Article

18.05.2018

Will privately- owned towns drive the development of smart cities?

A number of tech giants are now planning to build their own private cities. As these futuristic, digitally-equipped towns will showcase many innovations, the projects may well help to get Smart Cities up and running faster.

Whether we are talking about Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who recently announced plans to build a digital city in Arizona called Belmont, or Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google parent Alphabet, who recently unveiled the Sidewalk Toronto project, Web bosses seem to have been struck by a sudden passion for town planning.

Behind these projects, which are still very much in their infancy, there is however much at stake. The Smart City represents a huge future market which will soon gather pace all over the planet. Building their own cities, and injecting substantial funds, enables the major Internet players to experiment in real conditions, designing, testing, labelling and demonstrating to the wide world innovative technologies with the potential to help run the planet's megacities in the near future. However, it must be said that they are jumping on the bandwagon rather than leading the line, since a number of high-tech model cities constructed with private-sector money already exist in Asia and the American continent. So will all these projects really foster the speedy emergence of Smart Cities? From a purely technological point of view, this would appear a safe bet.

A full-on Smart City?

In South Korea, not far from Seoul, the futuristic city of Songdo has been built – at a cost of $35 billion – entirely with private funds. Covering 610 hectares and stuffed full of new fully-digitalized apartment buildings, Songdo boasts cutting-edge digital technology and an impressive set of environmentally-friendly systems. This fully operational Smart City, with 120,000 residents, is several steps ahead of its rivals. The local authority has implemented digital technology-based initiatives designed to optimise the way the city works and streamline the daily lives of its inhabitants. For example, auto traffic is managed using a state-of- the-art system. Every car licence plate is scanned as soon as it leaves its parking spot, and the data is then sent to a management platform that calculates the number of drivers on the road, or about to move out on to the road, in order to optimise traffic flows in real time. In the same vein, some 500 cameras are in place, backed up by an arsenal of sensors installed on street furniture, for the purpose of sending data on the number of buses in service and their precise location to the management platform.

The results are commensurate with the resources that have been deployed. There are no more traffic jams. Public transport is never late and always safe. Police can access the data gathered by the sensors and cameras so as to get to an incident as soon as it occurs. Songdo also stands out from its rivals when it comes to environmental responsibility: 99%of the city's parking is underground, and household waste is taken directly from homes and piped through to the recycling plant. The rainwater collection and filtration system is located beneath the golf course and all the buildings have solar panels. In addition, the city authority keeps a close eye on the energy consumption of each building with a view to limiting expenditure and pollution and redistributing any surplus.

In fact, Songdo can claim to top the list of Smart Cities, having amply demonstrated its ability to provide a connected response to urban problems. Nevertheless, the way it operates still raises some questions. As a privately-owned city in the hands of a consortium of investors, it fails to implement such democratic principles as data transparency and to foster civic dialogue. However, while some observers might be worried about the central surveillance aspects of Sondo's organisation, the town is exemplary from a technological point of view and its model may soon be exported throughout Asia. But it does highlight one rather disappointing aspect: it seems easier to build a Smart City from scratch than transform an existing town.

Building everything from the ground up

In the south of Florida, former American football player-turned multi-millionaire Syd Kitson is bringing to life Babcock Ranch, a futuristic fully-connected and entirely 'green' town. The electricity grid is 100% solar-powered, fed by a plant located on the edge of town, and the streets are lined throughout with photovoltaic panels, each feeding one house. As the owner of this miniature Smart City covering 370 square kilometres, Syd Kitson has decided to implement a number of measures designed to boost the environmental aspects of the venture. Petrol-driven cars are not allowed inside Babcock Ranch, electric vehicles are tolerated but quotas are imposed.

The idea is not only to avoid carbon dioxide emissions but also to keep the number of vehicles stable. The circular economy takes priority: fruit and vegetables are grown in nearby fields and orchards and are sold in local shops and used in the town's restaurants. If the whole approach feels rather authoritarian this is no doubt because Kitson is actually the sole owner of his town. But the results are undisputable: there is no pollution. By designing and building Babcock Ranch from A to Z and implementing strict rules of operation, Kitson has achieved much better than average outcomes and demonstrated that this method works.

