Role of inland ports in circular economy in Limburg

Gerwin Zomer, BISCI Programme Director Logistics, June 2022

Background context

Port areas are attractive for the recycling industry. The main reason for this is the proximity to cities, industries and the terminals. They are the providers of the supply for the recycling installations. The feedstock provided by big cities and the industry is generated locally. The terminal generates international feedstock. Inland ports provide crossing points between transport modes of waste streams with connections to hinterland and onsite industrial activities and a nearby urban setting. This means that inland ports, despite their limited areal footprint, have access to significant quantities of bio wastes, surrounding bioenergy resources, biomass from crossing supply chains and energy from intensive activities. It is an important trend for ports to attract these economies to locations along the network, along the inland waterways. Inland ports are therefore important crossroads of all kinds of waste and industrial streams and act as logistical hubs for the import/export of waste materials (EFIP, 2016).

Inland ports are typically faced with the following challenges:

  • The lack of space to install collection and treatment units on their sites; 
  • The development of the circular economy heavily depends on the final market uptake and initiatives of individual companies. Inland ports are neither exploiting the circular economy nor a producer of sustainable energy. As landlord and/or matchmaker inland ports have the commercial assets to only stimulate the industries within the port area. 
  • There are clear opportunities for inland ports in terms of collecting waste and transport it through inland waterways to valorization centers in a sustainable way. A challenge is to reach enough critical mass in the circular economy business model for certain waste to obtain economic profitability. 
  • The development of waste units/plants is hindered by the overall negative public opinion about waste; waste should be equal to value, this also limits the development of business cases regarding waste valorization.
  • The transition towards a circular economy requires a marathon, not a sprint. Ports cannot stop from one to another day the import of fossil raw materials such as coal and phosphate as it is still important for the energy production by coal power plants or for the production of fertilizers used in the agriculture sector.
  • The development and implementation of circular economy strategies requires a renewed cooperation between the various stakeholders (ports, authorities, companies, etc.) including the role of citizens associations.
  • With the recycling (down cycling) of plastics a second quality raw material is being created. The quality of this type of waste should be increased in the next phase. Waste should be separated and collected in a good way in order to create a strong business case and companies and consumers should be made sensible.

Limburg developments

The Noordoever-development in the Port of Venlo and the transfer of the Marina could provide space of about 10 Ha for water-related activity. This is an opportunity, but requires thorough consideration how this could be used to strengthen the circular economy. 

Some argue that for collection of rest volumes for circular feedstocks, these rest volumes need to undergo (wood) shreddering, making bales for temporary storage, transship them into containers for later transport or transship them directly into vessels. These are different supply chain processes, each with different implications for transshipment, storage and logistics handling. 

The Province of Limburg has a huge petrochemical complex “Chemelot”. The sustainability transformation of Chemelot poses all kinds of challenges for the inbound flows of biobased feedstocks for green energy production. And if the production of plastics transform into recyclable plastics, this would cause major challenges for plastic recycling (hub-spoke concepts) and for recycleable plastics collection, separation and processing in order to meet the specifications for industrial reuse.

RWE is looking at Sustainable Multifunctional Business Park Zevenellen as possible location for converting the waste streams in a closed system into raw materials pellets. The idea is to produce hydrogen from household waste streams. RWE is discussing the possible future sale of hydrogen with OCI N.V., which has a production plant at Chemelot. See for more details

BISCI-PIONEERS Thesis Internship Programme (TIP) scope, 5 possible projects

  1. Literature study on supply chain framework of circular economy for the context of the Port of Venlo (regular thesis or TIP); 
  2. Assessment of the inland port challenges towards a circular economy, applied to the Port of Venlo (TIP);
  3. Explore the different circular production/processing facility options in Port of Venlo, including implications for transshipment, (temporary) storage and logistics handling and assess the feasibility/applicability for the Venlo Municipality.  
  4. Analyse the applicability of supply chain hub-spoke concepts for waste collection and the role of inland ports. 
  5. Analyse the applicability of supply chain hub-spoke concepts for recyclable plastics and the role of Port of Venlo / Zevenellen

Timing for the student assignments

Finish the scoping documents by September 2022 in order to have them published by October 2022. TIP Period: at least 3 and never more than 6 months part-time* where the student will be present at your organisation for 2 to 3 days a week. The student needs to hand in and defend the master’s thesis before 31 August 2023. Only if requested by the organisation: an executive summary and presentation to the board of the internship organisation (this has to be done before 31 August 2023 as well).

Possible BISCI PhD supporting Venlo and/or Province Limburg

We can explore the co-funding of a dedicated PhD candidate that concentrates on the greening and circularity concepts in Venlo and the Province, including among others:

  • Alignment and safeguarding the coherence of the different student assignments
  • More in-depth analysis of above topics 

Evaluate possibilities for industrial symbiosis for Province Limburg