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.
BlueChem and our bank are committed to sustainable chemistry
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?
Joining forces for a low-carbon economy – our bank's contribution to CO2 Value Day Europe
The fourth CO2 Value Day took place online on 10 November. The event, which we helped set up as one of its partners, focused on the progress made in developing the CCU industry.
At BNP Paribas Fortis, we were delighted to help stage this event. The subject of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) lies close to our heart as we strive toward a low-carbon economy.
About CCU and CO2 Value Europe
Carbon capture and utilisation encompasses all industrial processes aimed at capturing carbon dioxide – from industrial sources or directly from the air – and converting it into usable products. Today, carbon is not simply a waste material; it can be reused as a raw material for a host of applications, including building materials, fuel production and in the chemical industry.
CO2 Value Europe, a European organisation founded in 2017, aims to promote the development and market introduction of these sustainable industrial solutions and thus contribute to reducing global CO2 emissions and diversifying the raw material base away from fossil fuels and gas. The organisation brings together more than 50 companies from various sectors across Europe, including 12 multinationals. As its only financial partner, we support CO2 Value Europe by giving the organisation access to our expertise and network.
The CO2 Value Day is a unique opportunity for all members of CO2 Value Europe to assess the overall progress made in developing the CCU industry. This year, the event was once again a mix of plenary presentations, keynote speeches and interactive workshops.
After a welcome and introduction by Stefanie Kesting, Chair of CO2 Value Europe, Sebastien Soleille took to the floor. As Global Head of Energy Transition & Environment at our bank, he discussed the role banks play in supporting sustainable development. This is a responsibility that we do not take lightly at BNP Paribas Fortis, and we've been helping companies with their sustainable transition for years through our Sustainable Business Competence Centre. We focus on four pillars: decarbonisation, the circular economy, human capital and smart cities.
Vincent Basuyau, Policy Officer at DG GROW, then shed some light on CCU when it comes to current EU policy. This primarily concerned the Innovation Fund, established by the European Union to invest in innovative projects that decarbonise industrial activities in Europe.
The plans for 2021 were also unveiled. In the coming year, CO2 Value Europe will focus above all on the ongoing development of and market uses for CCU technologies. The aim is to coordinate the many different players involved in CO2 use in Europe, integrate their efforts into the value chain and become the ambassador of the CO2 user community towards policy-makers and financiers. After all, a favourable legal and market framework is a prerequisite for the commercial roll-out of CCU solutions.
CO2 Value Europe aims to encourage the ongoing development of CCU technologies by:
- offering solutions to decrease net CO2 emissions from hard to abate sectors, such as energy-intensive process industries (e.g. cement and lime mortar, chemicals, steel and other metals) and the transport sector;
- creating negative emissions in sequestering CO2 in building materials resulting from the carbonation of mineral waste;
- providing an alternative raw material for the production of chemical building blocks and to replace fossil fuels and gas;
- facilitating the storage and transport of renewable energy, speeding up the transition of energy systems in the EU;
There was also time for two break-out sessions, with the first focusing on developing a strategy to create a regulatory framework that supports the deployment of CCU technologies.
The second session concerned projects and financing. Aymeric Olibet, Sustainable Business Advisor at BNP Paribas Fortis, talked about a range of topics, including the solutions we offer companies through our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, financing sustainable projects through green bonds and green loans, and blended finance (a mix of public and private funding).
Finally, attendees had the chance to meet other participants during online speed meetings.
Biomethane from Bois d'Arnelle: Walloon biogas, a link in the energy transition chain
Producing biogas through fermentation of agricultural waste? That is exactly what they do at Biomethane du Bois d'Arnelle, Belgium's largest production facility in Hainaut.
You can spot the three large grey domes and a cone-shaped roof from a distance in the countryside around Frasnes-lez-Gosselies. This is a biogas production unit. It took its creator and CEO, Jérôme Breton, 12 years to complete this project due to the lack of a legal and administrative framework. But today, the unit is operational, producing 70,000 MWh of energy.
Turning food waste into biomethane
"We recycle food waste and agricultural materials, livestock manure, straw, beet leaves, peelings, etc. from farmers in a 15-km radius around the site", says Jérôme Breton. "We work with 100 farmers for whom this represents additional income. In digesters, i.e., concrete tanks that are heated to 40°C, bacteria digest the material and produce biogas, consisting of 45% CO2 and 55% CH4 methane. We recover this biomethane through filtration, before injecting it into the natural gas distribution network. Fermented matter or digestate, a black liquid that is rich in organic matter, which is very nutritious for crops, is spread as a fertiliser in the surrounding region, where it is used to permanently store CO2 in the soil and completely replaces chemical fertilisers."
