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Jointly investing in a new future

Jointly investing in a new future

(Posted on 11/12/17)

Dry Bulk and Energy Business Managers at the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Mieke Brinkel and Nicole van Klaveren, highlight the advantages of their port and how they work closely with the dry bulk sector. 

The port of Rotterdam is – and intends to remain – the largest dry bulk port in Europe. "The world of dry bulk has changed, competition has increased. As the Port of Rotterdam Authority, we work closely together with the industry and the dry bulk sector to remain prepared for the future. We are directing investments in the energy transition and digitisation, in order to become the smartest port. This allows us to maintain our status as frontrunner."

Rotterdam is Europe’s largest dry bulk hub for agri bulk, coal, iron ore, scrap, biomass, industrial minerals, sand, gravel and cement. Mieke Brinkel and Nicole van Klaveren, who work as Dry Bulk and Energy business managers at the Port of Rotterdam Authority, explain about ‘their’ port. Mieke: "In Rotterdam, you will find both a large volume of agri bulk imports, for example, and the collection and export of scrap. Our port serves both the supply and the demand ends, and offers all the facilities required for the storage and handling of dry bulk."

Ideally situated

With a total length of 42 kilometres, the port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and one of the key nodes in the global shipping network. In addition, the port is ‘ideally situated’. Nicole: “This is thanks to our direct connection with the sea. The considerable depth of the water means that the largest vessels in the world can call on Rotterdam without being hindered by tidal movements, bridges or locks. The port can be accessed any hour of the day, 24/7.”

The port serves to satisfy the bulk sector’s every demand. To ensure swift, safe and reliable handling, every bulk type has a choice of terminals with the most modern equipment and facilities. Mieke: “In other words, we offer traders and suppliers a wide range of options – including supplementary services. What’s more: the port has excellent connections with the European hinterland via short sea shipping, rail, inland shipping and road transport.”

The port is building a new economy. You can clearly see the results of this focus on change. It’s hardly surprising that Rotterdam is home to the world’s largest bio-based industrial cluster. One reason for this is that the port already has so much fossil-based industry.”

Focus on retaining cargo for the port

The dry bulk sector is always developing – and at a high pace. For example, in recent years, steel production came under pressure due to a glut of inexpensive Chinese steel that was offered far below the European market rate. This price dumping led to unfair competition, damage to the European economy and a contracting market. The European Commission responded by imposing import duties.

Mieke: "At the same time, we could see continuing demand for high-grade steel. Despite the contracting market, the port of Rotterdam works to retain existing cargo volumes. In fact: we want to increase cargo volumes through the port. How? By cooperating with partners in the entire transport chain on improvements within that same chain. We don’t try to intervene in the market itself. That’s because we are convinced that the market is self-regulating.

Energy transition: cutting COâ‚‚ emissions together with the fossil fuel sector

The two largest flows of dry bulk cargo entering Rotterdam are coal and iron ore. In the Netherlands and Germany, coal-fired power plants and their environmental impact are the subject of widespread public debate. Whether or not to close the Dutch coal-fired power plants is at the discretion of the Dutch government. The recently-published coalition agreement states that the closure of the Dutch plants needs to be effective by 2030. 15% of the coal that enters the port of Rotterdam is currently destined for coal-fired plants in the Netherlands. 85% of the coal handled in Rotterdam is forwarded to Germany. As long as the use of coal is part of the Dutch and/or German energy and industrial policies, the port of Rotterdam will strive to be the most efficient, reliable and safe port for handling this cargo type. Nicole: “Coal-fired power stations feel the mounting political pressure. The plants run fewer hours per week – and above all more erratically. This is due to the increased generation of wind and solar power. Coal use is expected to decrease in the longer term. That is why the port is also investing in the transition to biomass. The use of biomass is of strong importance for a number of different applications within the port’s energy transition.”

So what’s involved in this energy transition? The Netherlands is challenged with making its economy and society virtually carbon-neutral within the next 30 years, and the port of Rotterdam wants to contribute to this objective. Traditionally, the fossil fuel sector has served as the bedrock of the port economy. In the view of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, the port is actually an ideal environment to give concrete shape to the energy transition. Thanks to Rotterdam’s unique volume, infrastructure, local business activity, ambition and knowledge, no other region has so much potential to realise this transition. The Port Authority has identified promising opportunities, in other words.

