BBBLS: The company that uses soap bubbles to make horticulture more sustainable
“The Dutch horticulture industry emits five million tons of CO2 every year and we’d be able to cut out about four million tons of that. That’s the impact we can make.”
As co-founder and managing director of BBBLS, Anton Paardekooper knows what it takes to be a small company with a big mission. He and his team have developed an innovative technology, based on soap bubbles, that provides extra insulation for buildings. Their current focus is on greenhouses, helping their owners decrease energy emissions.
“The world’s population is growing, and we need to start eating food that is healthy and has an ever-smaller CO2 footprint. We need to start growing climate-neutral fruits and vegetables.”
Using soap bubbles for better insulation
The concept that BBBLS is built on is not necessarily a new one, but until less than 10 years ago, it was not used even on a semi-industrial scale, Anton says.
“If, between two surfaces, you have air that doesn’t move, you can use it as insulation. The same goes for soap bubbles,” he explains. “In any building with a double wall you can put bubbles. They serve as insulation and help decrease energy loss.”
Yet, soap bubbles can also have another function. While in the winter, they help keep the warmth in, in the summer when there is a lot of sunlight, they help control how much of it goes through a glass surface. This is particularly useful in greenhouses where climate control and the right amount of light are key.
Anton and his team have chosen horticulture companies and greenhouses as their main market for a reason: they can help them become more sustainable. About 30% of the expenses of a greenhouse are for energy, he says, and better insulation can really make a difference.
Learning to build energy-saving greenhouses
Anton joined the company in 2014 and is one of four co-founders. For a few years, they used grants, their own financial resources and first revenues to keep the company running. Their first project was with ReKlima in Norway, who is one of the early adopters of the BBBLS technology.
“Norway is a bit more advanced in terms of sustainable innovations,” Anton says, “but we are happy to be seeing more of that in other places, including in the Netherlands, now as well.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that their prototype greenhouse is in Norway, and it is operating for a third season in a row. “At the moment, we are able to build small greenhouses up to one hectare and it takes us about eight months to have one of those up and running.” In June, the team closed a deal with one of the early adopters in Dutch horticulture to build a large demonstration greenhouse and will be sharing more details in the near future.
For all the projects, BBBLS works with a number of long-term partners responsible for different scopes of the work, including its construction or the climate control it requires. The automation of the BBBLS technology is something the team does almost entirely on their own.
To date, the company has enjoyed the support of a number of organizations, too, of which YES!Delft has played an important role. “The main benefit of joining YES!Delft has been the access to talent,” Anton says. “We have been able to hire new employees and trainees that have come through their network. When it comes to fundraising, we have also learned a lot, especially in our sparring sessions with Jan Geert van Hall, their Investment Director. Just recently we were awarded a donation from the Rabobank Innovation Fund, solid proof of Rabobank’s “growing a better world together.”
Over the past years, BBBLS has raised 1.3 million euros and is looking towards a Series A round of 1.0 million euros in the near future. “We are looking for funding both in the Netherlands and abroad, but our experience so far is that it is good to be close to your investors. We are looking for smart money so a good match and proximity to each other would be crucial.”
A successful next round of investment would also mean growing the team and scaling their production processes and technology. There are certainly big plans ahead of the team and they seem to be ready for that next step.
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