Helping growth companies develop sustainable innovations for the chemistry of the future. This is the goal of incubator BlueChem. Leentje Croes and Jeroen Vangindertael talk about this unique initiative.
BlueChem is the first independent incubator in Flanders – and far beyond – that focuses specifically on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. A unique ecosystem of start-ups, SMEs, knowledge institutions and major global players will take up residence at BlueChem's brand-new premises in Blue Gate Antwerp, an eco-efficient and water-bound business park. Leentje Croes, who has a degree in Bioengineering (Chemicals and Biotechnology), has been a Manager at BlueChem since 1 January 2019. Jeroen Vangindertael, who has a PhD in Biochemistry and Biotechnology, is an expert in this field at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre of BNP Paribas Fortis, which has forged a partnership with BlueChem. Hearing them discuss BlueChem's plans, even a layman cannot help but become enthusiastic about this venture.
How did BlueChem come into being?
Leentje: "essenscia, the Belgian cross-sectoral federation of the chemical and life sciences industries, observed in 2012 that disruptive innovation often came from start-ups. essenscia wanted to stimulate this drive for innovation by supporting these start-ups, so between 2012 and 2014 they carried out an initial feasibility study based on the question 'What is needed to help these companies and keep the chemicals and plastics industry successful?' After all, our industry is extremely important for employment and prosperity in Belgium. The feasibility study led to the idea of an incubator. A follow-up study, between 2014 to 2016, provided the finishing touches: the theme 'sustainable chemistry' was linked to the incubator, a financial plan was drawn up, and the process was set in motion. In 2017, BlueChem was born!"
Jeroen: "The time was right to roll out this model in the chemicals industry. We have seen for some time at essenscia – the cross-sectoral federation of the chemical and life sciences industries – that big companies support or engage biotech start-ups. The purpose is to follow what these start-ups are doing and potentially enter into collaborations at a later stage, but also to accelerate and keep abreast with innovation. And although there was a wealth of established companies in the chemicals and plastics industry, a lively ecosystem of start-ups was still lacking."
Why does sustainable chemistry matter?
Leentje: "The scientific innovativeness of the chemicals industry is essential for our planet to be developed sustainably. At BlueChem, we consider sustainable chemistry as the industry par excellence of the 21st century and a pacesetter for the circular economy. Moreover, the chemicals industry provides crucial innovations and products to successfully address climate change."
Jeroen: "The chemicals industry is often criticised for not being sustainable enough. But everyone uses the products developed in the chemicals industry in their daily lives. There's virtually no technological product that doesn't contain any plastic, for example – that's almost impossible. Today's research into batteries is also about chemicals. Biodegradable packaging materials in supermarkets are manufactured by the application of complex chemistry. And recycling also involves a great deal of development. In the transition to more sustainable chemicals, an incubator like BlueChem is a perfect model."
Leentje: "Smartphones also have a long list of materials made by the chemicals industry. Developments in the chemicals industry have a knock-on effect on many aspects of everyday life, but most people are not aware of that.
At BlueChem, we want to improve the image people have of our industry. We want to show the general public all the wonderful things chemicals make possible."
What has BlueChem achieved since its creation?
Leentje: "The subsidy application we submitted in 2017 to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for financial support for our construction was approved in that same year. It was a major milestone! Construction began at the end of 2018 and provisional completion is scheduled for 5 February 2020.
A year ago we only existed on paper... and now we have a state-of-the-art building with all the facilities a start-up could need.
We have achieved a lot in a year, such as entering into partnerships with BNP Paribas Fortis but also Deloitte, Deloitte Legal and Port of Antwerp. What's more, the first tenants will soon move into our building: Arpadis, Catalisti, Creaflow, InOpSys, Triple Helix, Vito and large companies such as BASF, Borealis and Ineos. This mix of small and large companies creates an interesting dynamic within the ecosystem. Our objective for the first year of operation, an occupancy rate of 20%, had already been achieved four-and-a-half months before the opening."
Jeroen: "December 2019 saw the launch of the BlueChem Kickstart Fund, an investment fund of approximately EUR 3 million made available by the City of Antwerp. This fund gives BlueChem tenants a financial boost of up to EUR 700/m² for furnishing their labs."
