Full circle

Waste not: Amsterdam hosts a sewage treatment plant which converts waste into fertiliser. Credit: Port of Amsterdam
Waste not: Amsterdam hosts a sewage treatment plant which converts waste into fertiliser. Credit: Port of Amsterdam
On site: the EU's DAPhNE project is studying circular economy benefits for ports
On site: the EU's DAPhNE project is studying circular economy benefits for ports
Liquidity: bio-based waste ecosystems can bring circular economies to ports. Credit: Port of Amsterdam
Liquidity: bio-based waste ecosystems can bring circular economies to ports. Credit: Port of Amsterdam
"Learning to establish the (circular) process industry is as important as hunting for cargo," Micha Hes, Port of Amsterdam

Ports are taking on the concept of the circular economy. John Bensalhia reports

Classic children's TV programmes had the right idea. Instead of throwing out home materials and items no longer deemed of value, they encouraged youngsters to put them to good use. With the aid of sticky-tape, glue and scissors, you could, say, use a cardboard roll in the construction of a home-made model plane, boat or spacecraft to cherish for the future.

The same kind of principle applies to the concept of circular economy. Regarded as an alternative to the normal linear economy in which resources are made, used and got rid of in rapid succession, the circular economy uses resources for as long as their natural life. and then once their maximum value has been gleaned, products and materials can either be recovered or regenerated for future use.

This circular economy is an increasingly popular proposition for ports. By managing and recycling waste for fuel or chemicals, and supporting specific recycling facilities, ports from all over the world are embracing this notion. For example, the Dutch government has set a target of moving to a circular system by the year 2050, benefitting its ports.

“The Port of Amsterdam has ambitious goals set when it comes to circular economy,” says Micha Hes, the Port of Amsterdam's business development manager (circular economy). “Amsterdam port, known for its strong position in fossil fuels, already has an existing cluster of circular companies, including one of the largest bio-based ecosystems within Europe where organic waste is converted into renewable energy, fuels, fertilisers and chemical compounds. Already, 6% of its turnover is circular based, with an aim to grow to 10% by 2021.”

Main benefits

Outlining the importance of circular economy for ports, the Port of Rotterdam says that there are four main aspects. Firstly, it says that a port can function as a 'matchmaker' by bringing together producing and recycling industries with the aim of re-using energy. Ports can also accommodate industries which actively treat, collect and ship waste. Another aspect raised by the Port of Rotterdam is that a port can act as a logistical hub for the importing and exporting of waste materials. Finally, ports' industrial clusters can help to offer opportunities for circular and more sustainable use of waste and resources.

Mr Hes says that the Port of Amsterdam will benefit from the focus on circular economy for a number of reasons. “First of all, the necessity to transform the economy to renewable energy and thus, make it less dependent on fossil fuels. Within that framework, the Port of Amsterdam announced in March this year to phase out the transhipment of coal at terminals in the port by 2030.”

“Secondly, the port already has a strong cluster of circular companies ranging from waste management and scrap terminals to the recycling of construction waste. Most of these companies rely on the metropolitan area of Amsterdam where 1.6bn tonnes of waste is produced annually. The port will become an increasingly important hub for circular production, both for handling waste streams as well as the existing storage capacity and end-markets close by.”

Mr Hes adds that for ports in general, other important aspects are an excellent infrastructure, an existing circular cluster, including the storage and handling of terminals and the ecosystem of process industry. “Being close to a metropolitan region is of vital importance to be able to attract feedstocks as well as markets and knowledge and innovative forces. What we noticed is that support from important stakeholders, including our shareholder, the city of Amsterdam, helps build a circular businesses in the port, including renewable energy production.”

New projects

With such benefits and opportunities, other circular economy projects are being introduced. One example is Pro Danube International's implementation of an EU-funded project called DAPhNE (Danube Ports Network). Raluca Danila, project manager, says that the focus of this project is the Danube region, and involves 23 partners from nine Danube Riparian countries trying to figure out ways of stimulating the development of ports by making use of new industrial opportunities and innovative cargo types. The circular economy is one of the topics.

