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The changing face of energy

Oilfield Technology,

Over the first six months of 2012, coal volumes have completely recovered in the Port of Amsterdam since 2009. Europe’s second largest coal port grew last year and numbers are increasing again this year. And the port has the potential to grow even more.

At the same time, the proportion of renewable energy is also growing. Due to its expertise as an energy port, Amsterdam is playing an important role in the global energy transition. All the necessary infrastructure is in place and experience abounds to facilitate the energy transferral from mineral to renewable energy.

Amsterdam on the rise

The Port of Amsterdam region, including the Ports of Amsterdam, IJmuiden, Beverwijk and Zaanstad, closed 2011 with a transhipment volume rise of around 2%. Total transhipment amounted to 93 million t. At the Port of Amsterdam, transhipment increased by around 3% to 74.8 million t compared to the previous year. Imports rose by 3.2% to 50.4 million t, while exports rose by 2.5% to 24.4 million t.

H1 2012 also showed much promise. The international hub closed with a transhipment of 46 million t (provisional figures). A rise of 0.5% compared to H1 2011. The Port of Amsterdam figures increased by 1.5% to a total throughput of 38 million t. Imports rose by 1% and exports by 2%. The port region’s aim to recovery, deployed in 2010, is continuing steadily.

Dry bulk expert

The Port of Amsterdam is one of Europe’s largest dry bulk ports, housing major national and international companies including Tata Steel, Rietlanden Terminals, Bulk Terminal Amsterdam (OBA) and Cargill. Thanks to these companies, Amsterdam has become a major dry-bulk hub. In the past 15 years, the total transhipment of coal, agricultural bulk, building materials, industrial minerals and scrap metals has doubled, reaching 46.6 million t in 2011. Coal tonnage in the Port of Amsterdam region increased by 6.4% to almost 20 million t. Ores went up by 5.9% to 10.2 million t. Cattle feed – the ports’ third largest dry bulk cargo by volume – contracted 3.4% to 5.8 million t.

Coal collective

Amsterdam stands out as an energy port. Europe and countries in other parts of the world have a great need for energy. The Port of Amsterdam is a leader for delivering the raw materials to satisfy this need. Much of it is mineral energy from oil products and coal. “During the past few years, Amsterdam has grown to become one of the world’s leading ports for coal. Amsterdam is the second largest coal transhipment port in Europe,” said Lex De Ridder, commercial unit manager bulk, containers and logistics. The coal throughput counts for almost 17% of the port’s total annual throughput.

Facilitated by coal experts Rietlanden Terminals and OBA, coal transhipment at the Port of Amsterdam alone went up by 9% in 2011, reaching 15.5 million t. “Coal volumes handled at the port also picked up in H1 2012”, said De Ridder. Compared with a year earlier transhipment of this mineral energy source increased by 9%. In part, this was due to higher demand from Germany, which is phasing out its nuclear electricity generating capacity. De Ridder adds: “Year-on-year growth was also boosted by the disruption suffered in the early months of 2011, when the Baltic sea froze over and was recurrently closed to shipping.”

Expected growth

Coal represents almost 50% of the electricity market in northwest Europe. Over the next 20 years, coal transport is expected to increase due to:

  • The growth in energy needs.
  • The growth in energy imported into Europe, due to the closing of mines in Germany, the UK and (in the future) Poland and the Czech Republic.
  • The growth in energy imported into Europe due to the reduced use of nuclear energy in Germany.
  • The planned construction of new and cleaner coal-fired power plants in Germany and the Netherlands.

For Amsterdam, this will mean an increase from 14.7 million t of coal transhipped in 2007 to an expected 20 million t in 2020. By investing in intensive space utilisation, the increasing volume of coal transhipments can be housed at existing locations, without the need for additional space.

Investing is key

To enable the expected growth in the most efficient and sustainable manner, investing in Amsterdam’s coal facilities is essential. OBA’s developments are just one example: “OBA is expanding to facilitate its growing biomass business, giving it more space to utilise its coal activities. Offering more crane capacity for ocean-going vessels [OGVs] and more loading capacity for inland shipping. OBA will also be investing in its rail connections,” said De Ridder.

The growth in transhipment volume is not the only thing of importance. The port’s sustainable growth is also a priority. Coal terminals in the port are taking various measures to tranship coal in the cleanest way possible, such as covered conveyors, applying a layer of cellulose and dust monitoring. This keeps environmental impact and disruption to a minimum. 

Extra lightering facility

The Port of Amsterdam is developing an extra lightering dock outside the sea locks in IJmuiden. The construction of the port’s new large sea locks (expected completion in 2019) will result in excavating the Averijhaven dock, which was closed several years ago. “The Port of Amsterdam’s desired zoning plan for the regained dock is an extra lightering facility that can accommodate two capesize bulk vessels, transporting liquid and dry bulk cargoes such as oil products, bio-fuels, biomass and coal,” De Ridder said.