What can BlueChem and BNP Paribas Fortis do for each other?
Jeroen: "Our bank has an extensive network and we see almost all start-ups in Belgium – not only through our Innovation Hubs but also because we invest in a lot of university spin-off funds through Private Equity. Our ambition, therefore, is to promote BlueChem throughout Belgium. We also have a wealth of experience, through our Innovation Hubs, with business plans for start-ups that want to evolve into scale-ups. We can certainly support companies in this process. Chemicals is a capital-intensive industry, and sooner or later these start-ups will need equity or debt financing to finance their growth. Clearly the bank plays an important role in this. It is also valuable for us to follow these companies from the very beginning so that we understand what they are doing. It means we can respond quickly if and when there is a need for financing. In this connection, Conchita Vercauteren from our Business Centre Antwerpen Stad and myself will also sit on BlueChem's Advisory Board."
Leentje: "Although we are still in the start-up phase, we have achieved many successes together in the past year. BNP Paribas Fortis is an ambassador for BlueChem and contributes to our brand awareness among start-ups and in general. That opens doors for us, of course. We have also referred a number of start-ups to our branch in Antwerp, as they had questions about setting up business or transferring their company from abroad. They got the advice they needed from BNP Paribas Fortis."
What are your plans for the future?
Leentje: "Once our official opening on 28 April has taken place and the tenants have moved in, we will focus on the day-to-day support of our tenants. This can range from administrative advice to finding the right partners within our network. Organising seminars with BNP Paribas Fortis is also one of the possibilities."
Jeroen: "We at BNP Paribas Fortis are very enthusiastic about BlueChem's future. Belgium and, more specifically, Antwerp have been top players in the chemicals industry for many years. It's good to see they are forging ahead on the same path and are now also a frontrunner in sustainable chemistry.”
How sustainable is your company?
Electric cars are fast becoming the norm
As of 2026, a favourable tax scheme will only apply to electric company cars. This is an important step towards – and extra reason to go all out for an emission-free fleet. 1 July 2023 will be a turning point.
The evolution towards more sustainable company cars has now also been laid down by law. Thanks to a number of tax changes, electric company cars or e-cars will be the most interesting choice from now on. The perfect time to start electrifying your fleet already today.
"1 July 2023 is an important turning point for making the transition to electrification," says Philippe Kahn, Mobility Solutions Expert at Arval, the specialist in operational leasing of commercial vehicles. "An employer can deduct significantly less costs for fossil-fuel-powered cars from that date. Hybrid vehicles can still enjoy more favourable tax scheme for a while. Nevertheless, companies should take into account that, as of 1 January 2023, they will only be allowed to deduct 50% of the fuel costs for their hybrid cars."
Electric driving isn’t just more tax-efficient
Electric cars are already 100% tax deductible. "Meanwhile, of the cars leased today, 40% are electric. This upward trend is clear. Until recently, the sensitively higher purchase price of an electric or hybrid car versus that of a comparable car with a combustion engine was a brake. Meanwhile, besides the effect of the shift in taxation, the market mechanism is bringing prices closer together," says Kahn.
But tax deductibility and purchase price aren’t the only factors to consider. In making this choice, it’s actually better to look at the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). This includes all expected costs. In addition to the tax aspect, consider consumption, maintenance and CO2 contribution. And these four elements are all more favourable for electric cars. If you use the TCO rather than purchase price as a yardstick, you’ll see that a green fleet of e-cars will be the most advantageous choice for your company in the future.
Electric driving gaining momentum
The tax regime for cars running on fossil fuels is gradually changing. Yet the changes in 2023 will remarkably accelerate the move to electric driving. More than ever, it is clearly time for a new mobility.
- Until 30 June 2023
For company cars ordered before 1 July 2023, the current conditions regarding tax deductibility will continue to apply. For company cars that are leased or rented operationally and for which the beneficial ownership is not transferred, the closing date of the lease or rental contract is considered. The costs of a diesel, petrol or hybrid car remain 50 to 100% deductible, while the costs of electric cars remain 100% deductible.
