BBC World Business Report: The Green Box eyes energy transition ideas

News of the The Green Box – the new science, technology and enterprise campus dedicated to the development of viable and affordable clean energy solutions – has been brought to a 319 million strong global radio audience by the BBC World Service.

The Green Box in Hengelo in The Netherlands is more than merely a rural idyl where scientists can work for a greener future; it is also a place where ideas from different industries can cross-pollinate, observed BBC World Business Report presenter Philip Hampsheir.

“When different fields mingle, new ideas emerge,” he said.

The Green Box will offer its tenants access to facilities ranging from shared office space, networking areas, research laboratories, events and conference venues, as well as to services such as business mentoring and advice on legal and regulatory matters pertinent to startups.

The campus will have an incubator that will help students and entrepreneurs establish new companies that in turn will create new, green jobs. Growth will be both targeted and rapid as a result of access to people and organisations with a lot of knowledge and expertise from different fields.

“We expect to do research in a range of fields, from clean energy generation to storage, conversion, delivery, but also applications such as electric vehicles,” Anne Koolen, who is responsible for planning, implementing and marketing the campus plan, told the BBC.

Learning from each other

In addition to bringing together startups in areas such as chemistry and electronics, the campus will engage with and welcome contributions from politicians, academics and even students.

Entrepreneurial student teams will be encouraged to participate in competitions, where the winners will be offered free working space on site to develop their ideas, according to Anne Koolen.

The idea behind it all is that people will learn from each other as they work towards a shared goal of a transition to clean energy.

“You can build a battery or a charging station or an electric vehicle, but the battery must be integrated into the vehicle, it must be charged, and the vehicle must be connected to the grid,” said Anne Koolen.

“When these technologies are developed together they can be integrated and we can find synergies. Only when we work together can we realise the energy transition.”

Perfect location

Situated right in the middle of Europe’s industrial heartland, close to the University of Twente, a public technical university, The Green Box is in a perfect location, said Anne Koolen.

“We’re in the middle of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp so we’re in a central place Europe, which is really convenient,” she said.

“Also, it’s close to a university in a large location where we can still build extra buildings to expand, so it’s really a nice place to be.”

The campus is on a 183.195 m2 site with 71.490 m2 of existing buildings that was acquired by Dutch entrepreneur and investor Kees Koolen from Eaton Industries Netherlands B.V.

Eaton will retain a presence on site.

“The site has been a hub of electrical engineering and a source of technology that can positively impact climate change for many years. The first SF6-free medium voltage switchgear was created here over 60 years ago. We are glad to be part of this campus that will continue the transition to clean energy in the future,” said Fernando Ceccarelli, SVP and General Manager, Power Distribution Division, Eaton EMEA.

The site is ideally suited for energy research and development, according to Kees Koolen, whose private investment of at least €18m in the campus project will be supplemented by additional funds and expertise from startups and research and development groups that will have a presence here. 

“There are already sophisticated electricity facilities in place that are suitable for complex research, and we hope to find ways to ensure it is entirely powered by clean energy. Coupled with its access to the area’s skilled workforce, we believe we have found a recipe for success,” he said.

Green jobs

Kees Koolen expects many new jobs to be created at The Green Box in ways that will bring benefits both to the local economy as well as to The Netherlands, to Europe, and to the world.

“The new jobs will be green jobs, which are exactly the kind of jobs that we will need as we embark on a recovery from the Corona crisis. We expect a growing number of skilled employees to be employed by the companies that will move in here in the months and years ahead. This will help attract, retain and develop talent,” he said.

The Green Box is expected to be a welcome addition to the Twente region’s vibrant academic and business community.

“Both students and scientists will gain from our presence at The Green Box, as will the companies on the campus. Ultimately the benefits will be universal, in particular with regards to research into clean energy solutions that will help the world deal with challenges such as climate change, air pollution and energy security,” said Victor van der Chijs, president executive board, Twente University.

Critical mass

The Green Box will begin to fill up immediately. Initial tenants, along with Eaton, will include companies that are part of the Hengelo-based clean energy conglomerate Koolen Industries. 

Lithium battery company Super B, green ammonia technology company Proton Ventures and hydrogen-bromide energy storage system company Elestor will continue to work closely together with Smart Grid to develop and produce containerized clean energy storage solutions on campus. Moreover, Floading is already using the high-power test facilities at the location, storing the electric vehicles of its customers and using the location for its R&D activities.  

Other Koolen Industries companies that will be represented on the campus include:

  • Hardt Hyperloop, which is developing zero emissions transport systems for vehicles traveling through airless tubes at more than 1,000 km/h,
  • Koolen Industries Solar, which installs solar panels, both commercial and residential,
  • GreenBattery, which offers mobile battery and solar charging solutions,
  • Skoon, a software platform for mobile clean energy, including an online marketplace and other software tools for commercial management of batteries and hydrogen generators,
  • Kraftblock, which uses nanotechnology to develop new ways to store and transport energy as heat and
  • Aziobot, an artificial intelligence and robotics company, whose autonomous robots will be used to keep the site clean.

Most of these companies will retain their present headquarters elsewhere in The Netherlands or Germany.

“With so many specialist companies having a presence at the campus from the very start, The Green Box will hit the ground running in the race to become an internationally prominent clean energy hub where innovation will thrive,” said Mr Koolen.

“The transition to clean energy is in the same phase as the internet was in back in the ‘90s. Even then, we already knew that everything would be digitised eventually, but it took 30 years. The same will happen with the energy transition. We know what to do and we know how to do it. We even know why we have to do it, so we know it’s going to happen. What’s needed now is sharp focus and hard work.”

Listen to World Business Report on BBC World Service. The Green Box report can be heard at 15:19 – 19:10.

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