Feature: BlueCity, Rotterdam's circular economy hub for innovative entrepreneurs

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ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands, April 23 (Xinhua) -- In Rotterdam, the largest seaport in Europe, climate adaptation is becoming a driver of innovative entrepreneurship and urban development, transforming the second largest city of the Netherlands into an avant-garde green and circular metropolis.


The so-called BlueCity, an exemplary ecosystem of circular economy entrepreneurs, lies at the heart of this effort as Rotterdam aspires to make a significant contribution to the country's overall goal to have a sustainable, fully circular economy by 2050.

"This building used to be a swimming pool, now it has been repurposed and is the home of startup entrepreneurs, who are working on innovative blue economy projects," said Jeanette Verdonk, BlueCity's marketing manager.

Situated in prime location in the former subtropical swimming oasis Tropicana on the banks of the river Maas and overlooking two of Rotterdam's iconic bridges, Erasmusbrug and Willemsbrug, the BlueCity business incubator is home to 40-odd young entrepreneurs who work on innovative circular economy solutions and constantly look for new opportunities.

Nienke Binnendijk, director of BlueCity Lab, the first circular biolab in the world, explained that the idea guiding the entrepreneurs' efforts is to create closed material cycles, where waste becomes raw material.

"BlueCity is named after the concept of blue economy," Binnendijk said, referring to the emerging macroeconomic concept, which according to the World Bank is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem."

BlueCity focuses on sustainability and zero-waste initiatives, marking a "radical shift" from business as usual, Binnendijk explained. The BlueCity Lab, in particular, offers space for various manufacturing processes that use microorganisms, where entrepreneurs can develop and test their prototypes.

The building itself, which is still being transformed, is itself a striking example of innovative circular development, Verdonk said. The abandoned swimming pool and its inaccessible, outdated basement have been converted into office spaces and production units in a sustainable way by using reusable construction materials, which the Dutch register on a database called Oogsdkaart.

A guiding principle in circular construction is "to use waste resources, to look at which material is available as residual flow," said architect Jan Jongert, co-founder of Superuse Studios, who helped turn the basement area into production spaces and offices.

"The idea is to create a prototype circular city on a small scale, which might work in large cities," he said. Around 90 percent of the circular office wing, with 100 workplaces for sustainable entrepreneurs, was reconstructed with recycled material, saving a total of 60 tonnes of CO2.

"By connecting the waste to the need of materials, you minimize the impact on the environment," said Jongert.

BlueCity is also home to his company, which aims at promoting circular design and construction.

"Transforming wind turbine blades into furniture or playground equipment is what our new startup does," he said, showing pictures of such a playground in Rotterdam. Around 20,000 wind turbine blades are disposed of each year. These are not yet recyclable, the architect said, explaining the idea behind his company's new circular concept, also developed in BlueCity.


Some of the innovations created in BlueCity have already scaled up. Binnendijk gives the example of Rotterzwam, one of the founders of BlueCity and the first circular entrepreneur to settle in the former Tropicana. A circular oyster mushroom nursery that runs on an easy-to-find residual flow -- coffee grounds left over at nearby cafes -- Rotterzwam has now opened a larger nursery in Rotterdam West, a few kilometers from its initial workshop.

Just around the corner from Jongert's office, the office of Wies van Lieshout is filled with samples of dredged water in the production area of her startup Waterweg. Van Lieshout and co-founder Eva Aarts produce water permeable tiles made from residual dredging material, found in abundance in the Netherlands, a country known for its countless waterways and canals.

In 2018, the two young professionals won the Circular Challenge, an accelerator program that focuses on creating valuable products from industrial waste, with a parallel focus on a valid business model behind the completed prototypes.

"All waterways in the Netherlands are drenched every seven years," Lieshout explained. Their idea was inspired by a simple question: "what do you do with the rainwater?"

Developing a sustainable alternative to board materials used in construction has been the goal of biodesigner Marjanne Cuypers, who creates fiberboards from brown seaweed in her workshop in BlueCity.

The so-called SeaWood is a 100 percent natural, compostable and chemical-free board material that can be used as biodegradable sheet material for interior design products and acoustic wall panels, Cuypers said. This material meets the new climate-friendly building requirements.

"Due to its unique properties, seaweed can make construction more sustainable," said the BlueCity innovator, who is currently focusing on scaling up the production process of this "renewable material." Enditem

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