. The project partners are the majority shareholders Bopro Sustainable Investments (BSI) and DEME Environmental Contractors (DEC), together with the Autonomous Municipal Company for Real Estate and City Projects in Antwerp (AG Vespa) and Participation Company Flanders (PMV).

Design & Engineering NV is responsible for the construction of BlueChem. This is a consortium of construction company MBG, LOW architects, engineering firm Ingenium and design firm ELD. The construction works start at the end of this year.


Moskou

BlueChem in the spotlight during Antwerp's trade mission to Moscow

Sector federation essenscia vlaanderen highlighted the many assets of the chemical sector in Flanders during an investment seminar in Moscow. The port of Antwerp is home to the largest integrated chemical cluster in Europe and was therefore one of the economic spearheads during the City of Antwerp’s trade mission to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. For example, more than half of Belgium's exports to Russia come from the chemical, plastics and pharmaceuticals sectors.

The chemical sector, together with the port and the diamond industry, was one of the main economic themes during the Antwerp trade mission to Russia led by Mayor Bart De Wever. An investment seminar was planned in Moscow to highlight the assets of the chemical cluster in the port of Antwerp for Russian companies and investors.

Export to Moscow

Of the total Belgian exports to Russia last year, no less than 53% came from the chemical and life sciences sector, representing a turnover of €2.1 billion. As far as Flanders is concerned, exports to Russia of plastics as well as chemicals and pharmaceutical products increased by 16% last year. Russia is also the second most important overseas trading partner for the port of Antwerp, with traffic of 14 million tonnes of goods in 2017.

Welcome team for the chemical sector

Frank Beckx, Managing Director of essenscia vlaanderen and Chairman of BlueChem, said: “The aim of this trade mission is to put the chemical sector in Antwerp and Flanders even more firmly on the international map. We have a great many logistical advantages: we are the largest integrated and most diverse chemical cluster in Europe with excellent domestic and overseas connections, we lie at the heart of the Western European pipeline network and we have a unique capacity of almost 10 million m³ of tank storage, which means that a quarter of all chemicals in Europe are stored in our country. Moreover, we have talented employees with specialised knowledge and skills we can rely on, we are building the future with BlueChem, the incubator for sustainable chemistry that opens in Antwerp in 2020 and, together with Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT), we recently set up a Welcome Team for the Chemical Sector to provide the best possible support for foreign investment projects.

EuroChem

The trade mission’s delegation also visited leading research and innovation centres such as the Skolkovo Innovation Center and the TechnoSpark incubator. There was also a meeting with the Russian chemical company EuroChem, which has had a major fertiliser production facility in Antwerp with almost 400 employees since 2012.


BlueChem Israël

BlueChem highlight of the economic mission to Israel

BlueChem, the incubator for sustainable chemistry that opens in Antwerp in 2020, was one of the highlights of the economic mission to Israel led by Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Pieter De Crem and Antwerp Alderman Caroline Bastiaens.

Cleantech and digital innovation: these were the substantive spearheads of the economic mission to Israel. As number 1 in the Cleantech Innovation Index, and with the highest number of start-ups per population, Israel is known as one of the most innovative countries in the world.

Circular economy

The aim of the mission was to promote Belgian companies with knowledge and expertise in digitisation, waste management, chemistry and the circular economy in Israel and to encourage Israeli companies to invest in Antwerp and Flanders.

The assets of the BlueChem incubator were highlighted to Israeli investors during the Antwerp Business Seminar organised during the world-renowned DLD Innovation Festival in Tel Aviv. Blue Gate Antwerp, Umicore, Indaver and Isvag also presented their know-how and expertise there.


“Chemistry incubator BlueChem focuses on the effective use of waste and side streams”

Interview with Frank Beckx in Mblad
The first applicants for a place at Blue Gate Antwerp have confirmed. BlueChem, the future incubator for sustainable chemistry, has also chosen the new top location.

Antwerp is home to the largest chemical cluster in Europe. Blue Gate Antwerp was thus a logical choice for BlueChem. “BlueChem will become a breeding ground for innovative ideas in chemistry. The incubator brings together start-ups, SMEs and large companies and provides them with the knowledge and infrastructure to develop ideas,” says Frank Beckx, Managing Director of chemical federation essenscia vlaanderen and Chairman of BlueChem. “This is necessary, because the development of an idea for a chemical process requires time and money. It often takes a long time before an idea can be put to effective use. We want to accelerate that process.”

BlueChem will make offices and labs available and bring users into contact with knowledge partners and potential investors. Candidates can also count on the expertise and network of Catalisti, the spearhead cluster for chemistry and plastics.

Frank Beckx: “The main theme of the incubator will be the effective use of waste and side flows as a pioneer of the circular economy. Another focus area is the search for alternative sustainable raw materials, such as algae and biomass.”

“The main theme of the incubator will be the effective use of waste and side flows as a pioneer in the circular economy”

- Frank Beckx (BlueChem)

BlueChem is a public-private partnership between the chemical federation essenscia, developers DEC and Bopro, the city of Antwerp, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), the Provincial Development Agency (POM) Antwerp, the Participation Company Flanders (PMV) and the Autonomous Municipal Company for Real Estate and City Projects in Antwerp (AG Vespa). The project will receive €3.4 million from the European ERDF programme and around €860,000 from the Flemish Hermes Fund. The incubator should be operational by 2020.


duurzame chemie

BlueChem stimulates trailblazing innovations in sustainable chemistry

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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