Incubator to accelerate sustainable innovations and anchor chemical industry in Flanders

19 June 2018 – 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.

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.