- Between 1 July 2023 and 31 December 2025
For non-emission-free vehicles ordered as of 1 July 2023 until 31 December 2025, a transition period will apply, and the deductibility is gradually phased out. From a maximum of 75% in 2025, to 50% in 2026, to 25% in 2027, and ultimately 0% deductibility in 2028. As of 2025 the minimal deductibility of 50% is abolished. The CO2 contribution for these cars will also increase significantly each year. Emission-free cars will remain 100% deductible.
- As of 1 January 2026 onwards
Non-emission-free vehicles ordered as of 1 January 2026 will no longer be deductible. Only emission-free vehicles such as electric cars will then be 100% deductible. But this favourable scheme will also be gradually phased out over the next few years, to 95% for vehicles ordered in 2027, to 90% in 2028, to 82.5% in 2029, 75% in 2030 and eventually to 67.5% in 2031.
- Plug-in hybrids (PHEV)
For plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) ordered as of 1 January 2023, the tax deductibility of petrol and diesel costs will be limited to 50%. Electricity and other costs are not covered by this restriction. This measure is designed to encourage the use of electric motors and PHEV. Otherwise, PHEVs will continue to follow the non-emission-free vehicle rules.
And for your employees?
The status of the company car as an alternative remuneration will remain in place until after 2030. “If you allocate a company car that your employee can also use privately, this benefit will be taxed as a fixed benefit in kind. That depends on the list price, fuel type and the CO2 emissions. Although electric vehicles generally have a higher list price, zero emissions can make up the difference and in many cases, turn out favourably for your employee.”
What about charging?
To help your employees make the most of an electric car, you can have a charging station installed at their home if possible. Both the device and the installation at your employee's home are 100% tax deductible and there is no additional tax benefit for them.
“As a company, you can, under certain conditions, benefit from an increased cost deduction for the installation of charging stations on your company premises. This amounts to 200% for investments made in the period from 1 September 2021 to 31 December 2022 and 150% for depreciations relating to investments made in the period from 1 January 2023 to 31 August 2024. A condition is that the charging station is depreciated linearly over at least five taxable periods and at the earliest as of the fiscal year that is linked to the taxable period during which the charging station is operational and publicly accessible”, Kahn concludes.
Switch to an electric fleet
In addition to favourable tax conditions, there are many other excellent reasons to opt for electric cars today.
- It is an environmentally friendly solution that leads to 17-30% less CO2 emissions than the emissions from ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles throughout the entire life cycle of the vehicle.
- A wide range of new models is already on the market today and will only increase in the coming years.
- Most new models already have a driving range of 300 to 600 km.
- Advantageous Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
- Electric driving is pleasant and causes much less street noise.
- The public charging infrastructure is expanding rapidly.
- Access to low-emission zones and cities that ban diesel and petrol-vehicles.
Nowadays, responsible fleet management is built around sustainability. Don't wait any longer to electrify your fleet and reduce your company’s ecological footprint. Our mobility partner Arval will help you to make your fleet more sustainable and support you in your transition to electric vehicles.
Discover all our solutions or discuss them with your relationship manager.
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Sustainable Future Forum: Belgium as a hub for green hydrogen and the role of the EU
Belgium has strong assets as an industrial and logistics hub for green hydrogen in Western Europe. Entrepreneurs, bankers and the European Union discuss the challenges and opportunities.
At the global BNP Paribas Sustainable Future Forum on 18 October 2022, held at the auditorium of BNP Paribas Fortis' new Brussels headquarters, 5 experts discussed the European Union's contribution to the full roll-out of green hydrogen. Belgium’s strategic role as an industrial hydrogen hub for Western Europe also emerged in the debate.
Hydrogen, a link in the decarbonisation of the economy
Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water with renewable energy. The EU considers green hydrogen as a key lever to providing clean, affordable and safe energy in the transition to a lower CO2-emitting economy. Harnessing the potential of sustainable H2 is both promising and complex. Nevertheless, with the situation in Ukraine, high inflation and the energy crisis, we have a momentum we can use to accelerate that transition.
