Positive Impact on Chemical Logistics and Production
Interview with Jaques Vandermeiren, CEO of the Antwerp Port Authority
Sonja Andres of CHEManager asked Jaques Vandermeiren, CEO of the Antwerp Port Authority, about his efforts in the past year to develop the site for the chemical and petrochemical industry even further and about investments of the ports administration in digitization and other new technologies.
CHEManager: Mr. Vandermeiren, you have been CEO of the Antwerp Port Authority for a year now. What is your personal summary of the past year?
Jaques Vandermeiren: Business continued to develop excellently in 2017. For the fifth year in a row, the Port of Antwerp was able to record strong growth with a total freight volume of 223.6 million tons. This clearly shows that the investments made in for example new terminals and handling facilities in previous years are now paying off and will promote further positive developments in the coming years.
For me, last year was particularly marked by a learning process. I am new in the port business – but with my background in the energy sector, I understand many challenges that the maritime and industrial sectors are facing.
We have been working on a new vision and mission with a stronger focus on our clients' needs. We want to be their home port, their partner for future challenges. That is why we have included topics such as innovation, sustainability and digitization upfront in our new mission. New teams have been formed on these topics: We now have a Digitization & Innovation team and a Sustainable Transition team that is part of the Corporate Affairs team.
What were the most important developments in 2017 – especially with regard to the chemical and petrochemical industry?
J. Vandermeiren: In 2017, too, the port of Antwerp has proven to be an important hub for the chemical and petrochemical industry – and an important production site as well. Renowned companies in the industry have announced comprehensive investments in their Antwerp-based facilities. The chemical giant Evonik plans to invest many millions in increasing its production capacities for specialty silicates. Also the specialty chemicals group Lanxess is planning extensive production expansions: for example, they intend to increase the efficiency of their caprolactam plant for 25 million EUR and the production capacities for rubber chemicals for 5 million EUR. Ineos Oxide will significantly expand its ethylene oxide storage capacity in Antwerp through a 100 million EUR investment program – and Borealis announced the start of the “FEED phase” for a new world-scale propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant at its existing production site in Kallo. Moreover, the petroleum refinery Total together with its logistics partner SEA-invest is investing 100 million EUR in a major capacity expansion in the Port of Antwerp including eight new tanks of 20,000 cubic meters each, three additional loading and unloading stations and a direct pipeline between the terminal and Total's refinery.
We consider these investments as an important confirmation that the conditions at the port are in line with the interests and needs of companies in the chemical and petrochemical industry.
What are these conditions, what makes Antwerp so attractive for the chemical and petrochemical industry?
J. Vandermeiren: The conditions meet the industry’s needs in all aspects. Antwerp is a multifunctional port in a strategically central location. Good nautical accessibility and connections all over the world, a dense trimodal network of hinterland connections throughout Europe, the appropriate infrastructure, extensive storage capacities, first-class logistics services, and comprehensive value-added services – all this makes Antwerp an important link in the supply chain. More than 900 maritime, industrial and logistics players are based here. The integrated petrochemical cluster in particular, with over 30 production sites and 16 tank storage terminals, benefits from the synergy effects at the site. Especially for chemical companies, the presence of this integrated cluster also guarantees access to feedstocks that they can use in their production process.
Moreover, the Port of Antwerp offers an attractive investment climate in an innovative environment and, in particular, available expansion space for different purposes and demands.
The Antwerp Port Authority is also investing extensively at the moment, for example by taking over the pipeline company NMP. What were the reasons for this – and what does this mean for the local chemical and petrochemical companies?
J. Vandermeiren: I am convinced that we as a port authority are more than just the landlord of the sites. As defined in our new vision and mission: We are an active part of the port community and commit ourselves to the local companies with the prerequisites they need to operate profitably on the site.
The transport by pipeline-network is an important part of cost-efficient logistics chains of numerous chemical and petrochemical companies. But high initial investments often represent an obstacle for them to actually shift to pipeline transport. By giving companies access to a pipeline network which is open to all users, we are not only strengthening the local industry. We also promote the modal shift to more sustainable modes of transport, which is a very important concern to us. Pipelines are not only efficient but also the most environmentally friendly means of transport. Moreover, we are reviewing the possibility of integrating these pipelines into a "heat network" or for transporting CO2.
The Port of Antwerp is one of the few port locations that still has available space. The Antwerp Port Authority is currently seeking investors for an 88-hectare area, the Churchill Industrial Zone. Would this also be a good location for companies in the petrochemical and chemical process industry?
J. Vandermeiren: The Churchill Industrial Zone has a multimodal access and is suitable for companies active in the circular economy, the manufacturing or processing industry or the energy sector. The site is located near a large pipeline hub and dock complex, including the Churchill Dock.
We are especially looking for investors who offer value-added services and create new jobs. The area is of particular strategic importance for the Antwerp Port Authority. We would therefore probably prefer a step-by-step development through one or more high-quality and cluster-enhancing investments rather than awarding the entire site to a single investor.
Digitization is also playing an increasingly important role in the chemical and petrochemical industry. Especially, the horizontal integration of value-added chains is becoming more and more important. How is the port of Antwerp positioning itself within this context?
J. Vandermeiren: Digitization has been an important topic for us as a port for many years. The Port of Antwerp already is a smart hub which we are constantly developing with a forward-looking approach. In cooperation with our partners in the port community, we have implemented a variety of systems and applications to simplify administration, make processes more flexible and at the same time create transparency at every stage of the supply chain. The latest project is the digital business portal Nxtport. It enables companies to collect and bundle all data generated at different stages of the supply chain and, at the same time, provides meaningful analysis and targeted supply chain solutions that cover all transport modes and processes along the supply chain. Nxtport has also won a project at European level for the chemical industry to develop an electronic tank cleaning document and act as a gatekeeper for the data.
As port authority, we are actively involved in this digital ecosystem, which we see as an important partner in the further development of the port as a role model for data-driven innovation. That is why we are also partnering with Portxl, a start-up accelerator that brings maritime start-ups into contact with companies in the port to accelerate the introduction of innovative technologies on the port platform.
And last but not least: What is your vision for the future? Do you have a strategy for developing the petrochemical cluster at the port of Antwerp in particular?
J. Vandermeiren: It is very important to me to keep our port at the top and to strengthen and further expand our position. The groundworks for this development have been laid – we positioned Antwerp as a smart hub – and of course will keep on going –, we pushed ahead the development of important hinterland connections and made significant investments in infrastructure. Moreover, we are actively taking part in the World Ports Sustainability Program (WPSP).
During the next one to three years, high investments of several companies in Europe's largest petrochemical cluster will lead to an ever improved setting with positive impact on logistics as well as production opportunities. This will also initiate new global cargo flows.
Now, the creation of additional capacities, for example for container handling, is a high priority on our to-do list; several options are being investigated upon at a government level and we expect a decision by the end of the year.