“Most of the Danube Ports on the Middle and Lower river sections are still struggling to compete with their Upper Danube counterparts in terms of cargo types, infrastructure and logistics facilities,” says Ms Danila. “The DAPhNE consortium is investigating different areas to even out these differences and the circular economy is one topic that shall be approached.”

Ms Danila explains that normally, unrelated industries can exchange the flow of material and energy, thus developing a form of industrial symbiosis. “Port sites have a great potential for such synergies because of the various types of entities clustered together. The advantages of such collaborations range from pollution prevention, process optimisation and waste management to internalisation of environmental costs, local economic development and competitiveness.”

“Under a specific section of the DAPhNE project, dealing with 'Innovation and new market opportunities' (act.5.4), the consortium will investigate those examples related to the circular economy in the Rhine-Danube region and analyse the context that made such synergies possible: triggers, facilitating agents, and steps in implementation. The results of this analysis will be available in December 2018.”

Scottish plan

Another example of circular economy planning is taking place in Scotland. Peel Ports' development of Ayrshire-based Hunterston PARC (Hunterston Port and Resource Centre) is supporting the Scottish Government's circular economy aims.

The developments at Hunterston PARC will handle and process chemicals including liquefied natural gas, which will be used to power Scottish industry and transport. The single site has been developed to accommodate material management co-location; asset decommissioning/recycling; pre-fabrication and manufacturing; data storage; and power generation.

Gary Hodgson, strategic projects director, Peel Ports Group, explained that Hunterston PARC's combination of rail and motorway connections and over 300 acres of development land made this the right choice for handling and processing Scotland’s industrial resources. “Our continued focus is supporting the development of integrated supply chains through port-centric logistics, and the developments underway at Hunterston PARC are a perfect example of how we’re doing this.”

Meanwhile, the Port of Rotterdam is involved in a number of circular economy-related projects. These include the recycling process known as Ioniqa. This involves the recycling of plastic PET bottles (made from polyethylene terephthalate) and various other items of PET waste. This results in a pure chemical raw material which can be used for future products.

Another example is the Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing LAB (RAMLAB), the first field laboratory with 3D metal printers to concentrate on the port-related industry. The printers are used to develop knowledge in the sphere of metal printing, 3D design and certification. The ultimate aim of RAMLAB is to research and develop methods of making WAAM (Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing) technology viable as a commercial proposition.

As Mr Hes concludes, ports' duties are widening, expanding to take matters such as the circular economy into account: “Ports need to understand that their key activity: namely, handling cargo, must go hand in hand with a more systematic approach to build an industrial ecosystem able to most effectively combine renewable raw materials with waste streams, including energy. Regarding the whole ecosystem and learning to establish the (circular) process industry is as important as hunting for cargo.”


Waste is part and parcel of everyday lives, but how can businesses control this? The Port of Rotterdam says that there are various methods of effective waste management.

First, don't just abandon products that are due to be disposed or burnt. Instead, the raw materials from these can be recovered and used again. Second, the service life of extant products can be extended. Rather than opting for a new product, wastage can be avoided by either repairing or maintaining the current item. If it's had its day, then another choice would be to buy a second-hand replacement. Sharing equipment is a further solution, as is renting or leasing.

The Port of Amsterdam's Mr Hes says that the circular economy means less dependency on fossil raw materials, with greater importance placed on being part of the supply chain on a more regional level.

“It is vital to start with building a circular industry at state-of-the-art level in order to attract waste streams. When waste becomes of value, a port needs to be positioned as the cheapest and most sustainable option for upcycling and recycling these streams. It is necessary to start building the ecosystem and clusters to be able to add the highest value. And that is what the Port of Amsterdam has been doing over the years.”


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