The Port of Rotterdam has recently published a Q&A with Nico van Dooren, Director of Energy and Process Industry and Eric van der Schans, Director of Environmental Management at the Port of Rotterdam Authority, in which they discuss the five key challenges in becoming a circular port economy, particularly in the wake of the recent COP21 climate agreement adopted in Paris.
Challenge 1: Stepping away from fossil fuels at the port. What impact will this have on the port?
Eric van der Schans said: ‘In essence, the climate agreement won’t change anything for developments that are already underway – although they will probably pick up speed.
We need to close the production and consumption loop so that we can stop wasting raw materials. I am talking about recycling, re-use, etc. And in cases where we are still required to use fossil fuels – and this is still inevitable for the time being – we need to ensure that the resulting CO2 emissions are captured and re-used or sequestered.’
Challenge 2: How do we get rid of the CO2 produced by the port’s industry?
Nico van Dooren said: ‘To start, you can capture CO2 and transport it to the greenhouses in the Westland region via pipelines. The market gardeners there are dying for CO2, since it helps their crops grow faster. And this CO2 is once again stored in biomass. We have already started doing this on a small scale, but there are serious plans to set it up on a far larger scale. We will be combining this with the distribution of industrial residual heat to the greenhouses, as well as private households – perhaps all the way to The Hague and Leiden.
Eric van der Schans said: ‘We need to store any remaining CO2 that can’t be used in the greenhouses underground. To research this method, we have developed plans for a pilot project near the Uniper coal-fired power station at Maasvlakte. We will be hearing this year whether there is sufficient budget for this.
“A bit further down the road, we can expect to see technologies that allow you to re-use CO2 – using hydrogen to convert it into natural gas, for example – which you can feed into the gas network.’
Challenge 3. Ships are also notorious as a source of CO2 emissions. How can we clean them up?
Eric van der Schans said: ‘As [a] Port Authority, we encourage greener shipping by giving clean vessels a discount on their port tariffs. This makes it interesting for shipping companies to invest in ships that run on cleaner fuel types – LNG, for example: Liquid Natural Gas.
“The Port Authority has made major investments in the infrastructure and facilities that vessels of this kind need to bunker LNG in the port.
“As Port Authority, we are also strong advocates of stricter agreements when it comes to emission control areas: the zones where ships are required to switch to cleaner fuels. We would like to see this area extended from the North Sea and the Baltic to the whole of Europe, and for the restrictions to apply to a larger number of emissions, including nitrogen.’
Challenge 4. With the steady decline in oil imports in Rotterdam, can we expect the petrochemical and chemical plants in the port to all close up sooner or later?
Eric van der Schans said: ‘By no means. Chemical production on the basis of fossil feedstocks will be replaced by production on the basis of vegetable products. Sugar beets, for instance, or wheat, soy roughage, wood residuals. In fact, this process is already in full swing in the Port of Rotterdam. We already have the largest biobased or ‘renewable’ – that’s the term we generally use – cluster in Europe, with four vegetable oil refineries, four biofuel plants and two biochemical production plants.
“Our ambition is to realise significant further growth in this sector: we’ve reserved 80ha for these activities at Maasvlakte 2, of which some 40ha are still available. Passing by one of these facilities, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the outside whether it processes fossil or vegetable products. They use the same conduits, pipelines and so on. The big difference is that you don’t have to worry about CO2 emissions in the latter case.
Nico van Dooren said: ‘It’s about more than just introducing new, clean industries. It’s also about developing a sustainable way of thinking – of doing business. People won’t automatically change the way they do business in the port: we need to introduce new revenue models that reward a sustainable approach.
“Take a water company that supplies process water to industry. If this company weren’t paid for every litre of water supplied, but for providing a ‘cooling’ service, for example, this would stimulate the company to provide this service using as little water as possible. You need to try to build in incentives of this kind wherever you can. And as Port Authority, we also try to serve as intermediaries in this process.
Challenge 5. This is a challenge to our imagination: we hop into a time machine and travel to the port of 2050. What will we find?
Eric van der Schans said: ‘Let’s start with what you’ll hear – or rather, what you won’t hear. Because the port will be a lot quieter, since far more processes will run on electricity or hydrogen. The next thing you’ll notice is the Maasvlakte 2 coastline, which you can clearly make out thanks to a wonderful line of wind turbines… and wherever you look, you’ll see solar panels: on the roofs, on the water – similar to the ones you can already find at Slufter.’
Nico van Dooren said: ‘At the same time, I think that we will still recognise many elements of today’s port in the port of 2050. You’ll still see a lot of large container ships and there will still be all sorts of chemical plants with their characteristic pipes and conduits. Except they’ll be running on organic feedstocks, and they won’t be emitting a vapour plume, since we won’t be letting the residual heat go to waste anymore.’