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European ports: energy transition, expansion and new partnerships

Antwerp and Zeebrugge: becoming a unified port

Posted on May 3, 2023

Ports in Europe are seeing lower volumes due to the global economy and weakening consumption – but big strides are being made in creating climate-neutral terminals and developing new infrastructure and synergies.

Port of Hamburg saw its 2022 volumes of 8.3M TEU fall by 5.1% compared with 2021 – and its 4.2M TEU seaborne container imports represented a 6.1% fall compared with last year.

Port of Hamburg marketing chief executive Axel Mattern tells CST ports in Europe were all in the same position when it comes to lower cargo volumes. “Everybody has seen lower volumes as it is a worldwide phenomenon. The Russian/Ukraine war was one reason but when you investigate the figures, we have zero transhipment cargo to Russia so taking this into consideration, a 6% decline is ok. We have other markets which are rising.”

“World market transport volumes are less as there is less consumption, especially compared with during the pandemic when there was a huge rise in consumption. Since then, consumption has dropped significantly throughout the world, especially in Europe, and production has dropped in China.”

Port of Hamburg notes in its 2022 annual results that trade with some of its top 10 partner countries had seen a rise. At 294,000 TEU, throughput with Poland was up by almost 25%, putting the country in fourth place. Throughput trends with Finland were similarly positive, with a 22.3% gain to 213,000 TEU, putting the country into sixth place.

Looking ahead at 2023 cargo volumes, Mr Mattern says there are no signs this is going to change “very drastically”, adding, “We must face less cargo in the market but on the other hand there are interesting developments, such as in energy. The energy transition could totally change the market.”

Indeed, this is a major priority for Hamburg and there are fruitful opportunities for the port here. Mr Mattern says the port is discussing producing hydrogen, with plans to convert one of its old coal energy plants into a hydrogen production facility.

Mr Mattern says, “We must see how we import and facilitate import terminals. Hydrogen is very difficult to transport so we may investigate transporting ammonia. An ammonia import terminal is under planning right now at the port… although ammonia is quite dangerous so we must find solutions for handling it. We have some oil refineries that closed so these areas are most likely be used for ammonia or hydrogen.”

He sums up, “Port of Hamburg has to take decisions for the future.”

Port of Hamburg was the first port in Europe to have shore power for cruise ships and has just finished implementing shore power equipment for container ships. “We are trying to convince our neighbouring ports to start as well, as it does not make sense we have it and others don’t,” Mr Mattern says.

He comments, “Offering shore power is not as difficult for us as it may be to other ports, as we already have huge industry production, so we have a very solid grid for electricity which is helping.”

Antwerp and Zeebrugge: a year later

After the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge decided to proceed under a single banner, resulting in a new synergy, they address how that is being manifested and what the merger means one year later.

The brand-new, unified port did not hide its ambitions. “We aim to become a world port that reconciles economy, people and climate,” it said.

The unification significantly accelerated the existing innovation and energy ambitions of both port authorities. For example, Port of Antwerp-Bruges is positioning itself today as a major player in the import, local production, processing and throughput of green hydrogen and hydrogen carriers, such as ammonia and methanol, to the hinterland. Some concrete hydrogen projects are now ready to be rolled out.

Over the past year, Port of Antwerp-Bruges has increasingly emerged as a crucial link in the international logistics chain. Today, for example, 15% of the total supply of LNG and natural gas to Europe arrives via the Zeebrugge port platform. One year earlier, this was about 8%. This makes Port of Antwerp-Bruges one of the main access routes for gas to the European hinterland. “In terms of energy supply and transition, the merged port intends to continue its pioneering role in the future,” a statement says.

The integration process for transforming the various digital applications into a single system is well underway. Geographical data from the Zeebrugge platform has since been integrated into the digital twin (a virtual copy of the port), and real-time data (eg, air quality sensors) has also been linked to it.

The fact that the ports can complement one another where necessary is reflected, among other things, in the shift of container volumes from Antwerp to Zeebrugge. Because Antwerp was at its limit in terms of container capacity last year, companies were able to divert to the Zeebrugge platform for their container handling. “Container volumes can now be spread across two platforms – a win-win for both Port of Antwerp-Bruges and the logistics players,” says a statement.

Both port platforms share common challenges they are now addressing together. Take, for example, the current shortages in the job market. Port of Antwerp-Bruges recently launched the jobs site By including vacancies from both Antwerp and Zeebrugge port authorities, the website reaches a broad Flemish audience.

Port of Antwerp-Bruges chief executive Jacques Vandermeiren says, “After one year, we are not only one port. One year later, I see in the workplace every day how we have grown into one cohesive management and one cohesive team. We form one port together, which is holding strong in geopolitically and economically challenging times and during the energy crisis.”

JadeWeserPort Freight Village is one of the leading green field projects in Germany and supplies around 250M consumers through feeder and hinterland transport

Freight village opportunities

New container port JadeWeserPort is located at Wilhelmshaven at the Jade Bight, a bay on the North Sea coast. Its JadeWeserPort Freight Village (GVZ), near the EUROGATE Container Terminal in Wilhelmshaven in northern Germany, offers the national and international logistics industry 150 hectares of high-quality business locations for logistics properties. It is one of the leading green field projects in Germany and supplies around 250M consumers through feeder and hinterland transport systems. The sites are primarily aimed at port-related companies: freight forwarders and transport companies, contract logistics companies and maritime service providers.

Being directly adjacent to the container terminal in Germany’s only deepwater container port makes the logistics hub particularly attractive.

Currently, 114 hectares have already been leased, and companies from the automotive, frozen food logistics and online retail sectors have set up operations here. According to Container Terminal Wilhelmshaven-JadeWeserPort Marketing managing director Andreas Bullwinkel’s assessment of the prospects, “A potential expansion area for the existing GVZ is in our focus for medium-term development to cover future needs. In the last few months especially, we have noticed an increased market demand for the available space. The side effects of the pandemic period have led many companies to review their internationally configured supply chains. Increasingly in demand at the moment are logistics locations with a trimodal character, which are characterised by a well-developed infrastructure, flexible offers of commercial plots and adequate expansion possibilities.”

Six large shipping companies now include JadeWeserPort on their timetables, and Hapag-Lloyd has taken a stake in both the container and rail terminals. Mr Bullwinkel comments, “The decision of the largest German shipping company, Hapag-Lloyd, to take a stake in both the container terminal and a 50% stake in the rail terminal is a strong and future-oriented signal for the location. With this strong partner, the potential of the port will be even better.”

Rotterdam and expansion 

Port of Rotterdam Authority and APM Terminals are to expand Maasvlakte II.

The Port of Rotterdam Authority is constructing the new quay walls on a site of approximately 47.5 hectares with 1,000 m of deepsea quay, which will be completed mid-2024.

The expansion will increase the terminal’s capacity by approximately 2M TEU and the new section is expected to be operational H2 2026.

APM Terminals opened at Maasvlakte II in 2015 as a fully automated facility with zero carbon emissions. The additional section of the terminal will also operate with net-zero emissions, will be fully automated and prepared for shore power installation.

Port of Rotterdam Authority chief executive Allard Castelein says, “We are very pleased with APM Terminals’ decision to expand the terminal and to choose Rotterdam as the hub for its western European operations. This additional terminal capacity is much needed to continue handling the increasing container volumes in the coming years in an efficient and sustainable way.”

Last year, 18.5 hectares of land in the same area was leased to AP Moller-Maersk for the development of cross-dock and cold store facilities which will open 2024. The facilities will provide ‘on-dock’ services for Maersk, which is one of the terminal’s main shipping-line customers.


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