About 15% of the biogas is converted into electricity and heat, half of which is used for the unit’s own needs. The remaining 85% is purified and transformed into biomethane. Once it has been injected into the grid, this biomethane can be used as fuel or as a raw material for petrochemicals. It can also be used to power turbines, and the heat generated can be recovered, just like in a car engine. “While a cogeneration engine, which produces electricity and heat simultaneously, has a total efficiency of between 40 and 80%, our system allows 99.5% of the biogas produced to be injected into the grid”, the young entrepreneur explains. "The pressure varies in a distribution network. That way, the infrastructure can absorb injections without the need for additional investments to store them."
Growing to valorise
The company also grows maize, beets and cereals to valorise them as biogas: "We made a deliberate choice to grow 600 hectares of energy crops to offer farmers a complementary diversification pathway. This accounts for 30% of our raw materials. These crops are stored to allow us to 'smooth' the inflows into our digesters, which depend on agricultural and food activity, on a seasonal basis."
BNP Paribas Fortis, the only bank with such advanced skills
Jérôme Breton says the project would not have been possible without the support of BNP Paribas Fortis. "We would not have gotten funding if it wasn't for the work of their expert. It is the only bank to have such high-level skills in-house. All the other partners also benefited from the analyses and information that he provided to us! A strong, lasting relationship of trust has developed as a result. In my model, I didn't want to rely on public financing for what I do. At the same time, I wanted to produce at the right prices. We produce and sell our biomethane at 100 euros per megawatt hour, while market prices were close to 350 euros last August."
At BNP Paribas Fortis, we are particularly proud to be supporting passionate, inspiring entrepreneurs. Because building the entrepreneurship of the future together is also an example of Positive Banking!
Elessent EMEAI: solutions for cleaner production
Elessent EMEIA is on a mission to make the chemical industry more environmentally friendly and sustainable through innovative methods and cleaner production processes.
"We strive to create cleaner, carbon-free production processes for our customers. Innovation is at the heart of what we do", says Sara Alvarez, Finance Manager at Elessent EMEAI. "We suggest less polluting alternatives to traditional industrial methods, allowing our customers to continue to develop products that are essential to our daily lives while significantly minimising their impact on the environment, particularly in terms of pollutants and CO2 emissions."
4 key technologies
The metals, fertiliser, chemical and refinery industries make up the majority of the company’s customers, with Elessent EMEAI able to deliver complete turnkey production sites. Tjaart Van Der Walt, Director of Elessent EMEAI: "We have four flagship technologies. The first concerns the manufacture of a compound that is widely used in industry, from fertiliser manufacturers to pigment plants, namely sulphuric acid. This is obtained by burning sulphur. We have 90 years of expertise in site design – we have delivered more than a thousand sites – and process and energy recovery. These processes will be key to producing cleaner batteries."
Increased quality and yield
The company also has alkylation technologies (a reaction that is commonly used in organic chemistry) which is used to produce high octane fuels, for more efficient engines. These compounds are valuable for the petrochemical and refinery industries. "We operate at more than 100 alkylation sites around the world", continues Van Der Walt. "And 25 hydrocarbon hydrotreating sites. This is a crucial step in the refining process, during which some elements are removed from the oil. This includes reducing sulphur and nitrogen content to improve stability. Our proprietary soft hydrocracking technology allows us to recover more value from crude oil."
In addition to these processes, which optimise the quality and yield of hydrocarbons, the company also has “wet scrubbing” technologies, which are very effective in fume treatment.
Financial support and real industry expertise
"Our business is growing on a global scale. For our international expansion, we need the constant support of our bank, BNP Paribas Fortis, which, in addition to assisting us with the financial aspects, contributes its in-depth expertise in our industry", Sara Alvarez explains. "This cooperation is crucial in Morocco, Tunisia, India and South Africa, for example. For our long-term investments in these countries, we benefit from our bank’s advice, particularly in terms of resources and guarantees of payment: secured transactions, letters of credit, etc. The same goes for hedging currency risk, which is essential in the context of volatility. This partnership allows us to continue our international expansion."
At BNP Paribas Fortis, we are particularly proud to be supporting passionate, inspiring entrepreneurs. Because building the entrepreneurship of the future together is also an example of Positive Banking!
- Building a sustainable chemical industry together
- BlueChem and our bank are committed to sustainable chemistry
- Joining forces for a low-carbon economy – our bank's contribution to CO2 Value Day Europe
- Biomethane from Bois d'Arnelle: Walloon biogas, a link in the energy transition chain
- Elessent EMEAI: solutions for cleaner production