How Rotterdam is helping the Netherlands' low-carbon transition

Methanol is typically produced from natural gas or coal, so for cities looking to make the transition to low carbon, what is the solution to going green? At a new waste-to-chemical facility under development in the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the answer to clean energy may be lurking in the city’s waste. By transforming non-recyclable waste into “green” methanol, the facility will help lower carbon emissions by creating a raw material that can be used to replace fossil fuels, offering clean energy to fuel the chemical industry and transportation sector. Let’s take a look at how this facility—which is the first of its kind in Europe—will be revolutionary for Rotterdam.


A smarter way to reuse waste

Located in the Botlek area of the Port of Rotterdam, the new facility will be able to convert up to 360,000 tonnes of waste into 220,000 tonnes of “green” methanol, which adds up to the total annual waste of more than 700,000 households. Not only will the facility avoid CO2 emissions usually associated with burning waste, it will also help reduce the Rotterdam’s own carbon footprint. The city will save around 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions by replacing fossil sources and incorporating clean methanol into existing supply trains. “We are excited to help advance the circular economy in the Netherlands with our proprietary chemical recycling technology, which provides a cost-effective solution that complements source separation and conventional recycling and produces a renewable raw material for the chemical industry,” said Timothy J. Cesarek, Enerkem’s Senior Vice President, Business Development.

The facility will incorporate Cleantech company Enerkem’s technology into already existing recycling technologies, producing methanol that can be converted into chemicals like acetic acid, which is used for fibres and adhesives, and thickening agents and dimethyl ether, which are produced mostly from fossil fuels. “This waste-to-chemistry project is an important step on the road to a more sustainable Rotterdam industry,” said Port of Rotterdam Authority CEO, Allard Castelein. “Waste becomes a raw material for the chemical industry. This is a great step forward that fits well in our circular economy ambition.”

The new facility is just one of the hundreds of smart projects underway in Rotterdam, which includes the integration of a highly accurate rain radar into the city’s water management system and plans to expand the intelligent household waste collection system. In addition to the port’s waste-converting facility, the harbour is also turning to floating drones as a way to collect harbour waste floating on the water, making the entire waste collection and recycling process really come full circle.