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 gradually becoming the norm
As of 2026, a favourable tax regime will only apply to electric company cars. This is an important step towards more sustainable mobility – and an extra reason to go all out in greening your fleet.
The evolution towards a greening of 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.
The tax deductibility for newly ordered non-emission-free vehicles (diesel, petrol and hybrid cars) will gradually be phased out. Up to 2026, however, this will be 100% for emission-free vehicles (purely electric or hydrogen-powered cars). Afterwards, this deductibility will gradually decrease to 67.5% by 2031.
Electric driving isn’t just more tax-efficient
Electric cars are already 100% tax-deductible. And yet most fleets aren't really green yet. One reason is that the purchase price of an electric or hybrid car is considerably higher than that of a comparable car with a combustion engine. There’s been a noticeable evolution here due to the market mechanism, though, and prices are now less far apart.
But the purchase price isn’t the only factor to consider. In making this choice, it’s actually better to look at the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). This includes all expected costs: consumption, maintenance, CO2 contribution and tax deductibility. 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.
Even though electric driving is the future and it’s clearly time for a new mobility, the tax scheme for cars powered by fossil fuel won’t change overnight.
- 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?
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 and CO2 emissions and the fuel type. The status of the company car as an alternative remuneration will remain in place until after 2030. For the time being, therefore, nothing will change in the benefit in kind of the company car with respect to the employee. Although electric vehicles generally have a higher list price, zero emissions can make up for 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.
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 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 green your fleet and support you in your transition to electric vehicles.
Discover all our solutions or discuss them with your relationship manager.
Building a sustainable chemical industry together
As a bank, we promote sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Together with BlueChem, the first incubator for sustainable chemistry in Europe, we are taking some important steps in the chemical industry.
In December 2021, BNP Paribas Fortis extended its exclusive partnership with BlueChem for a further three years. A logical step after the successful cooperation over the past years.
BlueChem is the first independent incubator in Europe to focus specifically on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. It provides legal, administrative and financial support to promising Belgian and international start-ups and ambitious growth companies. BlueChem recently invested in a brand-new building on the Blue Gate site, the new climate-neutral business park in Antwerp. The incubator provides start-ups, SMEs, large companies, research centres and knowledge institutions with fully-equipped and freely-configurable labs, individual offices and flexible workplaces. Tenants include a company that splits CO2 molecules into useful chemicals, a company that develops protein sources for meat substitutes, and a company that extracts chemicals from polluted industrial waste water.
Didier Beauvois, Head of BNP Paribas Fortis Corporate Banking: “We are very proud to be a partner of BlueChem, which, like our bank, feels very strongly about sustainable development and open innovation, which is why we chose to immediately extend our partnership with BlueChem by a further three years. Our aim with these kinds of initiatives is to help companies and industries meet the conditions set out in the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s initiative to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050.”
As a leading bank in Belgium, we believe in taking our responsibility and contributing to the sustainable development of our society, now and in the future. A promise we can continue to deliver thanks to our partnership with BlueChem.
Our primary role within this unique partnership is to share our expertise. The bank has a centre of expertise, the Sustainable Business Competence Centre, which closely monitors innovative, sustainable developments, using this knowledge to support companies in their sustainability transition. We also have a wealth of experience, through our Innovation Hubs, in fine-tuning business plans for start-ups that want to evolve into scale-ups. Making our network available is a second crucial role. We connect with potential clients and investors and identify synergies between start-ups and large companies. Contacts that also offer added value for our Corporate Banking clients.
Barbara Veranneman, Chairman BlueChem NV and Director International Affairs essenscia: “BlueChem partly owes its success to strong strategic partnerships, such as with BNP Paribas Fortis, among others. Our sustainable chemistry incubator is thus able to provide the right facilities in the right place, in addition to specialised, custom services. This access to high-level expertise is definitely an asset, offering start-ups and scale-ups optimal support so they can focus on their core business: bringing sustainable innovations to market."
Why the chemical industry?
The chemical industry is a major contributor to our country’s economy. Antwerp is home to Europe’s largest and the world’s second-largest integrated chemical cluster. We can have a major impact by providing optimal support to start-ups and scale-ups throughout Flanders in terms of innovation and sustainability.
We don't always realise that developments in the chemicals industry impact every aspect of our daily lives: virtually every technological product contains plastics, smartphones are jam-packed with chemical elements, the biodegradable packaging of the products on supermarket shelves, research into new batteries, recycling that involves a great deal of development, etc.
A good example is Triple Helix, an innovative growth company that was one of the first to move to BlueChem and which received support from the bank from the outset. The company is preparing the construction of its ‘SurePure’ recycling plant for polyurethane foam and PET shells, which will be converted into new raw materials, for new applications. Polyurethane is used in mattresses, car seats, insulation panels, etc. But this is just the first step. True to the motto ‘Molecules as a service’, Triple Helix is already planning similar initiatives with glass, stone and wood . Considering waste as a resource creates a huge growth market.
Steven Peleman, Managing Partner Triple Helix Group: “What makes BNP Paribas Fortis such a valuable partner is that it can bring the right parties to the table, essentially becoming a lever on the pathway to a more sustainable industry. It’s not just the financial aspect. The bank also looks for strategic partners, helps us to strengthen our credibility, and brings in potential investors. A bank that looks beyond purely financial considerations can create tremendous added value for us.”
