Port pro of the month: Koen Overtoom (NL)
This month, we are taking you to the Netherlands, where we are having a talk with Mr Koen Overtoom, CEO of the Port of Amsterdam. In what follows, you will learn more about his thoughts on the ongoing energy transition, about the role of circular economy in the port, about the port’s vision on clean shipping and many other interesting topics.
Can you briefly present the Port of Amsterdam to us? What are its characteristics? What are its challenges?
The Port of Amsterdam is one of the largest seaports in Europe, and one of the largest transhipment hubs in energy cargo flows, such as petrol, but also agri-bulk cargo flows like cocoa. The Port of Amsterdam is also part of the region that includes the ports of Velsen, Beverwijk and Zaanstad, all of which have their own specific characteristics. Our ambition, as a port, is to expand our customer base, cargoes and activities in a more sustainable manner. We are making the shipping process smoother, safer and more transparent, and we are developing future-proof port complexes. We want to be at the forefront of the transition towards a climate-neutral port in 2050 by investing in sustainable energy flows and circular activities. We work hard every day to make the port a little better for our customers, for our immediate environment, for our city and for the Netherlands.
What is your long-term vision for the Port of Amsterdam? What are the main investment projects for the coming years?
Our vision is to create faster, smarter and cleaner ports that add value and are more than just transhipment points. That is why we are investing in future-proof infrastructure. For example, last January the IJmuiden sea lock was opened, the largest one in the world. We invest in quays, roads and railways, but also in underground infrastructure such as pipelines to transport hydrogen, an energy carrier that is CO2 neutral.
The Port of Amsterdam is an energy port. The EU, with its Green Deal ambitions and the recently published REPowerEU plan, is striving to get independent from Russian fossil fuels as well as climate neutral by 2050. As an energy port, how do you anticipate the projected changing energy landscape in Europe? Within this changing energy landscape, what are the business opportunities for your port? What will be the main challenge?
Our ambition is to continue to be a major energy port, but in renewable energy. Therefore, together with our partners, governments, customers and knowledge institutes, we are developing a hydrogen economy. We are investing in the production, storage, transhipment and import of hydrogen. We facilitate companies that are active in bio and synthetic fuels, such as Argent Energy, which announced last month that it will increase its production capacity in the Port of Amsterdam fivefold. In 2017, we stated that we want to be a coal-free port by 2030. This ambition still stands despite the fact that high gas prices and the war in Ukraine are currently causing an increase in coal transhipment.
In Europe, the demand for green hydrogen is expected to increase sharply in the coming decades. How is the Port of Amsterdam preparing for the arrival of the hydrogen economy? What are the main challenges?
The biggest challenge will be to ensure supply, because demand is going to be huge. The North Sea canal area, where the port of Amsterdam is located, also has Schiphol Airport and the steel producer Tata Steel. The latter indicated in September of last year that it will be making hydrogen-based steel. They will need a lot of hydrogen for that. And they are not the only ones. One of the companies that will be setting up in our port is Synkero. They want to produce synthetic paraffinic kerosene (sustainable aviation fuel or SAF) from hydrogen. That is why, together with a consortium, we are investing in a new port in IJmond: the energy port. This port will be important for the construction and maintenance of offshore wind farms in the coming years. As a port, we are also involved in implementing electrolysis, which is the process to convert electricity generated by wind farms into hydrogen. For example, we are trying to develop a hydrogen economy by participating in all initiatives involving production, storage, transhipment and imports. One of the projects in this area is the import of 1 million tonnes of hydrogen to the Port of Amsterdam.
The Port of Amsterdam is striving to become the most important circular economy hotspot in Europe. Can you present, in brief, your strategy to achieve this aim? What makes the Port of Amsterdam the ideal location for businesses specialised in the circular economy?
The Port of Amsterdam has always handled waste streams like scrap metal, old vehicle tyres, old paper and construction rubble. In recent years, the port has been receiving more and more household and commercial waste from the densely populated region. With our modern port infrastructure, state-of-the-art enterprises and entrepreneurial spirit, we would like to keep land available for this type of business. We are providing a solid foundation on which start-ups, scale-ups and more intensive projects and businesses can build. The port is close to Schiphol Airport and the city, and that position ensures easy access to national and international markets. This unique combination of resources, suppliers, financiers and customers makes Amsterdam a major circular hotspot. The development from a linear economy into a circular economy will ensure a focus for our strategy. To that end, we are continually expanding our infrastructure and facilities, as our goal is to become the leading hotspot in Europe. We have, and we continue to seek out, entrepreneurs with a passion for transforming society and how we use resources. It can start off small at Prodock, our innovation hotspot. Here, start-ups and scale-ups are working on the energy transition and the circular economy. It is very inspiring. The crossovers with other circular and bio-based companies have given rise to new initiatives. In recent years, we have seen several of these companies mature and build a larger-scale factory in the port. From artificial fertilisers and complex organic substances to biofuels, electricity and heating.