In the same vein, but on a very different scale, Bill Gates' real estate investment group Belmont Partners is preparing to start building Belmont, a city that will have technology embedded in its DNA. Belmont Partners has just acquired a vast area of land in Arizona, around a hundred kilometres from Phoenix. Covering an area as large as Paris, the new town is intended to be a real laboratory for Smart City experimentation, testing out the latest technologies for self-driving cars and implementing a range of innovations involving incorporating green spaces into the cityscape, using renewable sources of energy for power and drawing on local food supply chains.

Bill Gates also intends to draw up a digitally innovative and environmentally-friendly roadmap for tomorrow's smart cities. And he reckons that it is easier to test and integrate the technologies which will be used in Smart Cities by building a new town rather than transforming an existing one. Existing cities usually have a long architectural legacy to cope with. In theory a blank canvas is easier to work with.

Google is dancing to the same tune. Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet's Smart City subsidiary, has announced a ground-breaking partnership with the city of Toronto to build a mini smart city focusing entirely on digital technologies. With this venture Google is clearly demonstrating its objectives in the smart city sphere. The Internet giant is planning to set up its own testing centre to hone technologies that work well in practice and can be marketed.

Public-private collaboration

Clearly a Smart City is not the exclusive province of governmental authorities. If it is to work properly, the private sector will have to come in and supply the necessary technologies. Public-private collaboration therefore seems essential and the Internet giants have clearly grasped this fact. Making Smart Cities the norm for urban development in the 21st century will be a huge challenge.

Let us hope that such cities, constructed from scratch and based on digital innovation, will in turn foster the emergence of a truly civic Smart City. After all, smart technology cannot be the only criterion for a functioning town in the years to come.

(Source: BNP Paribas – L’Atelier)
Article

15.01.2021

In the future, will we use CO² to build?

It sounds somewhat futuristic, but today building with CO² is possible. Thanks to accelerates carbonation, CO² is used to produce building material. A sustainable footpath in Ghent illustrates how promising this new technology is.

In mid-December, CO2 Value Europe, a think- and do- tank representing the carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) community in Europe, held a webinar about the use of CO2 to create building material. Concrete examples of this sustainable technology were given to illustrate the potential they can offers, especially in the hard-to-abate construction sector. BNP Paribas Fortis and CO2 Value Europe are partners in issues related to financing innovative and sustainable technologies. As an institution, we work hard to promote corporate sustainability.

The second-most polluting industrial sector

As well as being one of the largest in the world, the cement industry's high levels of flue gas emissions also make it one of the most polluting. Cement is a crucial component in concrete, which is vital for the building sector. A sustainable alternative to cement could make a huge difference. One option here is carbonation, also known as CO2 mineralization. While this CCU technology is not yet well known, it has the potential to play a crucial role in mitigating climate change.

Giving nature a helping hand

Carbonation is a natural process, where minerals react with CO2 to create e.g. limestone and dolomite. In nature, this process takes thousands of years, but today, thanks to innovative methods, this time can be cut down to some minutes. This process requires relatively small amounts of energy and can be used to create several different products, including bricks where CO2 is sequestered permanently.

CO2 all the way

The development of CCU technology has accelerated sharply in recent years. We now have cement alternatives that meet the building sector’s technical requirements. There are various ways to store CO2 into construction materials. For example, CO2 can be injected as an alternative to water for hardening cement. What’s more, CO2 can be used to convert mineral waste from steel and mining industries into new products such as aggregates, which can be used as a basis for paving or building blocks.

Good for the planet

Mineralization of CO2 has a significant impact on the environment, because it has an effect at different levels. The annual global reduction in CO2 emissions is estimated to be 250 - 500 million tonnes by 2030 (source CO2 Value Europe).

  • CO2 can be captured from flue gas emitted by industrial processes used to create steel, cement, and chemicals, with no need for concentration or treatment.
  • CO2 can be captured directly from the atmosphere to create negative carbon emissions, i.e. carbon removal.
  • In both cases, the CO2 will be stored permanently in building materials.
  • Mineral waste and even construction waste are used together with CO2 to make new building materials, so it reduces landfills and the associated costs.
  • Recycling carbon and construction wastes means fewer new natural resources are exploited.