Sustainability and innovation in the chemical Industry
Innovation in chemistry is the key to overcoming our planet's sustainability challenges. The chemicals industry develops crucial innovations and products to successfully address climate change, even though it is not traditionally considered a 'greener’ industry. There are several opportunities: better recycling techniques to extract sustainable metals from waste, biodegradable plastics, the replacement of certain substances in existing materials, or the greening of a chemical production process. Moreover, innovation is not an easy feat in the chemical industry. It takes a lot of time, guts and money to scale up from a lab setting to industrial-scale production.
European Green deal
All these efforts to increase sustainability are part of an EU-wide initiative. The European Green Deal is a set of policy initiatives by the European Commission to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050. It proposes to achieve this by drastically reducing CO2 emissions and by immediately absorbing or offsetting any remaining carbon emissions in Europe by 2050, for example by planting forests or with new technology. This would make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world. An ambition that we, as a bank, are more than happy to lend our support! And what about you as a company?
Would you like to know more about how we promote sustainability and open innovation or do you require support for your transition to a more sustainable business model? Discuss this with your relationship manager or the experts of our Sustainable Business Competence Centre.
Our bank's experts help advance energy transition via Solar Impulse Foundation
Two specialists from our bank are among the top experts in this international foundation, which collects profitable solutions for a faster transition to sustainable energy.
Sustainability has been an important pillar for our bank for many years. For example, we have been carbon neutral since 2017, accompany companies in their energy transition and support start-ups and organisations that work with renewable energy. The Solar Impulse Foundation therefore has been benefiting from the sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Group from its inception.
Reconciling ecology and economy
The Solar Impulse Foundation was founded by the Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer, Bertrand Piccard, who makes it his life’s mission to demonstrate the opportunities of sustainable development. In 1999, he was the first to make a non-stop balloon journey around the world and, in 2016, he completed that journey again with a solar-powered aircraft. Since then, Piccard has used his popularity to publicise solutions that can protect the environment profitably. The ultimate goal? Motivate decision-makers and companies to set more ambitious environmental targets and better energy policies in order to achieve carbon neutrality.
1,000 sustainable solutions
Four years ago, Solar Impulse Foundation announced that it was looking for 1,000 sustainable solutions worldwide to accelerate the energy transition. That unique portfolio of solutions should then become an essential part of all environmental decisions, debates and political negotiations. Specifically, these are solutions that companies already have or will introduce to the market and that are economically profitable and technologically feasible, but do not yet have the visibility they deserve.
The targeted 1,000 solutions were reached on 13 April 2021. But because innovation never stops, the Foundation continues to add solutions.
Expertise from our bank
To gather as many innovative solutions as possible, the Foundation receives help from many partners and an extensive pool of more than 300 experts from companies around the world. Since any company may present its product on the Foundation’s website, these experts must assess the registered solutions objectively and in detail in three areas: profitability, environmental impact and technical feasibility. For a few years now, BNP Paribas Fortis employees have also devoted themselves to this task.
One of them is Quentin Nerincx, Senior Advisor Cleantech at our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, who advises companies on becoming more sustainable. “I didn't hesitate to apply," says Quentin enthusiastically. “It’s an exciting project with a wonderful and ambitious goal. Every month, the Foundation sends me a file for analysis. Each solution is studied by two different experts and, if they both make a positive judgement, the solution is labelled by the Solar Impulse Foundation. This quality feature can help to accelerate the implementation of the proposed solution - for example, a new technology or a product.”
Gunter Brems, Sustainability Expert Housing & Sourcing Services, also lends his expertise: “It is an honour to be part of this prestigious project. I have assessed several files in 2020, which was an enriching experience not only to share knowledge but also to acquire new knowledge. It is great to see how innovative some companies are dealing with a changing world, just as our bank does, and how to look for sustainable alternatives together.”
Helping our corporate customers with their energy transition
“This project is also interesting for my job as a sustainability advisor at the bank, because I keep up to speed on new solutions that are being developed worldwide. This allows me to expand my expertise continuously and to contribute broadly to corporate clients looking for solutions for their energy transition", adds Quentin.
At the end of last year, Quentin was informed that he is one of the top 20 experts providing expertise to the Solar Impulse Foundation. Gunter even made it to the top 10. These rankings are mainly based on the number of solutions analysed and the quality of the reports. “We are delighted that our input is appreciated”, the two experts say.
The collection of more than 1,000 approved solutions can be found on the Solar Impulse Foundation website. This summer, the Foundation is also publishing a Solutions Guide that will enable governments, companies and individuals to find and implement concrete solutions on a large scale. With this tool, everyone can find solutions to problems in specific geographical, industrial or financial environments in just three clicks.
The Foundation will also provide various public authorities with a Cleanprint, a kind of report and plan for governments and companies to achieve their climate goals using the solutions collected, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. The report will also indicate where public authorities can modernise their legal frameworks for the ambitious implementation of these solutions. The first Cleanprint will be presented by Bertrand Piccard at COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in November 2021.
Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of BNP Paribas: “There will be no future for society without a successful, long-term energy transition. This transformation can only be undertaken collectively and requires technical and technological service solutions. In taking up the challenge to select 1,000 solutions which encourage environmental protection while also being profitable, the Solar Impulse Foundation is helping us to reach this goal in a very practical way and in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement.”
Seeing that the solutions collected are actually followed up by government leaders and other decision-makers will be the crowning glory of our work", conclude Quentin and Gunter.
Contact our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.