The diverse industrial and logistical areas located next to the waterways network hold a good potential for synergies. In the Capacity Fields we are next to the sea, with deeper waters, berths, facilities and operational techniques typical of coastal ports. They fulfil important hub functions for containerized cargo and the transhipment of goods (e.g. liquid and dry bulk) not exclusively directed to the regional economy.
The “greening” of port activities and flows and the overall transition to a post-oil economy represents a potential competitive advantage for these areas. They have the infrastructural capacity to promote the growth of emerging industries focusing on Circular Economy and to enhance interactive development with coastal and shipping industries, as well as with the exiting (petro)chemical industries they might host.
A quick geographical description
The capacity fields refer to large areas dedicated to industrial activities requiring generous surfaces. They are generally located downstream, at the mouth of the river or sometimes in reclaimed land, far from urban centres. They can be considered gateways to vast territories and massive flows, have significant land reserves and are home to a great proportion of national industrial and energy production -even though this might happen in a setting of slower growth.
Observed advantages and disadvantages
Their isolation and private access to facilities required by safety standards allow them to carry out activities that generate noise or odours. This physical distance is countered thanks to the many infrastructural investments that are made to connect these areas as effectively as possible to the landside by road, rail, and waterway networks. On the other hand, concessions are usually less expensive than in the vicinity of cities, and they cater to big installations. Furthermore, the physical colocation of companies makes viable to share services and facilities that can result in some form of industrial symbiosis. Unfortunately, their position in places where freshwater and seawater meet, means they are in the midst of a particularly rich and fragile biodiversity, which these capacity fields tend to ignore (e.g. irresponsible dredging) or damage (e.g. toxic spills) for the sake of their own operational efficiency.
Different situations analysed
The comparative analysis shows that most of these industrial-logistical complexes are investing on a post-oil future, focusing on the (partial) reconversion of the petrochemical industry. Their logistical requirements also evolve, making some areas less profitable and even redundant. For example, in Antwerp, the port authority is currently reserving the Churchill Dock for an innovative project in terms of sustainability, energy transition, added value, enhancing employment… In the Port of Le Havre, the port’s large land reserves are partly unexploited due to their environmental quality and the nationally imposed protection, what forces the port to adopt a strategy of densification of existing land rather than an expansionary strategy.
These large spaces articulate very diverse flows that circulate in big volumes. Retracing their path is a very complex exercise. Some of those flows come from local ports and are being gathered there, like in the case of waste collected in the “Urban Trieur” and being sorted out and either treated here or being dispatched somewhere else. Often those flows are related to the activities performed in the “Capacity Fields”, like energy production, based around renewables (e.g. wind, biofuels or biogas) or petrol-based (e.g. gas and oil); maritime logistics (e.g. containerized cargo and bulk transhipment); or the (petro)chemical industry.
Analysis - the generic case: what activities can be found here?
These flows of raw materials and (intermediate) products come from far away, in big vessels like tankers or container ships necessitating deep waters and large-scale infrastructure to dock. Frequently, these “Capacity Fields” operate as modal switches, and these flows continue their trip to other locations in smaller vessels, by train or on the road. Around this first industrial and logistical core, a crown of smaller logistics and industrial activities working in symbiosis with the big industries normally exists.
Towards more circularity: what are the ongoing initiatives?
01 Rail intermodal container terminal: It allows a smooth transition between rail track, storage yard and gate operations, resulting in time efficiencies during the handling of containers. They are space intensive installations but crucial to establish the modal shift from the road to rail-based solutions (e.g. Green Express Network, EU).
02 Sea litter collection platform: Around 20,000 T of waste are dumped in the North Sea yearly. Half of this volume corresponds to plastics (nets, ropes, rubber) that could be collected, sorted and recycled in (5).
03 Port sediment treatment plant: To guarantee enough water depths, large volumes of sludge and sediment are dredged and disposed of every year. The plant harvests and treats the residual water contained in those sediments for its later reuse, and processes the leftover dry-matter —nutrients are salvaged as fertilizers, and inert material reused in the construction sector (e.g. Amoras, Antwerp, BE).
04 Incinerator W2E: Those fragments of the sediments, sludge or sea litter that could not be recovered, are combusted or pyrolyzed, and energy is recovered from this process.
05 Plastics valorisation platform: While the textile industry expands due to the combined impact of demographic growth and the fast-fashion industry, the culture of natural fibres shrinks. Simultaneously, huge volumes of plastic are starting to be mechanically and chemically recycled, coming to substitute the natural fibres in textile production. The proximity of the (petro)chemical cluster represents a competitive advantage in technological and skill terms.
06 Metal-mining and recycling plant: Metal recycling is regarded as an essential industry and supported by the EU, an industry that is boosting thanks to the thickening of its chain: more and more companies start to collect and sort metals and e-waste inside cities. While a fragment of it stays in the urban market, these plants tend to focus on the more specialized and sophisticated side of recycling, as well as on those processes involving massive amounts (e.g. Umicore, Hoboken, BE).
07 Tidal park: Environmental concerns grow at the same pace as ports keep on reclaiming new land. The thread of sea level raising opens the door to regenerative and nature-based interventions that give more room to the water and buffer the risk. (e.g. New Nature in New Meuse River, Rotterdam, NL).
08 Seaweed biorefinery: It converts native seaweeds to CO2 neutral chemicals, third generation biofuels and bioenergy (e.g. Seaweed Biorefinery, Petten, NL).