A coal-free future

03 Jun 2017
Tying up: Amsterdam is focusing on the port’s role in improving quality of life in Amsterdam and its surrounding area

Tying up: Amsterdam is focusing on the port’s role in improving quality of life in Amsterdam and its surrounding area

Amsterdam is bucking trends to carve its own path, as Felicity Landon explains

The decline of coal, the rise of renewable energy and the development of more circular and bio-based industries form the basis of the Port of Amsterdam’s Vision 2030 and, more immediately, its five-year plan.

In terms of specifics, the Vision foresees a coal-free port by 2030 and there is a deliberate focus on generation and storage of renewable energy; the port is actively encouraging and making room for start-up and innovative companies in the push for diversification and the creation of more local jobs; and the focus is strongly on the port’s role in improving quality of life in Amsterdam and its surrounding area.

Head of strategy Eduard de Visser says that while this approach may set the port apart from its peers, that is not its sole purpose. “We have been looking at where we see ports in general in the next few years,” he says. “Looking at history, the tendency over the past couple of decades has been for increasing larger-scale growth; vessels have become bigger, the infrastructure has become bigger, and the development of our new sea lock is very much in line with this.

“However, at the same time we see a shift in the way that trade is being performed in Europe, and it’s a common theme across ports. Until now, we have been very much in the business of importing very large-scale goods – energy sources, raw materials, and so on – from our perspective, into Amsterdam’s European hinterland, including Germany and Switzerland.

“Now we are seeing a shift and we must adapt ourselves to manage that future. At the same time, we want to become a metropolitan port that connects the city, region and industry, where we are no longer focused solely on the port’s import function.”

That, says Mr de Visser, is where the strands come together. “We see energy being generated not so much from coal but much more likely from wind farms locally and offshore, from solar power, and from other sources. We are also looking to establish our position relating to the re-use of raw materials, focusing very heavily on attracting industries involved in upcycling and recycling. That does set us apart from other ports whose strategy tends to be focused on prolonging large-scale growth, large-scale vessels and transhipment.”

The port is in the process of building a massive solar power farm, literally knocking on the doors of clients to use any roof available for solar panels; it expects to reach 100,000 square metres by 2020. Last year, the port became the co-owner of a wind farm based in the Afrikahaven area; in 2023, construction of a new wind farm off IJmuiden will begin.

Choosing a path

Mr de Visser says ports, including Amsterdam, are at a crossroads in terms of the types of industries being handled and generated inside ports. “That crossroads basically leads to a choice – either continue with what we have known over the past couple of decades with industries familiar to us, or head towards a future where other types of industries become more important. By making deliberate and conscious choices right now, we feel we can take a leading position in those industries.”

Companies already established in the port include the Calcite Factory, which converts granules used in the water softening process into products for the chemical, food and animal feed industries, and the Waste2Aromatics project in which the port and its partners are looking at ways of converting disposable commodities such as paper nappies into molecules which can be key ingredients in plastics manufacturing. “We need to focus much more on creating value and attracting industries with a lot of potential for the future but also to meet the direct needs of the growing metropolitan area,” says Mr de Visser. “Many great cities are seeing large-scale congestion and logistical problems and there is a new appreciation of the part that ports have to play in resolving these.”

The Port of Amsterdam’s volumes rose 0.4% to 78.8m tonnes last year, while total volumes handled by the North Sea Canal Area, which also includes IJmuiden, Beverwijk and Zaanstad, remained level at 96.5m tonnes. Coal volumes were down 7.5% to 16.1m tonnes.

Amsterdam’s new sea lock is on course to open for shipping at the end of 2019. From that point, the port will be accessible 24 hours a day.

Being built at an estimated cost of E878m, although the final amount could be lower, the new lock is 500 metres long, 70 metres wide and 18 metres deep. It will replace the North Lock at the entrance of the North Sea Canal at Ijmuiden, which dates back to 1929 and was the largest lock in the world until the 1960s. The new lock will reclaim that title.