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Port of Antwerp: ecological footprint lags behind freight volume and industrial output

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Port of Antwerp: ecological footprint lags behind freight volume and industrial output

October 22, 2019 - 13:22
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Port of Antwerp is taking important steps to become the sustainable port of the future.

This is the clear message of the fifth Sustainability Report published by the port community. Development of the port must go hand-in-hand with the largest possible contribution to society, according to the report. Published every two years, it summarises the main economic, ecological and social indicators. These demonstrate the areas of sustainability in which the port is doing well, but also where additional efforts are required. 

2018 was an excellent year for Port of Antwerp with a total maritime freight volume of 235.2 million tonnes, up 5.1% on the previous period and the sixth record year in a row. Industrial investments in the port also increased.

According to Port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren: „The positive aspect is that we are managing to stop our ecological footprint from getting bigger, despite larger freight volumes and higher industrial output. NOx and SO2 have declined further, our energy consumption is down and the number of green energy production units is growing steadily.”

In the past few years the port community has resolutely pursued innovation as a way of meeting the challenges posed by climate change. For example, with the introduction of Ecluse, the first steam heating network for industry. This now provides 5% of total Flemish production of environment-friendly heating and saves CO2 emissions of 100,000 tonnes per year. Onshore power supplies for ships at berth also help to reduce emissions within the port area. Since 2016 some 40 onshore powerpoints have been installed on quays for tugboats, barges and river cruise boats.

In a first demonstration round for Carbon Capture & Utilisation (CCU) various companies are collaborating to investigate the possibilities for environment-friendly production of methane from CO2. Initiatives such as these are encouraging companies to experiment with new technologies, so that they can be scaled up in the longer term. In ways such as these Antwerp serves as a test-bed for innovation.

The port also leads the way in using digital transition projects as a lever for more sustainable logistics, in order to remain competitive on a worldwide scale. „Together with the business world we have introduced the NxtPort data-sharing platform aimed at making the maritime and logistical processes in the port more efficient,“ declares Stephan Vanfraechem, director of Alfaport Voka.

Although the port continues to make progress in sustainability, freight volume and industrial output, additional efforts are still necessary.

„To maintain our economic leadership position it is vital to keep the port accessible. And for ecological reasons too, we must tackle the problem of mobility. In particular, achieving a modal shift from road to transport by barge and rail is a priority for the near future,“ declares Peter Van de Putte, manager of the Left Bank Development Corporation.

The biggest challenge remains the transition to renewable energy sources and a circular economy through the introduction of innovative technologies. Alternative fuels are already being made available, but the supply has yet to expand. LNG is an temporary solution, but the port community sees perspectives in methanol and hydrogen. In 2021, an operational testing ground must encourage the development of new technologies and upscale them in the port of Antwerp.

In order to keep up the sustainability momentum, next year the port will once more present a Sustainability Award to the company with the most innovative project in the field of sustainability. This competition which is held every two years has an international reputation, and all companies in the port are eligible to participate.