With BlockLab I feel like a kid in a candy shop
Making waves #6
In Rotterdam we are continuously searching for answers to make the port smarter, more efficient, better and more sustainable. How have partners in the port addressed this, why, and what could they have done smarter?
Aljosja Beije is Logistics Lead at BlockLab, a field lab initiated and financed by the Port of Rotterdam Authority and the Municipality of Rotterdam. BlockLab is putting blockchain technology into practice, with a focus on energy and logistics.
‘I grew up close to Rotterdam and I’ve had a connection with the port my whole life. I’ve worked in logistics for over twenty years and have worked on three continents. Logistics has always fascinated me. If you need some screws, they’re just there in the shop. You’re completely unaware of the journey they’ve made, for instance from China. But there are still many efficiency improvements to be made and digitisation can help with this. That’s why BlockLab makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop: all these innovative supply chain projects in which the big names are involved.’
‘A quick explanation: blockchain is a decentralised system for recording data; no one single body or company is the owner. At BlockLab we have a good overview of how you can use this blockchain technology to resolve specific logistics and energy problems. We aim to use blockchain to improve the coordination of information and financial streams. This not only makes the chain more efficient, but it also creates new business models, such as stock financing and the sharing of logistics “assets”.’
Electricity from your neighbours
‘The Port of Rotterdam Authority is committed to the energy transition and the development of alternative sources, such as wind and solar power. Just like with container logistics, you can use blockchain to coordinate the logistics of that energy. You want people to receive a reliable electricity supply. That’s a much bigger challenge than energy from coal or gas, because the wind doesn’t always blow at the same speed or in the same direction and the sun doesn’t always shine. Providing that reliable energy supply can also be done through peer-to-peer trading in decentralised markets, or between users. In early September we’ll be starting a pilot on the RDM involving such a peer-to-peer trade enabling system. Imagine you need energy in a couple of hours: you need to charge your Tesla at night so you’re in time for that important meeting the next morning. You want to be certain you can drive the distance. And you know you can purchase electricity from your neighbour cheaper than from the grid. So, of course you want to do this! Blockchain can play a role here, as it arranges the digital infrastructure for this.’
‘The other big project we’re involved with is DELIVER, a platform that also works using blockchain technology to enable a more efficient form of international trade. Take the transport of a container overseas. This can involve no fewer than 75 pages of paperwork; it’s immensely time-consuming before everything is processed. You can imagine the huge burden this places on a shipping company’s capacity and resources. And it also results in financial stream delays. Everyone needs to wait for everyone else. You can resolve this by arranging and recording the paperwork in blockchain technology. The project was a success: in early February 2019, DELIVER was used to deliver the first paperless and from door-to-door traceable container to Tilburg from Korea.’
Growth through cooperation and technology
‘For me, a smart port is a port that can run at 99 percent capacity without problems. Adding additional capacity when it’s required is not that smart. Look at road transport: 25 to 40 percent of trucks drive empty either on the outward or return journey, but more trucks are still being added. Platforms such as Uber Freight are a smart response to this. I believe companies can grow through good coordination and if they’re prepared to cooperate and have the courage to use new technology.’
‘With BlockLab we focused too much on SMEs at the start, while this sector wasn’t ready for this. It wasn’t a smart thing for us to do and it was an important lesson. You first need to ensure that you have a network and this quickly takes you to the big companies. These also have the resources and the courage to innovate. And now the SMEs are following too. We’ve just run a project with a shipping company, Shipping Factory, to see how we can use blockchain to make inland shipping administration paperless.’
‘As Rotterdam we need to ensure that we remain a smart port, and not only for economic reasons. I came to live here in 1991 and have seen Rotterdam change from a city with a lot of ‘not so nice areas’ into a liveable city that people want to make their home. At the same time, we’re transporting more and more and CO2 emissions are detrimental to that liveability. That’s why we need a smart port and Rotterdam is committed to reducing CO2. We’re radically innovating and digitising and we should export that knowledge more often and in better ways. That’s something we can still do smarter!’