Chemelot was established at a location between Stein and Geleen in South Limburg, on the former DSM site where – even further back in time – the state mines once stood. It’s one of the largest industrial sites for the chemical industry in the Netherlands. In an area covering the equivalent of 1,600 football pitches, 150 companies with more than 8,000 employees are engaged in the production of plastics, resins, synthetic fibres and other chemical products used by society. Currently, these products are made from the fossil raw materials naphtha and natural gas. In the framework of the energy transition and climate targets, these materials need to be replaced with materials that cause much lower emissions, such as C4-LPG, propylene and bio-propylene, and hydrogen.
What’s more, the Dutch government recently decided that companies can capture and store their CO2 emissions and then pump them through a pipeline from the port of Rotterdam to the empty gas fields in the North Sea; this is known as Project ‘Porthos’. The old gas fields are located around 20 kilometres offshore in a sealed reservoir of porous sandstone more than three kilometres under the seabed. Storing CO2 here prevents it from being released into the atmosphere, and this in turn has a positive impact when it comes to achieving the climate targets.
Transporting LPG, propylene and hydrogen through the port of Rotterdam to South Limburg and transporting the CO2 in the other direction can be done in a variety of ways: with trucks, by rail or by inland waterway shipping. But the most environmentally friendly method by far is pipeline transport. And in this case, four pipelines. However, these pipelines aren’t something that can be built overnight, and they present a complex challenge that involves breaking new ground. In this case, figuratively and literally, because these pipelines will be laid below ground.
But, in typical Dutch fashion, a lot of thinking has already gone into how to achieve this. A national Pipeline Structure Vision was prepared in 2012. This designates a number of projected routes for underground pipelines throughout the country. It has been agreed that no new construction activities will take place in these corridors, leaving them free for concentrating underground transport infrastructure that serves national interests.
One such route is the Rotterdam-Moerdijk-Tilburg-Venlo-Chemelot corridor. After comparing a number of similar possible routes, this one emerged as the most advantageous choice. The route minimises the need to traverse or tunnel under Natura 2000 sites and built-up areas. Additionally, it offers the option of establishing connections with North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany and Antwerp in Belgium. That option allows for significantly better utilisation of these four pipelines and that’s important when it comes to recouping the investment.
Another important aspect of this investment is that if all four pipelines are laid simultaneously, this will be €365 million cheaper than laying the pipelines one by one. And on top of lower costs, this approach also eliminates a lot of nuisance for those living in the vicinity. All in all, constructing these pipelines involves a significant sum of money.
The project also offers a number of solutions in one fell swoop. It offers industry based at Chemelot the opportunity to make production processes more sustainable, making our national climate targets more attainable. The same applies to the companies along the route who use or produce one of the four substances being transported, such as industry at Moerdijk. The pipeline creates synergy opportunities for these companies. This, coupled with additional connections with Germany and Belgium, gives the port of Rotterdam and industry based at Chemelot a safe, reliable and sustainable connection with other industrial centres. This strengthens the competitiveness of the companies based at Chemelot and those in the port of Rotterdam complex. This is beneficial for both the economy and employment. These plans also mean an additional boost for the port of Rotterdam in its bid to develop itself as a sustainable energy port.
Last but not least, the new pipelines will also mean that fewer hazardous materials will have to be transported by rail across the Brabant route. This creates more opportunities for cities in North Brabant, such as Eindhoven, Helmond, Tilburg, Breda and Deurne, which all have major ambitions to construct housing along that railway line.
The next step is following up on the feasibility study that the three initiators, in consultation with the provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and South Holland, presented to the Lower House in early 2021. And there’s no time to lose. For example, if the pipelines are not built, companies will have to make timely arrangements to sign contracts with shipyards to build inland tankers as an alternative.
The aim is that the preparatory work and pipeline construction will take four years. But that presents a significant challenge to all the companies and government authorities that are stakeholders in the project. That’s one of the reasons why the Port of Rotterdam Authority has taken the initiative, together with the government, to further develop the plan with detailed business cases for each of the pipelines.