The role of the EU: co-regulating and co-financing
Europe supports the roll-out of green hydrogen mainly in two areas. First of all, the European Union is working on clear market and industry regulation. For example, sustainability quotas for transport and industry can boost the market. In addition, legal certainty is very important to attracting private investors to urgently build out many high-tech infrastructures.
The EU taking the lead with concrete actions and project financing. This does not detract from the fact that around 40% of private investment is required. These funds should be relatively easy to access, as they are actually small amounts compared to the current investments in conventional fuels. Companies such as Engie and DEME are already financing large projects and are prepared to do even more if a long-term perspective is available. Sufficient incentive is required so that demand also increases on the user side, too. Achieving all goals requires cooperation between all stakeholders, both inside and outside the Union.
Belgium's assets as a hub for sustainable molecules
In Europe, we remain dependent on countries that can produce sustainable hydrogen cheaply. It is therefore of strategic importance to diversify the supply of hydrogen and other sustainable molecules. Belgium has many assets for import and export, storage and processing of green hydrogen as a hub for Western Europe.
Belgium is centrally located in a stable region and has large ports serving the hinterland. In addition, our country already has a strong CO2 and H2 network and benefits from offshore capacity with its location in the North Sea.
Hydrogen infrastructure financing
For the financing of hydrogen, we can draw a strong parallel with the early years of offshore wind power. At that time, we also had a lot of questions, but today the framework for wind power is clear. Hydrogen will go through the same evolution. As soon as there is a level playing field, investments will follow. To this end, BNP Paribas Fortis can offer well-known financial products.
The five speakers represent the European Commission, science, an H2 producer from the maritime sector, the energy industry and finance.
Hydrogen and Innovation Policy Officer at the EU Commission (DG CLIMA: Directorate-General for Climate Action)
Professor at University of Antwerp & holder BNP Paribas Fortis Chair Transport, Logistics and Ports
General Manager Hydrogen at DEME (dredging, land reclamation, offshore energy)
Solutions and Partnerships Manager at ENGIE
Energy, Resources and Infrastructure at BNP Paribas Fortis
CO2 Value fully commits to a carbon-free economy
From sustainable footpaths to fashionable dress to sophisticated e-fuel. At their annual meeting, CO2 Value, a partner organisation of BNP Paribas Fortis, illustrated very concretely how carbon capture and utilisation can help defossilise the economy.
It’s simple, in fact. Forests and oceans can absorb CO2 that is released. But fossil fuel combustion, industry and land use create so much CO2 that nature can no longer handle that absorption. The result is global warming. So we need to reduce CO2 emissions and use more renewable energy. That solution is unfortunately less straightforward in practice, although there are already many promising technologies to accelerate decarbonisation. And that is exactly what CO2 Value Europe is working towards.
Circular carbon economy
CO2 Value Europe, a partner organisation of BNP Paribas Fortis, is an inter-professional organisation representing the Carbon Capture & Utilisation (CCU) community in Europe. It strives for a circular carbon economy. It seeks alternative ways and technologies to capture CO2 and then recycle it into usable sustainable raw materials for fuels, chemicals and building materials, among others.
Crash course in CCU
The audience at this year's sixth edition of CO2 Value's annual meeting was just a little more diverse than usual. Besides members, interested companies and clients of BNP Paribas Fortis were also able to attend the meeting. And they did so in large numbers. Carbon capture and utilisation is a hot topic. A lot of companies are facing a sustainable transition and want to decarbonise. Attendees were given a crash course in 'What is CCU?', but it was mainly the concrete applications that really appealed.
VITO, a Flemish independent research organisation in the field of cleantech and sustainable development, gave an example of how CO2 mineralisation can make the construction sector more sustainable. This technology not only leads to lower CO2 emissions, but permanently stores carbon dioxide in valuable products such as bricks and many other building materials. In Ghent, for example, there is already a footpath made of sustainable bricks.
Dress to impress
CCU can also make a difference in the fashion sector, LanzaTech proves. They convert carbon waste into sustainable fuels, fabrics, packaging and other products that people use in their daily lives. One of these is a synthetic fibre to make clothes that are sustainable without sacrificing anything in terms of comfort or style.