To support the maritime sector’s efforts to become more sustainable, the Port of Amsterdam has recently published its Clean Shipping Vision. Can you briefly explain this vision to us? What are the main hurdles to achieving the ambitions set out in it? How will you ensure that all the port’s stakeholders contribute to the Clean Shipping Vision?
Our vision of clean shipping aims for emission-free vessel traffic in our port area by 2050; in other words, no more air-polluting emissions and, as regards greenhouse gases, climate-neutral emissions from well to wake. We are taking actions now towards that objective, so that by 2030 we can see an acceleration in achieving this ambition. We are focusing on three pillars: port emission reduction technologies (including ship-to shore power), sustainable fuels and port call optimisation. For each of these pillars, we will undertake our appropriate role as a port in a number of ways. One example being facilitating the installation of ship-to-shore power and the construction of bunker quays, where new fuels can be safely bunkered. But also by enabling data exchange between the shippers, terminals and maritime service providers for optimal planning, so that ships have the shortest and most efficient stay in our area thereby generating fewer emissions. To reward and encourage cleaner shipping through discounts on port dues or by giving it priority for berth reservations at our own quays. And finally, establishing local regulations, if necessary, on top of international regulations. For example, by imposing a generator ban on berths close to the city, where alternatives such as ship-to-shore power are available. Overall, we use our expertise to advise other parties on upcoming environmental regulations for shipping, aiming for a set of ambitious and at the same time practicable rules.
There are several obstacles, or rather challenges, that we see. To name but two: the capacity shortage on the electricity grid and the sufficient availability of sustainable fuels for shipping, considering also the needs of other sectors. We cannot realise this ambition on our own. In order to retain our license to operate, not only as a port but as the entire maritime sector, it is necessary that everyone in the chain gets moving, such as the shipping companies, the shippers, the ports and the maritime service providers to initiate actions to boost sustainability and highlight its importance.
Our driving force, the licence to operate, will ensure that this is set in motion. We want to take the lead in this by setting a good example, for instance by making our own vessels more sustainable, by ensuring provisions like ship-to-shore power and bunkering facilities and by rewarding cleaner shipping and early movers.
The cruise business plays an important role in the Port of Amsterdam. How do you see this business evolving in the coming years? Has passenger traffic picked up again after the COVID-19 crisis?
After two years of a pandemic with hardly any cruise ships (2020 and 2021), we fortunately saw an upturn in 2022. A total of 122 sea cruise ship calls are planned for this year. The utilisation of the ships is even lower than before Covid. It is now around 60%. This is expected to increase over the course of the season. For 2023, 135 calls have been reserved. The cruise terminal has a capacity of 160-190 calls per year.
European ports are increasingly investing in digital solutions to improve the efficiency of the logistics chain and port operations. Has the Port of Amsterdam taken any initiatives towards digitalisation?
Yes, our vision also entails developing a smarter port, which means investing in digitalisation to develop a reliable and predictable logistics chain. This includes Portle, a platform containing all kinds of apps, such as apps for the arrival and departure times of ships, a lock module for lock scheduling, apps for submitting requests, reports and exemptions, HAP (Haven Afval Plan), the declaration of inland port fees and Portle for finding companies. We are also looking at future developments and experimenting, for example, with marine drones. Together with port of Rotterdam shareholder in Portbase, the port community platform.
The Port of Amsterdam is located nearby the city of Amsterdam. Therefore, having a good relationship with the local community is of paramount importance. What are the challenges of being a port located nearby an urban area, and how can those be overcome? Is the Port of Amsterdam taking initiatives to ensure that it not only maintains but improves its connection with the local population?
We want to be among Europe’s top sustainable ports by 2030, with a strong focus on the environment, our immediate environment and society. This means that we make every effort to keep any physical and environmental inconvenience to a minimum. That is also why we take all manner of mitigating measures with regard to noise, dust and odour, as well as the emission of harmful substances. We have developed a vision for clean shipping with clear targets to reduce emissions through a variety of actions, such as the installation of ship-to-shore power also for sea cruises, degassing installations, eNose (a network of electronic sniffers that detect and report abnormal odour patterns, so that the regulator can enforce its policies), a programme to reduce noise by replacing the beeps of reversing equipment at the terminal with a hissing sound that is absorbed into the ambient noise, and we are developing policies for international trade chains that might involve environmental damage. We monitor air quality and discuss dilemmas with those in our surroundings.
How did you get into maritime transport? How did your career path lead to this position?
After studying development economics, I immediately began working at the Port of Amsterdam in cocoa storage and transhipment. For the past seventeen years, I have been working for the Port Authority in various roles. I have been CEO of the Port of Amsterdam for nearly six years now.