Accelerating the Circular Economy in the Port of Rotterdam

Europe’s largest port emitted 20% of CO2 in the Netherlands in 2016
Accelerating the Circular Economy in the Port of Rotterdam
Publ. date 28 May 2021
At Finch & Beak, we are always curious about the sustainable developments taking place in the cities that we work in, and Rotterdam is one of them. In 2016, a shocking 20% of the national CO2 emissions of the Netherlands was accounted for by the port of Rotterdam. Time to take action: between the period 2016-2020, the port of Rotterdam managed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 27% to 22.4 million tons. A noteworthy reduction that can be explained by the switch to more renewable energy sources and the exploitation of waste-to-value opportunities. The port of Rotterdam is making an impact through discovering the benefits of the circular economy.

The concept of circular economy is based on three principles: (1) to eliminate waste and pollution, (2) to keep products and materials in use, and (3) to regenerate natural systems. Yet, our current economy is a linear system where too much ‘output’ is still being disposed, incinerated, or sent to landfill. However, more industries and companies start to see the unique opportunities that the circular economy provides and realize the need to future-proof their activities for a decarbonized world. Ultimately, the circular economy aims to redefine growth and focusses on benefits such as limiting the pressure on the environment, encouraging responsible production and consumption of resources, stimulating innovation, and even creating jobs.

Port of Rotterdam - Port of Opportunities

With the port of Rotterdam being the largest port of Europe, it may not come as a surprise that it produces a lot of waste and at the same time also collects many residual waste streams from the surrounding areas and incoming ships. Think of plastic and rubbers, biomass, metals, minerals, chemicals, and industrial waste. These streams provide major opportunities for waste valorization that are realized when putting in the efforts to support research and innovation in this field. Two examples to highlight the efforts done in the Port of Rotterdam to stimulate the circular economy:

Renewable biofuel plant of Neste

Europe’s largest renewable fuel plant can be found at the Neste plant site on the Maasvlakte, where Neste operates as one of the world's largest producers of renewable diesel. With its development of the NEXTBTL technology, Neste has been able to produce Neste MY Renewable Diesel™ from refined vegetable oils and residual organic waste.

Neste optimized the chemical consistency so that it can also replace fossil raw material in uses other than traffic fuel. It can be used in ships and airplanes (as a blending component for aviation fuel); in working machines used at mines and construction sites; and even as raw material for renewable plastics or as a renewable solvent in paints.

It can be said that Neste is a frontrunner in sustainability when it comes to renewable diesel, producing 3.5 million cubic meters per year and aiming to reach 5.1 million cubic meters by 2022. With little waste at the end of the production cycle, Neste’s renewable diesel contributes to clean transportation and to the overall reduction of crude oil dependency.

Zero Brine: recovering minerals

Industrial saline wastewater and residual heat are two of the biggest waste streams in the industrial area of the port. Zero Brine – a collaboration initiative by 22 partners from research institutes, SMEs, construction companies and end-users from 10 countries – aims to close the loop and has created a circular solution that recovers and reuses minerals, like calcium and magnesium salts, from industrial saline wastewater, using industrial residual heat from local industry.

At the demineralized water plant of water company Evides in the port of Rotterdam, a pilot project has taken place with results that show that extraction of minerals is indeed possible and that they are of good quality for selling. Similar results have been achieved at other pilot locations, such as at a mining site in Poland and a textile factory in Turkey.

Ultimately, the use of Zero Brine technology will lead to the reduction in saline wastewater as it is being treated; to a better use of residual heat that would otherwise be discharged; and to saved CO2 emissions that would otherwise have been released in the production of the minerals.

3 Acceleration Tips for Moving Towards a Circular Economy

Industries and companies are discovering the benefits of the circular economy and making an impact. Here are three tips for acceleration:

  1. Set strategic direction by defining a clear target and roadmap for circular initiatives.
    At Neste, opportunities were discovered, a vision was created, and targets were set, guiding them towards the frontrunner position in renewable fuel sources.
  2. Find the correct partners to execute properly.
    Especially in the example of Zero Brine, the significance of collaboration becomes apparent. It is collaboration in terms of knowledge and resource sharing that allows for a technology to be developed, tested, optimized, and scaled.
  3. Start your Circular Economy journey by exploring the potential benefits through Finch & Beak’s Circular Economy Sprint.

Finch & Beak's Circular Economy Sprint is designed specifically for companies looking to unleash the massive potential of the circular economy by downsizing it to a tangible and specific action plan. As a self-liquidating project investment, after 7 weeks you know the most valuable circular economy business opportunities and how to achieve them.

Accelerating the circular economy at your company?

Are you ready to discover the benefits of the circular economy within your organization? Please contact Johana Schlotter at or +31 6 28 02 18 80 to leverage your business opportunities from the circular economy.

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