Arpadis, Creaflow and InOpSys. These are the first start-ups and growth companies that will move into BlueChem, the incubator for sustainable chemistry that will open its doors at the climate-neutral business park Blue Gate Antwerp at the end of April 2020. The City of Antwerp supports the young entrepreneurs with the BlueChem Kickstart Fund, which provides them with financial support in furnishing their laboratories. Chemical companies BASF, Borealis and INEOS also rent office space in BlueChem to support promising innovations and help them grow. The incubator for sustainable chemistry will also be the operating base for employees of Catalisti, the spearhead cluster for the chemical and plastics industry in Flanders, and research organisation VITO. The leases were signed today, four and a half months before the official opening.

BlueChem is the first incubator in Flanders to focus specifically on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. On 28 April 2020, BlueChem officially opens its doors on the Blue Gate Antwerp eco-company park, but today the first five tenants – Arpadis, Catalisti, Creaflow, InOpSys and VITO – and three partner companies – BASF, Borealis and INEOS – have already been announced. As a result, the objective of the first year of operation, an occupancy rate of 20%, has almost been achieved four and a half months before the opening. In total there is room in BlueChem for about twenty companies, depending on the office and laboratory space they each need.

The City of Antwerp also launched the BlueChem Kickstart Fund today. This is an investment fund that gives a financial boost, up to 700 euro/m², to young and starting companies setting up in BlueChem for the furnishing of their labs. This is because it often involves very specific and expensive equipment for chemical research. Earlier this year, cooperation agreements were concluded with strategic partners BNP Paribas Fortis, Deloitte, Laga and Port of Antwerp. They will provide specialist advice to start-ups and growth companies in BlueChem and help them grow with tailored services.

Frank Beckx, chairman of BlueChem NV and managing director essenscia vlaanderen: “BlueChem is getting off to a flying start. The construction works are ahead of schedule and the names of the first companies in BlueChem are known. They are all innovative companies, each in their own way engaged in sustainable chemistry and circular economy. It is a good thing that the spearhead cluster Catalisti and a number of major chemical companies have chosen BlueChem as their operating base. In this way we stimulate open innovation and create the ideal ecosystem for the chemistry of the future. We foresee a running-in period of five years in order to achieve maximum occupancy in BlueChem.”

Claude Marinower, Antwerp’s alderman for Economy, Innovation and Digitalization: “The city of Antwerp is launching the BlueChem Kickstart Fund for starting chemical companies in BlueChem. With this extra financial support, they can set up laboratories to give research into sustainable chemical products the greatest possible chance of success. With BlueChem and the BlueChem Kickstart Fund, the city of Antwerp is living up to its ambition: to create more innovative power for the chemical sector, Antwerp’s economic engine.”

Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation Hilde Crevits: “To meet the climate challenge, we need to invest heavily in sustainable, innovative solutions. Research into sustainable chemistry is important in this respect. Incubators are needed to develop, test and commercialize new technologies. They are, as it were, the ‘breeding grounds’ for innovations and provide the necessary space, expertise and support for researchers to hatch new technologies and spread their wings. That’s why we support BlueChem’s chemical incubator financially.”

Discussions are still ongoing with other interested companies, but the activities of the first tenants in BlueChem already make it clear that the focus is on sustainable chemistry and circular economy.

Arpadis is a distributor of chemicals with branches in the Benelux, Germany, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom. The choice for BlueChem illustrates the strategic direction of Arpadis to focus on sustainable chemical products through intensive partnerships throughout the entire supply chain for the chemical sector.

Creaflow designs and markets highly innovative reactors for the fine chemicals and pharmaceutical industries. These advanced photoreactors are scalable and durable, use alternative activation methods such as visible light and can therefore produce new molecules that are inaccessible with traditional techniques.

InOpSys NV develops, builds and manages modular and mobile units to treat industrial wastewater in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Waste water is purified on site for reuse and valuable components such as metals and solvents are recovered. It is a practical example of circular economics, which no longer requires the transport and incineration of waste water.

Ecosystem for sustainable chemistry

BlueChem not only offers the perfect accommodation for start-ups, the incubator for sustainable chemistry also wants to build an ecosystem that stimulates innovation projects between large companies, SMEs and start-ups on the one hand and between the private sector, the government and academia on the other hand.

That is why it is important that Catalisti, the spearhead cluster for innovation in the chemical and plastics industry, and VITO, Flemish Institute for Technological Research, will also be active in BlueChem to detect and guide promising innovations. Partner companies such as BASF, Borealis and INEOS keep their finger on the pulse of innovations in sustainable chemistry with their presence in BlueChem and can be a lever to help breakthrough technologies grow into applications on an industrial scale. In this way, BlueChem strengthens the innovative strength of the chemical cluster in the port of Antwerp and in the rest of Flanders.

BlueChem is a unique collaboration between government, industry and knowledge institutions with the ambition to help promising innovations from start-ups and young companies active in sustainable chemistry grow to an industrial scale in order to strengthen the economically important chemical sector in Flanders. Project partners in BlueChem NV are essenscia, POM Antwerp, City of Antwerp and VITO. The incubator is built according to the principles of BREEAM-Excellent, a sustainability label for buildings with minimal environmental impact, and meets the BEN (Nearly Energy Neutral) standard. BlueChem will open at Blue Gate Antwerp in April 2020 and has 15 labs, 24 offices, 20 flexplaces and several meeting rooms spread over four floors.