What’s the catch?

New developments are never without their challenges, and this is no exception. Offering a competitive, quality alternative to concrete in a circular economy requires investment and adaptation.

  • Factories will have to adapt their plants. Locating them close to significant sources of CO2, like a steel factory, is recommended so the CO2 and the waste fractions do not have to be transported.
  • Manufacturing new products takes energy and creates CO2 emissions, even if the products are made using carbon dioxide and waste. It is why renewable energy should be used as much as possible to increase the sustainability of the processes.
  • The commercialization of accelerated carbonation technologies is quite recent, and some processes are not optimally equipped for this yet.
  • The lack of appropriate regulatory frameworks is also a drawdown to allow for a fast deployment of CCU technologies. This is an area CO2 Value Europe is especially working on.

Despite these challenges, Andre Bardow (Professor of Energy & Process Systems Engineering, ETH Zurich) told us during the webinar that he is convinced CO2 mineralization reduces the CO2 footprint from a life cycle perspective, even more than carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Zero domestic waste

There are already companies producing low-CO2 construction materials around the world. One of them is in Limburg. Orbix, in Genk, has successfully extracted minerals from steel production waste (known as slag) which are used as a basis for eco-friendly concrete stone. Not only is liquid CO2 used to produce concrete stone rather than polluting cement, but residual waste that would otherwise be dumped in landfill is also recycled. 

There is a great example of this in Ghent, where Orbix worked with the Flemish research institute VITO to create the Stapsteen project for the city. Visitors can walk on Belgium’s first-ever circular economy footpath in the Leewstraat: 100m2 made entirely from sustainable bricks, saving a full 2 tonnes of CO2.

Do you have sustainability plans for 2021? Our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre can provide advice about innovations like CO2 mineralisation and support your sustainable transition.

Article

15.12.2020

Sunglasses that can help save the oceans

Yuma Labs makes sunglasses from recycled PET bottles. The Belgian firm has grown from a one-man startup into a company that manufactures items for other brands as well. But can the firm combine growth with sustainability? At BNP Paribas Fortis we certainly think so.

Yuma Labs (originally named YR Yuma) is the brainchild of Sebastiaan de Neubourg, explains his business partner Lenja Doms. She tells us: "Sebastiaan was working as a consultant, but he was itching to set up his own business.  His idea was to use a 3D printer to make sunglasses from recycled plastic. He then found out at first hand why no-one had tried this before. Because it proved to be quite a bit harder than expected,” laughs Lenja.

Crowdfunding

By 2017 Sebastiaan had a workable prototype and he started a crowdfunding campaign for his sustainable sunglasses. It was an immediate hit.  However, the project wasn’t first and foremost about achieving successful sales, reveals Lenja. “Sebastiaan saw the sunglasses primarily as a tool for making people aware of the basic principles of the circular economy. There’s no such thing as waste. A used Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle provides the raw material for a new product, such as a pair of sunglasses.” And to complete the circle, the customer is encouraged to trade the sunglasses back in at the end of their life, in exchange for a new pair at an attractive discount.

More expensive

Sustainable manufacturing, as Yuma Labs does it, inevitably means that the final product is more expensive. “Fully twice as expensive,” Lenja points out, explaining: “We certainly don’t want to see the circular economy pigeon-holed as the province of the elite. We already take account of the entire life-cycle of a product, and we take responsibility for the recycling and re-use of the materials.  And let’s be quite clear about this: that’s more costly than just putting a product on the market without worrying about what happens to it later.”

Aiming for growth

In summer 2019, Lenja Doms and Ronald Duchateau came on board the Yuma team. This provided an opportunity to broaden the focus and look further than the consumer market. This month, Yuma Labs announced a collaborative project with a major fashion company. This upscaling will enable Yuma Labs to reach out to a much larger audience.

A good mix

In order to grow, a business needs financial resources. Yuma Labs has looked into quite a number of possible solutions, says Lenja. “These days there are a lot of initiatives designed to support sustainable businesses – from banks, the government and private investors. We’ve always tried to find the right balance between our own capital and external finance, and to achieve a good mix of different forms of finance between capital, grants and loans.”