The maximum draft outside the sea locks in IJmuiden is 17.8 m. However, due to two tunnels under the North sea canal, the draft of the Port of Amsterdam’s entrance channel is 13.75 m. Most bulk carriers’ draft exceed the canal’s limit, resulting in necessary lightering outside the sea locks. Coal is transhipped into inland barges and tug-pushed lighters. After lightering the bulk carriers can proceed their voyage to the hinterland.

Currently there is just one lightering facility available outside the sea locks in IJmuiden. “With the expected increase of coal flows, the Port of Amsterdam will dedicate itself for the development of the Averijhaven”, said De Ridder. The development of the Averijhaven is a collaboration between the Ministry of Waterways and Public Works, the Province of North-Holland, the Municipality of IJmuiden and the Port of Amsterdam. Expectations are that the first draft of the zoning plan will be presented mid-2012 and that finalisation of the plan will take place in January 2013.

Renewable energy booming

Although coal transhipment is expected to grow over the next 20 years and the Port of Amsterdam will keep investing in its coal business, De Ridder also acknowledges the rise in renewable energy. “Wind and solar energy, biofuels and biomass are booming markets and gas is becoming cheaper than coal, due to the discovery of new gas deposits. Coal is becoming a back-up energy source, like gas once was”, he said.

De Ridder also recognises the Port of Amsterdam’s role in the Dutch Government’s efforts to make the energy supply more sustainable and lay the foundation for a “bio-based” economy, aiming for renewable energy to account for 14% of national energy consumption by 2020. This involves the use of renewable natural resources for materials, chemicals, fuels, gas, electricity and heat, taking into account the concept of the value pyramid. “The Port of Amsterdam region plays a key role in these efforts. As western Europe’s fourth-largest port and second-largest coal port, and the world’s largest petrol port, Amsterdam can play a leading role in the renewable energy market,” said De Ridder.

Renewable energy port starting to take shape

Developments so far have been favourable, with the port and various other players becoming well established in the renewable energy market. Through active recruitment, the port attracts cargo flows and renewable energy activities, of which it naturally always checks the origin. The outlook on offshore wind farming is positive. There have been a number of promising developments that will give Amsterdam a significant role in the transport of turbines for large-scale offshore wind farms, currently being constructed in the UK and Germany. Biofuels are well integrated into the Port of Amsterdam at this point. With biogas production at Greenmills and Waternet, biogas has also become an important biofuel. Furthermore, biomass operations are growing steadily.

Coal and biomass

The handling of biomass is similar to that of coal, giving the Port of Amsterdam region a favourable position, as it is an experienced coal hub. In May 2012 year, the OBA terminal handled an impressive amount of wood pellets. The supramax bulkcarrier Egret Bulker, sailing from Vancouver, Canada, arrived at the terminal carrying 47,000 t of wood pellets for the power company RWE, the German-based parent company of energy provider Essent and other companies. A single shipment of biomass of this volume in the Port of Amsterdam posed no problem for the experienced and capable stevedores.

“In terms of logistics, Amsterdam is well-positioned for transit to the hinterland across the Amsterdam Rhine canal and by sea to the UK,” said Hans Mattheijer, manager of OBA’s sales department. “A portion of that first cargo was destined for Britain. It also looks like plants in the Greater Amsterdam Area will start co-incinerating biomass. We expect to receive between 0.5 – 1 million tpa of biomass over the next four years.” This goal does not yet factor in developments in Germany. “It is not yet clear to what extent biomass will contribute to German electricity generation, but Germany has the potential to become a major biomass market, and Amsterdam can play a key role in facilitating the logistics,” Mattheijer said. Other Amsterdam-based bulk terminals, such as MAJA Stuwadoors and IGMA, are also in the process of negotiating biomass cargo. 

Bright future

The Port of Amsterdam has the potential to increase from 800,000 t to 3.5 million t in biofuels and 40,000 t to 6 million t in biomass, as well as 20,000 t in new offshore wind farms by 2020. Coal volumes will also keep rising for the next 10 years. “The potential for renewable energy in Amsterdam is there. It shows great future, as does coal. We will keep investing in the new sustainable cargo flows, as well as the sustainable growth of the backbone of our business, coal,” De Ridder concluded.

Strategy for sustainable growth

The Port of Amsterdam has decided not to add any new transhipment terminals for mineral energy to the port area until 2020 and has been actively recruiting renewable energy companies. Existing traditional energy terminals, such as coal terminals, are permitted to increase their transhipment volumes on their own sites. The port is also creating space and facilities for other forms of alternative energy in the port area, including wind generation, and it has played a leading role in making transhipment itself more sustainable. This includes vapour recovery systems for emission-free fuel and diesel transhipment, covered industrial lines for low-dust coal transhipment, dust monitoring for air quality and LED lighting on the energy terminals.

Written by Sharon van Dongeren.

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