Study outlines how Rotterdams industrial sector can comply with Paris Agreement

Research by the Wuppertal Institute has mapped out which transition pathways Rotterdam’s industrial sector can follow to drastically cut back its CO2 emissions, while continuing to manufacture products for which there is a public demand like fuels and chemical products. The main conclusion of this study is that by using a number of different techniques, it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 98%. The institute’s study was commissioned by the Port of Rotterdam Authority, which aims to turn Rotterdam’s port area into a frontrunner in the current energy transition.

Allard Castelein, CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority: “The research shows that it is possible to drastically reduce COâ‚‚ emissions, and that the various projects we are presently working on align very well with the detailed transition pathways – particularly the utilisation of residual heat and the capture and storage of COâ‚‚. But the report also establishes that many of the local companies will need to switch to different technology in the decades ahead. The energy transition involves a large number of steps taken by a large number of parties over an extended period. The present study shows that this transition is feasible, and can mainly be seen as a call to launch new initiatives. Start with a small project and scale it up later on. We can do this in Rotterdam, although we do require a robust long-term policy and the support of both the Dutch state and the European Union.”

The German Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy has researched which options Rotterdam has to bring its industrial sector in line with the targets set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change. Winding down specific industrial activities is out of the question, since in the longer term, our society will continue to need all sorts of chemical products and fuels. While certain parts of the transport network can be electrified, for the time being, this still presents a challenge in the case of aviation and marine shipping. And ceasing particular industrial activities in Europe would only result in our importing the associated products. On balance, this would merely lead to the relocation of industry, with many people here losing their job. In other words, it makes more sense to realise a transition towards production with a significantly smaller COâ‚‚ footprint. The Wuppertal Institute has worked out four possible transition pathways in this context.

Four transition pathways

The first pathway is a ‘Business as Usual’ scenario. As its name implies, this scenario does not involve any major breaks in the trend. Improved efficiency in the industrial sector thanks to the implementation of ‘best available technology’ will result in lower emission levels. In addition, production is expected to decrease as a result of a reduced demand for fuels. This scenario will result in 30% fewer COâ‚‚ emissions by 2050. This does not suffice to achieve the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Representing a reduction of 75%, the second scenario, ‘Technological Progress’ is a lot closer to the mark. The key element in this scenario is the large-scale capture and storage of COâ‚‚.

Two other transition pathways presently suggest a potential COâ‚‚ reduction of 98%. One pathway is ‘Biomass and CCS’, which relies heavily on a combination of carbon capture and storage and the use of biomass as a feedstock for chemical production. The fourth and final pathway is ‘Closed Carbon Cycle’, which is focussed on closing various loops. While fossil resources are still used in this pathway, they are almost entirely recycled.


Each transition pathway presents its own challenges or bottlenecks, including the availability of sufficient biomass or the difficulty of capturing 100% of COâ‚‚ emissions or arranging a completely sustainable power generation system. Moreover, each transition pathway involves various technological uncertainties. Consequently, none of the aforementioned pathways can be considered a panacea – rather, we will need to use a combination of approaches to achieve our intended objective. In addition, the pathways all have a number of technologies in common, including hydrogen production based on electrolysis powered by sustainable energy (offshore wind power, for example), the electrification of industrial processes and the utilisation of residual heat.

A number of projects underway in the Rotterdam port area are already in line with these transition pathways. Examples include the development of a regional heat network, a demonstration project for the capture and storage of COâ‚‚ (CCS), the conversion of plastic waste into chemical products (waste to chemicals), biobased fuels and chemical industry, the landing of power generated by North Sea wind farms, electrolytic hydrogen production, etc. Projects of this kind can serve as drivers and catalysts for the economic renewal of Rotterdam’s industrial complex.

The Port of Rotterdam Authority has decided to follow an ‘and-and’ strategy in the current energy transition. The Port Authority is making a targeted investment in the development of sustainable industrial segments like renewable energy, biobased production and circular initiatives. At the same time, we work together with the existing, fossil-based industrial sector to steadily reduce its COâ‚‚ footprint through projects that focus on utilising residual heat or the capture and storage of COâ‚‚ emissions.