'Rotterdam is already home to Europe's largest biofuel cluster'
If there’s anywhere in the Netherlands where the energy transition is taking shape, it’s in Rotterdam’s port and industrial area. With its ambition of being the most sustainable port in the world, the port of Rotterdam aims to achieve about 55 per cent carbon reduction by 2030 and to become completely carbon-neutral by 2050. Monique de Moel (business manager and Circular Economy programme manager at the Port of Rotterdam Authority) explains how the port intends to achieve this ambition together with other parties.
The Port of Rotterdam Authority manages, operates, and develops the city’s port and industrial area. Together with companies within the port and government, it's working towards creating a future-proof port. To achieve the ambitions for 2030 and 2050, it has set up a programme consisting of four basic components. Monique explains: “Within those basic components, we attempt to implement specific projects, because although paper is patient, it all ultimately needs to happen outside there!”
Efficiency and infrastructure
The first basic component of the strategy is efficiency and infrastructure. Together with parties inside and outside the port of Rotterdam, the industry is working on measures to reduce energy consumption and create the new infrastructure needed for the transition. “We've launched a number of projects relating to that basic component,” says Monique, “construction of a heating network, for example. Pipelines are currently being laid that will allow us to transport heat from the port’s industry to homes in The Hague, and ultimately to businesses and greenhouse horticulture operations. Another project, Porthos, is about carbon capture and storage (CCS) under the North Sea. Reinforcing the electricity grid is also necessary so businesses can become more sustainable.”
A new energy system
Infrastructure is an important prerequisite for the second basic component: transformation of the energy system. “Industry needs to switch from gas, oil, and coal to renewable electricity and (green) hydrogen. We are working with partners to introduce a hydrogen system. For example, a new hydrogen pipeline will be constructed through the port of Rotterdam, and that will soon form the basis for Rotterdam's hydrogen infrastructure. In addition, 24 hectares of the Maasvlakte industrial area have been earmarked for the conversion park that will use electrolysis to convert green electricity from offshore wind farms into green hydrogen. Shell is building Europe's biggest green hydrogen plant here.”
A new fuels and raw materials resource system
To create clean industry and a clean port, transitioning to new raw materials and fuels is essential. Fossil raw materials will be replaced with raw materials consisting of biomass, recycled materials, and green hydrogen. Rotterdam is already home to Europe's largest biofuel cluster. Monique gives an example: “Projects within this third component include the biofuel plant – with an annual capacity of 820,000 tonnes – that Shell is currently building. That plant will be one of the biggest of its kind in Europe for producing sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel from waste. And the Finnish company Neste has announced a €1.9 billion investment in a similar new biofuels plant. Here’s another example: Xycle is building a facility in the port of Rotterdam that will annually convert 20,000 tonnes of non-mechanically recyclable plastic into high-quality sustainable raw material.”
Making transport more sustainable
The fourth component of the future-proofing programme is making transport more sustainable. “Globally,” says Monique, “the maritime industry accounts for some three per cent of all carbon emissions every year. And because it’s is a very efficient mode of transport, an awful lot of stuff is transported by sea all over the world. That’s why we’re trying to make not just the maritime industry but also road transport and inland shipping cleaner. One of the sustainable transport projects involves the electrification of inland shipping, with vessels running on battery containers. The first vessel is already operating and we’re in the process of scaling up the system. Another project is about shore power: ships moored in the port will get their electricity from the onshore grid instead of their own diesel generators.”
To achieve 55 per cent carbon reduction by 2030, some 60 different projects are currently underway. Monique emphasises that “to take actual specific steps, we’re working with parties at a lot of different levels. We have a circular agenda at regional level, but of course it's important to look beyond our own region to see what’s happening elsewhere. That’s why we attach great value to collaboration at national and European level. After all, the port of Rotterdam’s industrial area occupies a prominent position in that regard.” Large-scale projects typically have a lead time of around seven years, from the initial idea to the operational phase. “It may look as if the four basic components and the associated projects are separate from one another, but they are in fact closely interconnected and they reinforce one another. So when hydrogen is produced and imported, it also means new raw materials for chemicals. And you also need the energy transition for value creation within the raw materials transition. It’s important that each individual project is a success.”
Established companies and new ones
The Port Authority is facilitating numerous new developments, and it thinks along and works together with the business community. “That means companies that are embracing innovation towards a circular economy,” says Monique. “We are also trying to introduce new innovative companies to the port industrial complex that want to establish new technologies here. Working with companies, we seek out the most suitable locations for setting up new factories. That includes looking at value chains, logistical options, and synergies with the existing cluster.”
Assuming the ambition is achieved, will a carbon-neutral port of Rotterdam look very different in 2050 to what it looks like today? Monique: “We assume that in 2050 people will still be using all kinds of products that will still need to be produced. Much of today's industry will still be there in 2050, and it won’t necessarily look any different. It’s only the raw materials that go into it and the energy carriers that’ll be different. And we’ll soon see tankers carrying hydrogen in the same way as we see tankers carrying oil at the moment. Those tankers may look a bit different, but they’ll still be vessels on the Rotterdam Waterway.”