For the sustained success of the port ecosystem, it is essential to understand every stage of its development to help it to evolve over time as well as to catch up with breakthroughs that are difficult to anticipate. The Incubator is used to refer to those innovative enterprises which can fill the gap between innovative small companies (niches) and the bigscale industrial and logistics setting characteristic of ports. The Incubator consists of a mix of diverse firms, combining established -companies, (specialized) services and start-ups. They offer financial and organization support to early-stage start-ups and early grown-ups to help them to upscale and adapt to the global concurrence that partly governs the port ecosystem and provide adapted infrastructure to them (e.g. testing centres and labs).
A quick geographical description
This building block finds its habitat within the city port, and away from any housing developments because of nuisances like noise and emissions it generates. The area is often publicly accessible, and its success depends on the visibility of companies, along with their physical and organizational proximity.
Observed advantages and disadvantages
The proximity to other companies in other (un) related sectors can usher in new opportunities for cluster creation in the port ecosystem. In those cases, incubators can play a role as switches among sectors or furthering functional specialization
Different situations analysed
The differences between the incubator types are noteworthy. Where they are lighter and linked primarily to urban manufacture and circularity, as is the case of Greenbizz in Brussels, the incubator is less concerned with port-related developments. In the other cases, the physical and organizational proximity of the incubator to the port ecosystem, as in the case of Eilandje - Steenborgerweert in Antwerp or Bluebridge in Ostend, makes them an ideal place to further innovation in some of the specialisms located there (e.g. mechanical equipment for oil infrastructure, underwater reparation of vessels, interactions between waves and man-made structures).
Analysis - the generic case: what activities can be found here?
Traditional port activities are moving away from the port, leaving big vacant spaces and buildings behind. This offers an opportunity for those growing and not yet established companies, attracted by these large spaces and a cheap market price. Indeed, a successful incubator depends on a combination of different features: large vacant spaces (between 1ha and 8 ha) to store the flows and accommodate growing enterprises, a permissive environmental legislation for testing and a good public transport connection to the city.
Those vacant buildings and plots offer enough room for the colocation of experimental activities next to small administration offices and large warehouses. Other factors influencing the success of an incubator is its proximity and synergy with other companies operating with the same industry. For instance, research done in the incubator can interact with on the ground maritime activities like logistics and shipping, material storage and life cycle analysis, or reparation/repurposing companies.
Towards more circularity: what are the ongoing initiatives?
01 Laboratory: Facility for testing biobased coatings, personal care products and biodegradable packaging produced from the recovery of the residual flows (e.g. proteins and lipids) and intermediary products (e.g. pigments, biobased aromatics) originated in (4).
02 Waste-water treatment plant: Land or fuelbased sludge valorisation, including the nutrient recovery —phosphate and nitrogen in the form of ammonia (e.g. Milano San Rocco, Milan, IT).
03 Microalgae cultivation: Microalgae uses industrial refusals as inputs (wastewater, CO2, and desalination plant rejects) and results in a large product basket with energy-derived (biodiesel, methane, ethanol and hydrogen) and non-energy derived (nutraceutical, fertilizers, animal feed and other bulk chemicals) products. They use less land than other, particularly in the case of a production system or bioreactor based on flat panels. Algae cultivation enjoys a better growth yield and lipid content than crops (e.g. Proviron, Ostend, BE).
04 Microalgae refinery: A biorefinery is the best way to valorise algal biomass. In order to work effectively, it needs to include co-products next to the oil extracted in the first place, like alcohols, alkanes and residual biomass that can be used as fertilizer or biogas. To make sense of the algal biorefinery concept, there is a need to establish a proper connection between the various input and output streams (e.g. Ecoduna Algal Biorefinery, Bruck an der Leitha, AT).
05 Bioplastics testing lab: Algae serve as an excellent feedstock for plastic production thanks to its high content of carbohydrates and hydrocarbons. These chemicals can be converted into bioplastics to replace oil-based plastics. Bioplastics produced from microalgae have similar characteristics to oilbased plastics and thus can be “dropped in” to existing infrastructure and applications. Furthermore, microalgae-derived bioplastics can also be biodegradable, which also makes them environmentfriendly (e.g. GreenBridge, Ostend, BE)