Climate issues at the heart of the forthcoming change in the port of Antwerp

Jacques Vandermeiren is a happy boss, but concerned. Happy with the performance of his company, the port of Antwerp, the lung of the Belgian economy. It increased its share in the British market from 12 to 13% after Brexit, resumed an increase in activity (+ 5%) after the parenthesis of Covid-19 in 2020, and even withstood the global crisis due to the lack of of containers, with an increase in its activity of 1.5% in this sector since the beginning of 2021. Good performance in a world also turned upside down by the paralysis of Chinese ports, the blocking, in March, of the Suez Canal or the generalization delays due, in particular, to the sharp increase in maritime traffic and the congestion of American and Asian ports.

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The director of the Port of Antwerp – its international name -, a 58-year-old lawyer who previously practiced in the energy sector, has a series of concerns, however. And foremost among these is the climate challenge, which will force it to comply with the European objective of a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030. This will be anything but obvious for the second European port – behind that of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands – where a gigantic petrochemical industry is located which annually produces a trifle of 18 million tonnes of CO2.

Considerable investment

Carbon dioxide will need to be reduced, then captured and liquefied and shipped to Norway or the UK, where it will be stored in old gas fields. “The technique exists, but not at the 9 million tonne scale, ”explains Vandermeiren. Large companies (TotalEnergies, Air Liquide, Exxon, BASF, Borealis, etc.) have therefore joined forces with the port to study a vast project which will require considerable investment, with the hope of funding from the European Innovation Council Fund. , endowed with 10 billion euros for the period 2021-2027.

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For after 2030, Antwerp should play a key role in the plan of the Federal Prime Minister, the liberal Alexander De Croo: to make Belgium a leading country in the field of “green” hydrogen. Belgian companies, in search of territories where sun and wind combine to produce renewable energy, are eyeing on obtaining concessions in Oman and Egypt.

In the immediate future, it is in a completely different area that the port must act: drug trafficking continues to increase.

Manufacture hydrogen from water and electricity from renewable energies, with a zero carbon footprint: “It works, but the challenge is the volumes and the import. But we will assume ”, says Vandermeiren. Who is only worried about the risks for the competitive position of European ports: “I have a lot of contact with my Asian counterparts. I can assure you that they look at me with big eyes and a little smile when I mention our projects and our constraints. “

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Climate issues at the heart of the forthcoming change in the port of Antwerp