The Hinterland Hub exemplifies best the numerous possibilities that the redesign of global value chains holds for ports, by combining traditional maritime activities like the handling of commodities with activities in other economic sectors, e.g. in energy or agriculture.
On one hand, this Hub can operate as a transhipment point for goods and raw materials coming from the port and being further distributed across its hinterland, and perhaps further processed or customized in order to capture some of their added value. On the other, it can operate as a specialized location in the agri-food sector, capable of revaluing organic waste flows and feedstock coming from the nearby agricultural areas for the generation of energy (e.g. green biorefinery) and the production of new biobased materials (e.g. bioplastic from cellulose, bio-construction materials, etc.).
A quick geographical description
In the hinterland of many ports, industrial activities are located along waterways that use transhipment docks, of private or collective use. Not far from agricultural areas and sometimes partially urbanized areas, these activities, which are clearly related to water, benefit from trade flows between seaports and inland ports.
Observed advantages and disadvantages
These hubs benefit from the internal market, thanks to their connection to canals as well as major road infrastructures. Their rural isolation allows them to carry out activities that generate noise or odours, while staying close to biological feedstocks.
Different situations analysed
These Hinterland Hubs have been strongly influenced by the original landscape characteristics. For example, the presence of large flat areas in the armpit of some meanders has been a key factor for the establishment of large industrial units, such as refineries or automobile manufacturing units. In the case of the Le Havre-Paris axis, the proximity of the port and of the Seine has been decisive for the oil industry, supplying crude oil by sea, hydrocarbons by river, and using the water of the Seine in the cooling part of some of those industrial processes.
On the negative side, hazardous discharges originated mainly in the (petro)chemical industries, paper mills and treatment plants, end up eventually in the Seine. Or the will to control and assure navigation leads to abusive dredging and a sophisticated hydraulic system of locks and pumps that continuously threaten the regenerative capacity of the Seine valley.
Analysis - the generic case: what activities can be found here?
The flows collected in the Hinterland Hub come from upstream or downstream ports, feeding onto the industrial installations and distribution facilities that are located along the waterway. We might find companies specialized in stripping containers and customizing the intermediate products therein transported (e.g. Nike Logistics Campus), recycling plants collecting wastes from nearby cities, construction companies, chemical industries (for the fabrication of pesticides and fertilizers) and feed for livestock or food processing ones.
Many of those industries still rely on feedstock supplied locally though: from inert materials like sand to biomass, or even (renewable) energy. This diversity reveals to which extent this building block constitutes an important link in the supply chain, connecting distinct flows and know-how, but also the missing synergies that could be still unleashed in them, beneficial to the regional economy as a whole.
Towards more circularity: what are the ongoing initiatives?
01 Sludge, sediment, and bilge water treatment plant: The plant would offer a diverse range of biological treatments adapted to the water and solid residues types. Biological treatment produces essentially no waste oil, can degrade organic pollutants to low concentrations, and operating costs are relatively low —which is compensated by the increased spatial demands and sophisticated skills it requires (e.g. SUEZ).
02 Incinerator and cogeneration plant from biogas: The biogas cogeneration plant allows the simultaneous production of renewable electricity (CHP or cogeneration) and heat (hot water or steam). It could benefit from its integration into the regional agricultural structure, helping to mutualise infrastructures and generating local added value (e.g. Agrogas & Wärme GmbH & Co KG, Malstedt, DE).
03 Biorefinery of imported biomass: Organic and food waste is collected from slaughterhouses, foodservice companies, supermarkets, etc. and processed into gas or fuel, next to a digestate than can be used as biofuel. Moreover, some of the residual materials generated in the process can be exploited as fertilizers for agriculture (e.g. Vion Ecoson BV, Son, NL).
04 Transhipment platform: Such facilities are fundamental in order to diversify the type of activities ports perform, reaching out to other economic sectors like energy or agriculture. Moreover, the existence of these platforms could stimulate the modal shift in the distribution of agricultural produce and processed food towards the city. On the opposite direction, reverse logistics could handle organic waste originated in the city back to the biorefinery or the cogeneration plant.