World port welcomes innovative startups

The Antwerp port is a global player thanks to, among other, its enormous (petro)chemical cluster. Less well known however are the ambitions of Western Europe's second port in the field of circular economy and digitalisation. Industry 4.0, Internet of Things and blockchain are hot along the Scheldt.

Why is digitalisation important for a port?

JACQUES VANDERMEIREN: “A world port is an extensive and diverse community in which digitalisation plays an essential role. IoT based applications are heralding a new era for us. This is why the port of Antwerp is working closely with the City of Antwerp, the University of Antwerp, and imec, in order to create a Harbour of Things. We're expecting a direct flow of knowledge from the university to our industry and startups. And just like the city, the port of Antwerp is an exciting testing ground for new ideas. All our major industry players are actively looking for promising technological innovation.”

The digitalisation of the supply chain through the NxtPort initiative is a priority. How big will the impact be?

JACQUES VANDERMEIREN: “Digital innovation already has a solid foundation in the port of Antwerp. Quite a few applications have come from the Antwerp Port Community System. But the ambitions of the Antwerp port community extend further thanks to the NxtPort (nxtport.eu) digital platform. It's a technological collaboration between different port companies. A data platform that collects data from different stages of the logistics chain in and around the port of Antwerp. The entire supply chain - logistics, storage and transhipment - becomes more transparent, efficient, and therefore cheaper, for the entire port community through the sharing of big data. Blockchain technology will play a major role.”

A Harbour of Things goes much further in a lot of areas. What kind of IoT applications might be useful in a world port?

JACQUES VANDERMEIREN: “Logistics companies such as Katoen Natie have made a big commitment to IoT technology. An example are the driverless trucks that commute between business sites and warehouses, led by road sensors. There is currently a pilot project in Singapore. Driverless trucks also allow for new applications in warehouses. Making the translation from IoT applications to concrete business cases is a top priority for us. We need new startups because shipping companies and terminals don't have this digital knowhow.”

Antwerp, together with Rotterdam and other Western European ports such as Hamburg, is part of one of the largest port clusters in the world. Collaborating on sustainability and digitalisation gives this cluster an important strategic advantage over other locations.

JACQUES VANDERMEIREN: “Shipping companies and industries know Antwerp's strengths. Rotterdam is our closest neighbour. Like us, they are evolving into a smart port, but we each place our own accents. We want to work together smartly by integrating innovative startups: that's a vision we share. Antwerp focuses heavily on circular economics: we are the frontrunners in extraction and reuse of raw materials. BASF has, for example, welcomed Avantium to the site where a waste-to-chemicals plant is being developed. We produce methanol, ammonia and urea from waste materials here. The Ecluse heating system recovers heat for industry and businesses. Our integrated petrochemical industry is innovation oriented and forms a fully-fledged circular industry 4.0.”

What should startups and potential partners know about Antwerp's Harbour of Things?

JACQUES VANDERMEIREN: “We're in the champions league in many areas: scale, integrated petrochemical cluster, innovation, digitalisation and circular economy. Especially the concept of collaboration is now truly starting to take shape in people's minds. In the area of circular economy, and as a community builder, we really are becoming a role model."

With countless high-tech projects coming to the fore in Antwerp, it is obvious that also the city’s port benefits from the race towards next-gen innovations. Seafar is a shipping management company that learned the ropes in the innovation hub The Beacon, thanks to the city’s support. Now, the company will present its cutting-edge Shore Control Center that will determine the port of Antwerp’s future.
Innovate Antwerp, published by The Global Village, is part of a publication series on worldwide innovative ecosystems. Antwerp is the first region in the European Union that is featured in the series. In the book, readers discover a wide range of initiatives, companies and people that focus on innovation.
The renowned global innovation platform Plug and Play anchors in Antwerp, to team up with 5 partners: the City of Antwerp, CMB, DXC Technology, Euronav, and Port of Antwerp. Together, they introduce Plug and Play Maritime. This program connects the 5 Founding Partners to international startups. The purpose is to pilot their technologies and continue as world-class leaders in maritime R&D and innovation.