Mieke: “Both the port and the Netherlands as a whole derive a large share of their income from the dry bulk companies in the fossil-based sector. In addition, this sector has amassed a lot of knowledge about energy, production processes and COâ‚‚ reduction measures. A successful energy transition requires new ideas and new companies that can work together with the 'old' companies. The port of Rotterdam aims to be the world’s smartest port. Together, the city and the port of Rotterdam form an innovation ecosystem that allows innovative enterprises to flourish. The private sector, knowledge institutes and the government have joined strengths. The port provides innovative companies and start-ups with opportunities to develop further – through special accelerator programmes, among other things. Prototypes can be subjected to extensive testing here. But to attract these new businesses to Rotterdam, we definitely need the ‘old’ companies – which means that we continue to embrace them. We encourage collaboration between innovators and companies in the fossil-based industry. This allows ‘old’ companies to become ‘new’ again.”

Nicole adds: "At the same time, we are working together with our partners in the dry bulk sector to set the drive towards sustainability in motion. We enter into dialogue with them as business managers. What kind of future do they envision for the terminal? Can modes of transport be ‘cleaned up’? What is the future role of wind and solar power to our partners? We are happy to think along about such matters with our partners, and to get them connected to the right parties to team up with.”

Heat Roundabout and CCS

Rotterdam is a global frontrunner in the energy transition. And Rotterdam is also one of the leading players in the utilisation of residual heat. For example, a number of different companies and institutions are jointly working on enlarging the already existing infrastructure to use residual heat for heating houses and offices in the region. The port’s industrial sector generates a lot of residual heat, which is currently released via the surface water or air. This heat and steam can be captured and distributed via an underground network of pipelines. It can be used to heat local greenhouses, offices and private households – as well as private companies that can re-use the heat for their own production processes.

Mieke: “This takes optimal advantage of the residual heat generated during the combustion of fossil fuels. Biobased and recycling activities also generate a lot of heat that can be tapped into this system.”

Another important step in the realisation of the energy transition is the capture and storage COâ‚‚, commonly referred to by the acronym CCS. CCS is internationally viewed as an important instrument for cutting back our present COâ‚‚ emissions. That is why the Port of Rotterdam and a number of partners are jointly examining opportunities to realise a basic infrastructure for the capture and transport of COâ‚‚ in Rotterdam’s port area. This COâ‚‚ can subsequently be stored in empty oil and gas fields in the North Sea seabed.

Mieke: “The new Dutch government strongly supports CCS and we expect that this backbone infrastructure and storage facilities combined with a one-stop-shop approach for companies that want to use the system, will not only lead to several millions of tonnes of COâ‚‚ being stored every year, but also will increase the competitiveness of Rotterdam.”

Focus on digitisation: KING and Navigate

In Rotterdam, people like to roll up their sleeves and get to work. A well-known Dutch expression that many Rotterdammers take to heart is ‘Niet lullen maar poetsen’ (‘Enough talk, get on with it’). And the people in the port have the same mind-set – which is why they have already made considerable headway in the area of digitisation – progress that the dry bulk sector is also benefiting from.

For example, the port offers 24 berths along buoys and dolphins for flexible, efficient and risk-free ship-to-ship handling. The berths form an attractive addition to the existing transfer options near the terminals and are a safe alternative for transhipment out on the open sea. Ships of every size can use these facilities 24 hours a day. Nicole: “The KING online booking system offers dry bulk suppliers insight into the availability of the various berths and allows them to make a reservation. The system is developed in-house by the port of Rotterdam Authority and the port continues to optimize the tool."

Another important online tool is the Navigate journey planner. This application provides insight into every transport connection that runs via Rotterdam. Nicole: “For example, the application includes the deep sea and short sea schedules for 550 ports the world over. But it also lists the rail and inland shipping connections between Rotterdam and over 150 terminals in the European hinterland. Companies have an overview of the best itinerary, the transit time and logistics firms that they can work with. They can use the tool’s business directory to immediately get in touch with other companies in the port area. While this application was originally set up for the container sector, we are also customising it for use by the bulk sector.”

The Port Authority continues to work on the development of new digital solutions. For example, a new ecosystem is being created in the Rotterdam Logistics Lab (RLL) that enables the real-time exchange of data with ships, terminals, shipping companies, shippers and Portbase. This development is being undertaken in close collaboration with the user.


The port of Rotterdam is steadily building a new economy – and a new future. The Port Authority aims to be a frontrunner in this field, including within the dry bulk sector. Mieke: “We are creating maximum freedom of movement for partners to innovate – both within the energy transition and in the digital domain. The world of dry bulk has changed, competition has increased. The Port of Rotterdam Authority is ready to support the bulk sector in taking on these challenges. The port is where knowledge, experience, partnerships, innovation and new, ground-breaking initiatives come together. This makes it the place to be for real change. Rotterdam makes it happen!”


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