Making inland ports greener: what can Europe do?

making inland ports greener

Turi Fiorito, director of the European Federation of Inland Ports, speaks to Government Europa about the challenges of making inland ports greener.

Ports and the shipping industry are making important changes to their operations in a bid to become greener. Sustainability is important to all industries and is often related to an improvement in efficiency; for inland ports this is a very important issue. Inland ports are part of a multi-modal chain and are often relatively small due to their urban positioning, however, this can pose some challenges when it comes to making inland ports greener and more environmentally friendly, as the ports themselves do not have the capacity to change, unlike sea ports.

We spoke to Turi Fiorito, director of the European Federation of Inland Ports (EFIP) about the challenge’s inland ports face in regard to operating more sustainably. Mr Fiorito explains what is already done in making inland ports greener; and what more can be done to support them on their journey to becoming green.

How important is the availability of having reliable multi-modal infrastructure connections to the role of an inland port, what roles do inland ports play and why are they so important?

By definition, inland ports are multi-modal hubs that bring different modes of transport together. On one hand you may have an inland ship coming in, its containers are loaded off, they are put directly onto a train and the train then continues the journey where there are no waterways. Alternatively, the containers may then be transferred onto a truck to finish their last mile connection; this is the role of an inland port, bringing together all companies and businesses to allow a product to reach its final destination.

Because of this, the most important aspect of an inland port is its ability to have multi-modal infrastructure: the different modes are not in competition but work in collaboration. Some ports provide their own infrastructure, some stimulate their construction. However, every port has its own distinct personality, therefore they do not all function and operate in the same way. The end goal is however the same – to provide a multi-modal transport hub to the market.

What are the main issues which need to be overcome with regard to making inland ports greener?

The ports themselves are doing a lot to make the operations as sustainable as possible. However, we have to understand that most of the sustainability challenges lie with the users. Just like a road in itself is not unsustainable, the vehicles using it are. With ships there is a similar challenge, even though they are the cleanest form of freight transport.

The majority of ships that are coming into inland ports are very old and often, they are powered by diesel. Inland ports do not own the ships in the majority of instances, and therefore the ports cannot green the fleet themselves. It is imperative that we are helping our colleagues in inland waterways to be greener: we are ready to build the infrastructure for the ship owners, such as loading points for electric shipping, or building hydrogen refuelling systems within the ports. All of the ports across Europe are placing innovation in how they can be more sustainable with the tools which they already have for making inland ports greener; and this is at the forefront of most people’s minds.

We need to stimulate inland waterways and in order to do that, we need to internalise the external costs. The advantage of inland waterways is that they are already much greener than lorries; the role of inland waterways means that a lot of large lorries are being taken off the roads which is better for the environment, although the inland ports themselves are not totally green yet.

Is enough being done at an EU-level to support the sustainability and the infrastructure for electric boats?

There is a strong attempt, especially by the European Commission; they are trying to divert extra resources to the shipping and transport industries. I do not think that we can put all of the work of making inland ports greener solely on the shoulders of Europe, the Member States need to play their part and we need to find a pan-European system to solve these issues. The majority of the time, ships are run by family companies, and investing in a new ship is a big step. There needs to be a mechanism in place that supports the ship owners in taking the leap to green their fleet and retrofit green options; this is where the EU could do more.

Inland ports are very different from sea ports and one of the obstacles that we are having to overcome in making inland ports greener is pushing policy makers to understand this. Creating a policy for a sea port, and then not modifying it for an inland port is leaving us at a disadvantage.

Will digitalisation have a large effect on how making inland ports greener, or is the effect on the environmental sustainability of the ports likely to be unchanged from introducing more smart technology?

I believe that digitalisation will have a small effect in terms of sustainability from the digitalisation of port activities or inland waterway activities. Every port has its own challenges to overcome in terms of digitalisation – some do not have any, some have lots.

