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Building a surge in petrochemicals

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Author(s): Chris Coeck, Strategy and Analysis Manager, the Port of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

Between 2012 and 2013, the volume of liquid bulk handled by the Port of Antwerp surged by 31.9%. Since 2000, the volume of petroleum derivatives has jumped by 213%, and the chemical volume by 205%. Despite volumes booming at Antwerp, there has been growth in the industry also. The port has strived to see growth in the industry as a challenge and an opportunity to evolve. While the above results demonstrate the competitiveness of the Port of Antwerp’s petrochemical cluster, no port can afford to stand still in this erratic market. One way to countenance the fluctuations of the market is to continue attracting targeted investments in new infrastructure and facilities, thereby increasing capacity.

Largest European petrochemical cluster thanks to integration

In 2013, the Port of Antwerp handled 190.8 million tonnes of maritime cargo. Almost a third of this, 59.5 million tonnes, was liquid bulk. Petroleum derivatives account for 73% of the liquid bulk volume and include products such as petrol, diesel, heating oil and kerosene. Chemicals account for around 19% and crude oil about 8%. The port maintains these high standards by housing seven of the world’s top ten petrochemical companies’ production facilities. In the port area there are three refineries operating respectively (ExxonMobil, Total and IBR) and one bitumen plant operated by ATPC (VTTI/ Vitol). These companies together use over 30 million tonnes of crude oil a year, of which three-quarters reaches Antwerp via the Rotterdam-Antwerp pipeline (RAPL). These facilities and performances didn’t arise overnight – they are the result of a deliberate strategy and a long process. The growth of Antwerp’s petrochemical cluster has developed for many reasons. In this article we look at some of the most important.

Inland location offers proximity for customers

One of the main advantages of the Port of Antwerp is its location. Situated 80km inland from the North Sea, customers have direct proximity to key European centres of production and consumption, such as the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland, which cuts transport and inventory costs. In the 1960s, private companies chose Antwerp thanks to its prime location, as well as various other factors, such as the favourable tax treatment and the high level of education of the workforce.


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