Fossil fuels remain a major source of CO2. With the Colombus project, Engie, Carmeuse and John Cockerill are joining forces. They are developing an alternative fuel that will help decarbonise industry and the transport sector. CO2 released during lime production is captured by Carmeuse and then combined with green hydrogen from Engie. Based on this, John Cockerill produces carbon-neutral synthetic methane or e-methane via electrolysis as an alternative to fossil fuels. This is a great example of a circular carbon economy.
As a partner from the very beginning, BNP Paribas Fortis is 100% behind CO2 Value's mission. Sustainability is in the bank's DNA, so we certainly encourage a new circular and industrial value chain. As a banker, we take our responsibility seriously and are happy to help develop innovative solutions that make our economy more resilient and sustainable.
Want to know more? Visit the CO2 Value Europe website.
Mobility Solutions of the Future
Your employees’ mobility needs are not standing still, and legislation is also changing at lightning speed. As a company, it is therefore crucial to work today on the mobility of tomorrow.
A changing world
Today you drive to visit customers, tomorrow you work from home and on Friday you take the train and the shared scooter from the station to the office... Your employees’ mobility needs are not standing still and the demand for sustainable, integrated and flexible solutions is increasing.
Legislation and economic conditions are also changing at an unprecedented pace. As part of its initiative to make the automobile sector more sustainable, the government has set a number of ambitious targets, such as greenhouse gas-free company cars by 2026 and betting on smart mobility for commuting. For this reason, many companies are currently considering a transition from a car policy to a mobility policy, in which employees are also given access to other alternative means of transport. In practice, however, there is a lot of extra administration involved when your employees opt for combined mobility to get around. A forward-thinking digital mobility solution tailored to your company will give you a big head start.
Employees want to choose for themselves
Multimodal mobility is an important asset for attracting and retaining talent. Not everyone benefits from a company car alone as a means of transport. Your employees want to be able to choose how they travel to and from work. One day the car is the best option, the next day, the bike or public transport. By moving towards a flexible mobility policy, employees will be able to choose the mobility solutions that suit them best in the future, so that they can go to work in complete freedom and with a good feeling.
Reducing CO² emissions
We are facing a real challenge in the coming years. Mobility and logistics account for as much as 22% of CO2 emissions in our country. If we are to achieve the European target – to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 – we need to work urgently on greening our mobility. Electrification of your fleet in combination with soft mobility is already a step in the right direction. The government is driving this transition to zero-emission mobility by discouraging fossil-fuelled vehicles from a tax perspective and rewarding electrification. Think about more than just purchasing or leasing electric vehicles.
Towards Smart, Integrated Mobility Solutions
Mobility cards that offer an all-in-one solution for all your employees’ professional travel are still relatively unknown, but work very well. They allow you to book and pay for all necessary means of transport, from leased cars, public transport and taxis to shared mobility of bicycles, scooters and cars. Employees can also use them to fill up their lease cars, charge them and pay for parking and car wash.
Mobility platforms and apps go one step further: they offer the ideal multimodal solution in real time, depending on needs and traffic conditions. For example, taking the car to the outskirts of Brussels and then switching to an electric scooter or, in nice weather, biking to the office. The user of the mobility app can also buy a ticket directly from the suitable mobility provider, with a mobility budget that the employer makes available via a linked mobility platform. Such a platform allows employers to customise their mobility policy to meet their specific needs. This way, all employee mobility solutions are managed on the same platform. Moreover, all this is directly linked to the payroll of the payroll service provider. Thanks to the platform, the actual situation is displayed at all times and wages are always calculated correctly, taking into account individual mobility plans and expenses.
Say goodbye to congestion and administrative hassle, and hello to sustainable mobility!
Do you want a mobility policy that responds to the ever-changing needs of your employees and is committed to sustainability? Our experts will be happy to help you.
Mobility solutions are offered by Arval Belgium SA/NV via BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV, Montagne du Parc/Warandeberg 3, B-1000 Brussels, Brussels Register of Companies VAT BE0403.199.702.
The information provided here does not constitute an offer. An offer will be made only after your dossier has been accepted and shall always be subject to the general terms and conditions of Arval Belgium SA/NV.