One problem that is quite common, particularly in larger ports, is that more often than not, it is difficult to keep track of where all of the containers are. In Magdeburg they are testing new technology which will allow ports to better track where the containers are located exactly, thus making the whole process a lot more efficient. Looking at how you move things around the port could potentially have an impact in terms of making inland ports greener; and there are many things that we can do and that we are doing. However, the ports function on a landlord model, for a small port, the gains in terms of business from making a port more sustainable are relatively low. This is why the question needs to be: how can we actually make the people who are using the ports make it more sustainable, rather than looking at the port itself.

How would you characterise the common vision of the inland waterway transport and port sector going towards 2030?

Sustainable, smart, socially inclusive and connected with other modes. These are the four main terms for the future of the industry and there are multiple aspects to these.

Sustainable

Our ports are ready to do their bit to help achieve the Paris Agreement and we do not have time to wait. This is why, as part of the process of making inland ports greener, we are ready to get started on implementing more hydrogen systems – so that when the ship owners start to use hydrogen ships, they have no infrastructural barriers and can use them effectively. The ports have also started deploying shoreside electric charging points so that inland ships can run exclusively on electricity while they are in the port. Another aspect refers to the implementation of circular economy clusters as part of the industrial areas located within the port area. In this aspect, having a proactive and comprehensive industrial ecology approach like the “CLES” project of the port of Strasbourg is crucial; 24 private companies located within the port boundaries have decided to co-operate and to join forces with the port authority in order to implement sustainable synergies for common needs in terms of energy supply, recycling, sustainable infrastructure, and dangerous waste.

Connected

Efficiency gains are made by how connected you are and how many trade flows you can facilitate. More and more ports are now increasingly looking into rail and focusing their efforts on connecting to rail and pipeline transport, thereby making inland ports greener. It is important to remember that the majority of inland ports are located in urban areas. This can bring its own challenges; if a port is located close to residential/leisure areas, many of the cities and their inhabitants do not want dirty ships coming to the port. Some cities are pushing ports out because of the air quality issues that can arise from diesel ships. Greening the fleet is one of the most important factors to consider, but we are always looking at how we can minimise the impact on our local cities. Additionally, as residential areas come closer to the port area, certain activities become less desirable, such as 24 hour transhipment and the noise that comes from it. This jeopardises the solution, which is being more connected to the area around us, and this is a big objective for us.

Smart

Inland ports are relatively small in comparison to sea ports, this is why we have to be smart. Many ports are restricted in size due to the urban areas they are based in, which means that ports only have a small amount of space available to utilise, which is why they have had to be innovative in their operations. The ports have to be set up so smartly that they are able to gain a lot more efficiency, making inland ports greener because they have had to think about every square metre of their port. But we are convinced that ‘smart cities’ need ‘smart ports’.

Socially inclusive

Because inland waterway transport flows are cross-border in essence, inland ports and inland waterborne transport in general need a standardised pan-European approach to modernise and upgrade the qualifications, training and skills which are required to adapt to the new conditions of interconnected and intermodal infrastructure of the transport and logistics ‘smart supply chains’; younger generations have to consider the inland waterway transport sector as an attractive one, in order to compensate both the current lack of staff and lack of skills. On this aspect, I think the ‘be your own captain’ campaign of Viadonau or the “Danube SKILLS” project in the Danube region are moving towards a positive application to making our sector more competitive.

An example

Brussels is currently undergoing a lot of construction; the city is constantly being renovated and improved, what the Port of Brussels has done is build a multi-modal depot that brings building materials into the city from various places. All of the materials will be brought via ship to the port and deposited there. The materials then carry on their journey by being taken to their final destination directly from the port. Having this infrastructure in place means that there will be less lorries, and less miles to drive to deliver the building materials. This not only contributes to making inland ports greener, but also reduces congestion on Brussels’ roads.

Turi Fiorito

Director

European Federation of Inland Ports (EFIP)

https://www.inlandports.eu/

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