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The Port of Amsterdam as a circular hotspot: how a port speeds up the circular economy.

“We have to take up our role now and that means trying, innovating, and if you don’t succeed, trying again.”

By Roon van Maanen Director Circular & Renewable Industry Port of Amsterdam.

The basic rule in the circular economy: one party’s residual stream is another’s raw material. Port of Amsterdam sees this as an important opportunity for the future. Port areas are precisely the place where different streams of materials and residues come together and where there are plenty of companies that can give them new value. That makes the port of Amsterdam a circular hotspot, where the city’s and regions waste streams are processed to a high standard. This is already taking promising shape.

Amsterdam’s port area should ultimately develop into a circular ecosystem within the Amsterdam metropolitan region, where companies use Amsterdam’s metropolitan region waste streams and of each other’s give them new value, where circular innovations can flourish to industrial scale and where fuels of the future are produced. Ambitious? Certainly. But perfectly feasible, says Roon van Maanen, Director of Circular & Renewable Industry at Port of Amsterdam. Port areas close to a large city are highly suitable for the circular economy.

First of all, many streams of residual and raw materials flow through the port, so there’s no lack of feedstock. A large proportion of the household waste from the city is processed in the port area, for example. But plastics and demolition and construction materials also end up at the port of Amsterdam. “These are huge streams of raw materials that converge here,” says Van Maanen. “You can really have an impact through circular processing.”

Van Maanen sees the port area as the ideal place for processing and reprocessing residual and waste streams. The port of Amsterdam is not just a port, but also a large industrial area. In other words: all kinds of parties that (re)process waste, residual and raw material streams to a high level of quality can set up a company here. And that’s exactly what Port of Amsterdam is committed to.

Matchmaking in the circular economy.

“For the circular economy to flourish in a given area, it’s essential that the right companies settle there,” explains Van Maanen. Port of Amsterdam has therefore set itself the goal of reserving 25 hectares of land for parties that make a concrete contribution to the transition to a circular or bio-based economy. This is subject to the important condition that they offer added value for companies already established in the port area.

“That means we’re actively looking for parties that can process a certain residual stream to a high level of quality or create one that can be used by others”, adds Van Maanen. Good progress is being made: half of the land on offer has now been taken up. Innovators such as Plastic Recycling Amsterdam, ChainCraft and Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGES) have already established themselves in the port area. A wood gasification installation and a bioenergy plant are also under construction.

However, the role of Port of Amsterdam  ( @PortofAmsterdam ) goes beyond attracting new companies; existing and new customers also have to be connected. Van Maanen: “We as a port know exactly which waste streams are released (and where) and which companies may be interested in them. We can therefore play an important role as a matchmaker.”

Exploiting residual streams.

This approach is already bearing fruit. For example, PARO, which processes construction and demolition materials and industrial waste, has a residual stream plastic that cannot be recycled. That plastic can go to IGES, which turns it into transport fuel (through pyrolysis).

Parties that have already been in the port area for some time also actively contribute to speeding up the circular economy. A few years ago, for example, Afval Energie Bedrijf Amsterdam (AEB Amsterdam) commissioned a waste separation plant. This separates waste into all kinds of useful waste streams, such as wood, plastic and paper. Port of Amsterdam then goes in search of parties in the area that can add value to them. “This is how we close chains at local level,” says Van Maanen. “We’re hoping to do this more and more in the years to come.”

From start-up to scale-up, to demo plant, to…

A great ambition, but easier said than done. There’s nothing easy about creating a circular economy. Port of Amsterdam recognises that scaling up is a significant problem. All too often, promising innovations fail to get beyond the start-up phase. Here too, the port company sees a role for itself.

The port actively attracts start-ups, which are given the opportunity to scale up in the port. In Prodock, the innovation hub of the port of Amsterdam, start-ups are given the opportunity to further develop their ideas. Once the idea is ready for the next phase – such as a demo plant – companies are given active support with financing and permits, for example. This way, Port of Amsterdam hopes to guide circular innovations in every upscaling phase in order to eventually raise them to industrial scale. The first success stories are already emerging in this area. For example, start-up Photanol, which converts CO2 into raw materials for bioplastics, has opened a pilot setup in Prodock. Meanwhile, biotech company Chaincraft, which converts biomass into fatty acids for animal feed, is building a demo plant in the port of Amsterdam.

From fossil fuels to renewable fuels.

The contours of a circular economy are already in place in the port area, but there is still much work to be done. Port of Amsterdam has traditionally been an important hub for fossil fuels and is the world’s biggest port for petrol transhipment. In this sector, too, a transition has now begun towards a circular and renewable approach. It is therefore essential for Port of Amsterdam to be at the forefront of this transition, together with its customers.

“Fossil fuel is irrevocably decreasing in volume in the future,” explains Van Maanen. “This means that oil, petrol and coal terminals must continue to develop. Coal terminals will go in search of new cargo, for fuel terminals this will be different. They have all the infrastructure they need to play a role in the transition to biofuels and, ultimately, synthetic fuels. We plan to undergo that development together with our customers, so that the port area remains attractive for parties that have been established here for some time.”

The first steps in this transition are already being taken. To give an example: biodiesel is produced from residual streams from the hotel and catering industry and the first exploratory studies in the field of synthetic fuels have been completed with favourable results. All the necessary infrastructure to combine green hydrogen with CO2 and produce a sustainable, synthetic fuel is in place in the port area. For this reason, the port company has entered into a partnership with Tata Steel and Nouryon to build a large electrolysis plant in IJmuiden. “The idea is that some of the hydrogen will go to the port so that it can be combined with CO2”, says Van Maanen. A sustainable solution is also being sought in the field of CO2 production. The CO2 emissions of AEB Amsterdam could be captured, for instance. There are also plans to extend the OCAP pipeline, which transports industrial CO2 emissions to glasshouse horticulture areas, to the port of Amsterdam.

If at first you don’t succeed…

All these plans are part of Port of Amsterdam’s Vision 2030. By that time the port of Amsterdam will have become a dynamic international metropolitan port, where shipping, industry, city and region come together. The circular economy forms an important part of this.

It is therefore important that the circular approach is already being put into practice. Even if some solutions are not yet perfect. “A good example of this is IGES, which transforms end-of-life plastics into transport fuel. That’s not yet a fully circular solution, but it’s a step in the right direction,” says Van Maanen. “The company also creates a residual stream of naphtha (petroleum distillate), which is a raw material for new plastic. IGES wants to develop in that direction and that’s when you can start talking about being truly circular.”

“This is how we should approach the circular economy; sitting back and waiting for the ultimate solution to turn up makes no sense,” concludes Van Maanen (pictured left). “We have to take up our role now and that means trying, innovating, and if you don’t succeed, trying again. I believe the port of Amsterdam will develop further into a place where all this will be possible in the years to come.”

For more information see 

This feature was first published in Issue #13 of the Bio Market Insights Quarterly.


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NEW!: And available to download issue #13 of the Bio Market Insights Quarterly 


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