Lenja has a golden tip for other businesspeople in the circular economy: "All too often I observe that the economic side of the story is neglected because companies keep on trying to find the perfect solution or the perfect product. There’s no sense in that.  You shouldn’t try to be whiter than white.”

Creating added value

At BNP Paribas Fortis, Maxime Prové is the Account Manager for Yuma Labs. He endorses Lenja Doms’ view on this. “Entrepreneurs who set out to do sustainable or social business must also have a desire to create added value, otherwise the business won’t last,” Maxime points out, underlining: “You can’t pursue a sustainable, environmental or social business model unless it’s underpinned by a profit-making scenario. That’s the only way you’ll be able to grow, hire more people and make a greater impact.”

Photo: Karel Hemerijckx

Article

07.12.2020

Scale-up concludes mega contract in the midst of the coronavirus crisis

The Antwerp-based scale-up IPEE transforms ordinary toilets into innovative products. BNP Paribas Fortis is more than just the financial partner. IPEE have already come into contact with the right people via the bank’s network several times.

“The traditional urinal has no brain. The infrared eye simply detects that someone is standing in front of the urinal. The result? A lot of wasted water and misery”, says Bart Geraets, who founded IPEE in 2012 together with Jan Schoeters.

The scale-up devised new measuring technology that makes it possible to detect through the ceramic of a urinal when someone is urinating or when the urinal is blocked. With this innovative technology, the scale-up designed urinals that use half as much water and toilets that can be operated without touching them.

Sleek design

“IPEE is an atypical scale-up that innovates in a sector where little has changed in the past few decades”, says Conchita Vercauteren, relationship manager at the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation Hub.

Jan Schoeters: “At first we mainly focused on durability. But we soon felt that with non-residential applications, the potential water saving is subordinate to the operational aspect. We had to be able to offer added value for each stakeholder in the purchasing process.”

We opted for sleek designs to appeal to architects and end users. The simple installation attracts fitters and maintenance people see the advantages of the sleek design - that is easy to clean - and toilets that do not overflow.

New investors

Until 2015, Schoeters and Geraets, along with Victor Claes, an expert in measuring methods and originator of the IPEE technology, put their energy into product development and market research. The financing came mainly from money that they collected in their network of friends, fools and family.

They had to go elsewhere to obtain the funds for production and marketing. Geraets: “We had a product, but it wasn’t ready to sell. To take that step, we needed investors.”

Looking for new investors was a challenge. Schoeters: “We aren’t software developers and we don’t work in a sexy sector. So we miss out with a large target group of investors.”

The young scale-up attracted the attention of Ronald Kerckhaert, who had sold his successful company, Sax Sanitair, at the end of 2015. “He pushed us to think big, more than we dared ourselves. And he never headed for an exit. His express goal was to put our product on the world market”, says Schoeters.

Growth path

IPEE has achieved impressive growth since then. The product range was expanded and new sectors were broached: educational institutes, office buildings and hospitals. The technology is now used by Kinepolis, Texaco, Schiphol and Changi Airport (Singapore).

“We very soon turned to Asia, because new technology is embraced more quickly there”, Geraets explains. The IPEE technology is distributed in Singapore - where the scale-up has its own sales office - China, Thailand and Vietnam, among other places. About half the turnover comes from abroad, although the coronavirus crisis will leave its mark this year.

Supporter

“My biggest headache is achieving healthy growth”, says Bart Geraets. One advantage for IPEE is that in coronavirus times, hygiene stands high on the agenda. The scale-up's  touchless toilet facilities meet that demand.

At the same time, the shortage of water and the need to use water sparingly is very topical. Geraets: “We notice that in these strange times we are gaining an even bigger foothold. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis we concluded a contract with the world’s biggest manufacture of toilet facilities. Now it’s a matter of further professionalising our business, the personnel policy and the marketing.”

The company’s main bank is an important partner here. Schoeters: “It is more than just a financial organisation. We have already come into contact with the right people via the bank’s network several times. Our bank feels more like a supporter that is also putting its weight behind our story.”

Article

18.11.2020

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 event

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.

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