Blue Tulip Awards’ Climate & Energy experts on innovation

Climate & Energy Blue Tulip Awards

You may have heard of a thing called ‘climate change’. It’s going to be pretty big, nasty and we need some groundbreaking ideas to reverse it. For instance, by completely changing the way we produce and use energy or by adopting a circular economy. The Blue Tulip Awards are fully committed to the Sustainable development goals of the UN. So it only fits that Generation 3 offers an award for the best innovation in the Climate & Energy theme. 

Experts in Climate & Energy

As registrations for the theme have recently opened, we spoke with two experts, both involved in the Blue Tulip Awards Climate & Energy theme. To find out the state of innovation with regards to our planet and how we treat it, we tapped the pool of experts at the Awards, and spoke with a jury member, partner and previous winner: Albert Fischer, director at Yellow & Blue, Cecilia van der Weijden, partner at CMS Law and Alix Reichenecker, Circular Economy Manager at PolyStyreneLoop.

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The most crucial challenge in the Climate & Energy theme? For Albert Fischer, the answer can be summarised in one word: time. As director of Yellow & Blue, a venture capital firm specialised in investing in clean energy ventures, he has been working with green energy companies for over 25 years now. He’s also jury member of this years’ Climate & Energy theme of the Blue Tulip Awards.

Time’s not on our side

“We have very little time to do something about climate change”, says Fischer. He is keen to point out that in The Netherlands, 92 per cent of the primary energy sources comes from fossil fuels, and most energy is used for heath and feedstock for the industry. “We want to electrify the grid, but there is not enough attention to decarbonising the industry. I see too little innovation there.”

And even when the industry is trying to innovate, politics often get in the way. There are too many factors at play, says Fischer. “The issues are resources, pricing, emissions, short-term, long-term, you name it. It’s too complicated for politicians who have to make decisions. So you end up with very short-term policies, a reaction on the issue of the day.”

The switch to sustainable

Cecilia van der Weijden also has a long career dealing with energy companies. As a partner of CMS Law and of the Blue Tulip Awards, she ‘kinda rolled into’ her speciality twenty years ago. She assists with acquisitions and project development in the energy sector. The first stretch of her career, these were mostly projects dealing with fossil energy. Ten years ago, a switch started to occur. Now, basically all energy-related projects she works on involve renewable energy. 

The past ten years have been a period of transition. “The next ten years is when it has to happen”, Van der Weijden says. “Climate change and energy transition are closely tied together. We need to move to a new industry that is future-proofed.” 

Saying goodbye to fossil fuels is not just a matter of turning off the gas pipe. “Innovation plays an important role. Wind and sun are not always available, that’s something you need to deal with. So we need to work on things like energy efficiency, demand response, storage, transport.” 

‘A new vision’

Moving to a world with sustainable energy requires everybody’s effort, not just the traditional energy moguls, says Van der Weijden. “It will be a mixture of large scale projects and smaller ones, close to home. Like homes that can generate their own electricity, for instance with solar panels.”

“That means that people not only consume but also generate energy. They can manage their input and output themselves. They can store electricity in their car’s battery or choose to charge when energy prices are low. That is a whole new perspective, one that requires a new vision.”

Four steps to sustainability

And what can the industry do to take the step to a better, cleaner future? Fischer: “It’s about doing the right things, not about doing things right. I don’t believe energy giants deserve a sustainability prize, just because they publish some report on how they plan to do better.” Instead, Fischer likes to see a more thorough approach to sustainability. 

That approach involves measuring everything you do, explains Fischer. This includes the scope 3 emissions, the indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain. It also involves unparalleled transparency about where you are regarding sustainability. Companies will have to adapt their decision-making process to a circular economy and constantly re-evaluate themselves. It won’t be easy, says Fischer: “Creating a circular economy is very hard. It’s not just about recycling stuff. You need to bring complete value chains together.”

PolyStyreneLoop’s innovation

That’s exactly the pitch that won PolyStyreneLoop the Blue Tulip Awards’ Climate theme last year. The company has a solution for hard to recycle expanded and extruded polystyrene foam (EPS and XPS), which is often used in building projects. Not only have they found a way to recycle polystyrene foam that is left over from demolition waste they also recover the bromine from the flame retardant HBCD. 

PolyStyreneLoop also produces polystyrene Loop-PS for use in the same application to close the loop. And they do this in cooperation with building companies spanning Europe that provide them with old isolation foams and polystyrene bead producers who buy their recycled new product. The bead producers make new foamable beads from it. PolyStyreneLoop’s first plant is in development and due to open this summer in the Dutch town of Terneuzen.

Shared values 

“You have to look at the whole value chain”, says Reichenecker. “You need to look around and find out which companies and actors you are influencing.” The most important thing is to have shared values on the matter of sustainability. “You can’t tell a company what to do. But if you have the same ideas, it is possible to work together.”

That is why PolyStyreneLoop is still looking for companies to join their cooperation, supply them with feedstock (EPS/XPS from demolition), and support their goal: a circular approach to producing styrofoam. Winning the Blue Tulip Awards helps, says Reichenecker, as it gave them plenty of attention and high-level support. But now, the real work starts for the startup.

‘Many uncertainties’

“For the next step, we’re kind of left to our own devices. There is financial support for startups to put solutions in action, and there are more grants to apply for doing R&D., But after that, there are many uncertainties. There is no coordinated approach or a large platform to overcome that. I think there should be grants and subsidies on a higher level for scaleups like our Demo Plant. Not only for research programmes. We are a cooperative, we work with companies that believe in us, and we have the sector behind us. We have grants but are also reliant on loans. So we have to think of a multitude of financial streams.

‘Great to connect with innovators’

Winning the Blue Tulip Awards has been a huge motivation, says Reichenecker. “Especially in corona-times. It’s great to connect with other innovators and show yourself. Even though there’s no face-to-face meeting, and networking is more difficult online, they have a great platform to talk about positive changes. It is very important to offer starting companies that opportunity.”

For Van der Weijden last year was the first time she was involved in the Blue Tulip Awards. COVID-19 suddenly shut down the world, which meant the programme had to shift to online-only. “That made it somewhat special. The pandemic showed us there are opportunities regarding renewable energy. That’s why innovation is crucial, that is what Blue Tulip Awards offers. This year, it’s even more relevant than last year.”

‘I’ve never seen that before!’

Fischer says the Blue Tulip Awards and the innovation he sees there often manage to surprise him: “I consider my deal flow to be pretty good, but every year I catch myself thinking ‘wow, that’s something I’ve never seen before’. I’m not just talking about quirky inventors, there’s also a lot happening at large corporations that we don’t know about. The sourcing of innovators is excellent.”

That’s what makes the vibe of the event ‘unprecedented’ for Fischer: “We see a hundred proposals and have to reduce that amount to one single winner. And everyone is extremely motivated to become that lucky one. But just because there is one winner does not mean there are 99 losers. I see many participants getting a huge boost. They may not be on the podium, but it could be a step up to another podium. Even no result is a result. You can learn a lot from an experiment that fails.”

Register now for the Climate & Energy theme

The third generation of the Blue Tulip Awards is now open for registration. Can your innovation accelerate the transition to sustainable energy? Are you developing the idea that will make our economy circular? Innovators in the world of Climate & Energy eager to change the world can sign up on the website of the Blue Tulip Awards. Registration is open now, you have until April 11th, so don’t wait.

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