Ports are the heart of our global trade, connecting the world and fuelling economic growth. But with this power comes a problem: ports have a massive carbon footprint. As Europe sets sail to becoming climate-neutral by 2050, how can our ports, the gatekeepers of commerce, join this green transition and help build a more sustainable future?
A recent episode of the Euronews magazine OCEAN visited one of Europe's largest ports — the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in Belgium, coordinating the EU-backed Horizon 2020 research project PIONEERS. It is demonstrating a range of sustainable solutions — from renewable power generation and cleaner vessel propulsion, to digitalisation and smart technologies, improving port efficiency with sensors and AI-based solutions.
Sustainability goals bring economic benefits
The merged port of Antwerp and Bruges has the ambition to become one of the most sustainable ports in the world. The port contributes 4.5% to the Belgian GDP and provides over 160,000 jobs through its cargo terminals, distribution centres, and Europe's biggest chemical cluster. Its CO₂ emissions amount to 17 million tons each year — a challenge that the port aims to overcome and become carbon-neutral by 2050.
"We have a huge carbon problem here," says Guy Janssens, chief of corporate affairs at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges. "We are, let's say, more than 10% of the carbon footprint of Belgium. We are a highly energy-intensive platform with a lot of fuel needs, a lot of electricity needs, feedstock needs and heat needs. Of course, our main ambition is to remain the same world-class competitive platform, but with a net-zero impact on the long term."
The Antwerp Euroterminal (AET) switched to LED lights, covers roofs with solar panels, and washes containers and cars with collected rainwater — all that in addition to the wind power.
The wind in Antwerp isn't very consistent and the sun doesn't always shine, but the terminal copes with that by using new battery storage — a part of the PIONEERS project. The managing director Yves De Larivière says the terminal now gets 86% of its energy from green sources, resulting in more predictable operating costs.
Another possible solution — shifting from fossil fuels to alternatives like hydrogen, which can be produced with renewable energy sources to be CO₂-neutral. In the future, the port aims to become an international hub for "green hydrogen" that can replace fossil energy sources in many industrial applications.
The PSA container terminal is already experimenting with alternative fuels including hydrogen. Containers here are moved by more than 100 vehicles called "straddle carriers". Together, their diesel engines produce substantial emissions. As part of the PIONEERS project, the terminal and its partner CMB.TECH are upgrading one of the straddle carriers with a hybrid system that combines diesel with hydrogen, which lowers overall emissions.
The experiment will show how this technology can be scaled up.
"Each port offers a unique port ecosystem where we can learn from each other, also through the interaction with the port community, port stakeholders."
Coordinated at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, the PIONEERS project also involves the ports of Barcelona in Spain, Constanta in Romania, and Venlo in the southern Netherlands. The project's goal is to demonstrate different strategies that ports can use to decrease their environmental impact while staying competitive — in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal. Inge De Wolf is the project coordinator.
"Each port offers a unique port ecosystem where we can learn from each other, also through the interaction with the port community, port stakeholders," she says.
"We will be focusing, for example, on clean energy production and supply, and sustainable port design. We will also be looking at the modal flows, modal shift flows optimization of both goods and passengers, and also digital transformation.
"So by the end of the project, we have the ambition to deliver a green port masterplan that can be used for ports across Europe and beyond."
This article was adapted from an original article published by the Euronews magazine OCEAN on 1.3.2023. Find the documentary and article here.
OCEAN is a Euronews magazine in collaboration with the European Commission's Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MARE). It features monthly 8-minute videos, where we discover fascinating projects and developments related to the ocean and coastal communities. Missed one? Check them out on the Euronews website! You will also find some nice extras about these topics.
About the project
Led by the Port of Antwerp and with the participation of the ports of Barcelona, Constanta and Venlo, the EU-funded PIONEERS project is a consortium comprising 46 partners that will showcase a range of activities for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in ports while safeguarding competitiveness. PIONEERS is developing specific solutions to reduce carbon emissions in the sector, with the aim of transforming ports into green infrastructures by 2050.
Solutions include the implementation of green port innovation demonstrations on clean energy production and supply, the deployment of electric, hydrogen and methanol vehicles, sustainable port design, modal shift and flows optimisation, and digital transformation through AI- and 5G-based digital platforms.
Pioneers Port project website
Pioneers Port project factsheet
- Publication date
- 3 March 2023
- European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency