Ruud Lubbers: Rotterdam is going to be the biohub for North-western Europe

Ruud Lubbers, long standing prime minister of the Netherlands, now  is one of the main advisors of the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. Energy efficiency, sustainable energy, carbon capture and storage, and biomass all have to contribute to a 50% reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases in this area (in 2025, compared to 1990). Being an entrepreneur himself, Ruud Lubbers always holds a keen eye for business development. The Rotterdam area can profit immensely from this policy, so he holds. Being the largest harbour in the area, with bioenergy projects booming, Rotterdam’s future lies in a transition from fossil-based to bio-based business.

‘We take a broad view of the biobased economy. It entails industrial activity in three areas: biomass for energy, biomass for fuels, and biomass as a resource for chemistry. Among the three of them, they form a unity. If one should remove one of the three, we do not develop into a full-bred, well-functioning biobased economy. Therefore, we develop these three areas in combination, paying attention to optimal valorisation of the resources, development of trade facilities, and above all an eye for sustainability.’

‘It is Rotterdam harbour’s ambition to become a biohub. Biomass will allow for a continuous and reliable energy supply in the Netherlands and North-western Europe. Such a continuous supply was the function of the Rotterdam harbour from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards, and we should like to continue to play that role. Therefore, we invest in new developments, changing ourselves into a ‘Bioport’. Investments are being made in trade, transfer and storage, and processing facilities. Many companies develop innovative projects, and the harbour has reserved 80 hectares for prospective biobased industries.’

‘Another initiative is the biomass trade market, an APX Endex and Rotterdam harbour initiative. APX Endex extends its trade in oil and gas to biomass, more specifically wood pellets. Physical delivery takes place in the Rotterdam harbour. The trade market offers a transparent price to stakeholders, coupled to clear technical and sustainability specifications. This is the first of its kind in the world; the Netherlands take the lead in this area. The biobased economy needs a stable supply of sustainable resources.’

How would the Netherlands (and Rotterdam) have to position itself in the field of first versus second generation biofuels?
‘We support the transition taking place in Rotterdam harbour from first to second generation biofuels. This should be done in an orderly way, ambitious, in compliance with European rules and without raising administrative charges. We see the first generation as the gateway to the second; practical lessons learned in the first generation pay themselves off in the second generation. There are four biofuel factories in operation in the Rotterdam area; they pave the way for second generation biofuels.’

Will the Netherlands (and does the Rotterdam area), with their major oil infrastructure, be able to turn around to green chemistry? What does that take, and in which time frame?
‘Superb initiatives are taken in the chemical, agricultural, paper and energy industries, together with research centres. But unfortunately, old litigation often stands in our way. European import levies and quota for agricultural products form an obstacle for their use as a feedstock in green chemistry. European industry is put in a considerable disadvantage compared to Asia, the United States and Brazil. The biobased economy can only make a take-off if biobased resources like sugar and ethanol can be imported at world market prices in a stable investment horizon and without quota.’

‘As a port and an industrial cluster, Rotterdam will play an active role in a transition towards a bio-based economy. We have learned from experience that real change requires first-mover companies as well as good governance. We are convinced that the bio-based economy will gain momentum once we start taking advantage of the promising initiatives that are being developed here in Rotterdam (and elsewhere in Europe).’

‘Green growth will provide a major contribution to the economic development of our region, especially in terms of finding new industrial production opportunities. Industry is still one of the mainstays of European prosperity, and the transition to an economy based on green feedstock can curb the current trend of European industrial contraction. This will create new economic opportunities that will benefit all European countries. In our view, the market opportunities for the development of a bio-based economy for Europe centre in the Rotterdam-Antwerp delta. This delta contains a number of excellent clusters of process industry, which form a strong basis for transition developments. In addition, this region has a vast logistics network towards Europe for feedstock and (semi)manufactured products transport.’

‘Four conditions will have to be met, primarily at the European level. Firstly, we need to ensure the supply of sufficient feedstock at competitive prices. In Europe itself, we shall have to increase sustainable agricultural and forestry production. Thirdly, we shall have to work towards harmonization of sustainability certification. And we badly need to review the waste policy.’

How would Rotterdam have to position itself in the food vs fuel discussion? Which standards will imported biomass have to meet? And do present standards evolve in the right direction?
‘We feel that we should be careful in land use, and that every human being should have a sufficient supply of food. Biofuel production therefore should never stand in the way of food supply. But often, discussion on this matter is distorted, assuming that the two claims compete. That is only partly true. There are two sides to the matter. The first is competition for land between food and biomass. The other is the use of agricultural waste streams for organic fertilizer or for fuels. Using mainly waste streams, there is no need for a food/fuel competition. Certification is needed to ensure that this is in fact not the case.’

‘In the Netherlands we have excellent experts overseeing this matter.  Among them professor André Faaij from Utrecht University, lead author of the biomass chapter in last year’s IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Technology 2011. This shows that enough biomass is available to fulfil the ambitions of the biobased economy without endangering world food supply, but only on the conditions of good governance and sustainable resource use. The real challenge lies in realizing those two conditions.’

How can the Netherlands counteract detrimental changes in biomass production areas, like soil depletion, and direct and indirect land us change? Do private enterprises have a responsibility in this (through Round Tables), and to what extent do governments have to intervene?
‘Rising demands could increase unsustainable production. Expansion of bioenergy in the absence of monitoring and good governance of land use carries the risk of significant conflicts with respect to food supplies, water resources and biodiversity. Conversely, implementation that follows effective sustainability frameworks could mitigate such conflicts and allow realization of positive outcomes, e.g., in rural development, land amelioration and climate change mitigation.’

‘In Rotterdam, we are avowed advocates of certification and standardization. In the meantime, at a European level, criteria have been defined to warrant that the biomass that enters Rotterdam actually satisfies all legal standards. In addition, we have national certification schemes, such as NTA8080, which was launched in Rotterdam in January. This voluntary standard is more ambitious than some of its European counterparts. RCI argues in favour of allowing only certified biomass to enter the port of Rotterdam. However, RCI does also advocate standardization of the certification schemes, so as to prevent confusion among buyers and to allow international comparison.’

‘Companies that claim to produce in a sustainable way certainly have a responsibility in this. They cannot afford being confronted in hindsight with a resource use that is demonstrably non-sustainable. Large corporations as a rule will want to have control over their feedstock chain. But insofar as they do not succeed in this, they will have to rely on sustainability certificates, the only way in which smaller companies can improve on the sustainability of their feedstock. Governments play a pivotal role in this, because control on the validity of certificates is a permanent requirement. That cannot be left merely to the business community.’

Do you feel that biomass should be shipped in the form of intermediate commodities rather than plain biomass (in order to allow minerals recycling in production areas)? And to what extent does that add extra challenges to industry in industrialized countries?
‘We can safely assume that production countries will always choose for deployment of that part of the feedstock that they need themselves. Even more so because they need to recover the minerals in the feedstock, in order to safeguard future productivity. The idea that poor countries would be looted for resources on a large scale is no longer viable. Those countries by now very well know their position, and succeed ever better in making good deals with foreign companies. Western industries will have to prepare themselves for a future in which increasingly intermediate products will be shipped abroad. That matches very well the intention of many companies to concentrate on higher-value products.’

Courtesy Gateway Magazine

(Visited 12 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Comment