Circular ports: development strategies

Ilaria Giannoccaro, associate professor at Politecnico of Bari, during the section dedicated to circular ports at the first edition of the Re-think Circular Economy Forum in Taranto last September, began her speech by emphasising the role of ports as accelerators of a circular economy and their importance in the context of circular economic development. Ports represent a unique opportunity to pursue objectives. Not only of environmental sustainability, but also of an economic and social nature, contributing to the growth of business competitiveness and job creation.  

Circular R-Strategies for Port Development

The circular economy in ports passes through the application of the so-called ‘R’ strategies: transforming waste into resources, exploiting product life extension and giving priority to regenerative resources. In the first case, Prof. Giannoccaro refers to the creation of value through energy recovery, recycling and industrial symbiosis. In the second case she refers to the strategies of disassembly and remanufacturing, repair and reuse, as well as product rethinking strategies with a view to pay-per-use. Finally, reduction strategies, to be applied in the design phase and use of recyclable materials.   

Navigating the Circular Economy

The centrality of ports for the circular economy is evident in the light of the huge flows of materials (raw materials, components and waste) that pass through them. But not only that. Ports are not only places of transports and logistics activities, but also of industrial activities with high energy requirements. Together with the urban areas in which they are located, they are responsible for the production of huge quantities of waste. In this respect, ports are often base to waste treatment, collection and disposal facilities, as well as numerous other economic activities that are part of the so-called Blue Economy. (Shipbuilding, offshore wind energy production, fishing and aquaculture).   

Sustainable Ports: Exploring EU Circular Economy Strategies

Recently, a European research project called LOOP Ports aimed to identify the different circular economy strategies adopted in European ports (and beyond). More than 480 ports were mapped, including Italian ports, from the point of view of their structural characteristics. Above all on the basis of the circular economy strategies implemented within the ports themselves. From the obtained results, it emerges that the most widespread strategies relate to the first class, valorisation of waste as a resource. Material recovery and recycling strategies are also quite frequent. Next, the professor reported some best practices related to industrial symbiosis strategies applied to ports.

Lessons of Innovation: Circular Ports in Europe…

A first successful example is the port of Aalborg, Denmark, where dredging activities produce material that is then used in the production of cement. The same dredged material can also be used as construction material. This hypothesis has found application in the ports of Gavle, Sweden, and Marseille, France. Other examples of industrial symbiosis are related to fishing activity and fish processing. Processing waste is recycled and used to produce food and animal feed, while shells and molluscs used in aquaculture activities are then used to produce cosmetics (port of Boulogne sur mer, France). There are also examples of CO2 capture, which is then used in the production of microalgae, at the port of Marseille.   

and Worldwide

In Chinese ports there are also examples of eco-industrial parks. Numerous symbiotic activities take place. Another example of symbiosis is the use of waste heat produced by industries located in the port to heat houses, greenhouses and for the agricultural sector.

Towards European Circular Prosperity

Ports, she continued, are also a place of energy transition. There are many innovative examples of waste to energy and waste to chemicals, i.e. the transformation of waste into reusable materials. Eni, for example, has several projects in the field in the port of Marghera and in the ports of Livorno and Taranto. Other examples are the use of waste for the production of hydrogen, methanol and synthesis gas. In Rotterdam there are projects, which should soon be operational, to build plants for the production of hydrogen through the exploitation of electricity produced offshore by wind farms and the use of hydrogen itself to fuel biorefineries. In the port of Frederikshavn, Denmark, for example, a resilience strategy is being implemented to recover secondary raw materials from ship dismantling and offshore facilities.   

Discovering Circular Port Strategies

Another circular economy strategy is the reconversion of offshore structures. There are many examples in the Adriatic Sea, such as Ravenna that is planning to build a multifunctional offshore structure with wind and photovoltaic plants for hydrogen production. Moreover, ports can be considered home to business incubators for the acceleration of innovation. As well as the development of circular and innovative start-ups in the field of the sea economy (Blue Economy). There are various experiences in Rotterdam, Denmark and Spain.    

Circular Ports of Change: Exploring Circular Economy Tactics

In conclusion, Professor Giannoccaro explored the critical success factors for the implementation of circular best practices. First of all, it is important to involve all stakeholders, especially government and municipalities. Timely adaptation of regulations is also necessary to allow European best practices to be replicated at Italian and regional level. The role of universities in training and research is also crucial. Finally, it is necessary to contextualise circular strategies to different cases, not thinking that there is a one-best way. Compared to the main European ports, Italian ports have important differences that must be exploited. It is necessary to create circular supply chains located in ports. Exploit the interdependencies between all sectors of the Blue Economy, so that the port is really an accelerator of a circular economy that pursues the objectives of sustainability.   

To find out more watch the recording of the speech in Italian here or consult the final report of the event.  

Francesco Castellano

Francesco Castellano holds a Master degree in Business Administration, and he has gathered almost twenty years of experience in research, finance, consulting, and business management. During this time, he was engaged in different types of projects as a consultant at Bain & Company, launched Uber operations in Turin, and worked in the FP&A department at General Electric.Lately, he founded To... Read more

Francesco Castellano holds a Master degree in Business Administration, and he has gathered almost twenty years of experience in research, finance, consulting, and business management. During this time, he was engaged in different types of projects as a consultant at Bain & Company, launched Uber operations in Turin, and worked in the FP&A department at General Electric.

Lately, he founded Tondo, a cluster of organizations focusing on spreading Circular Economy approaches and concepts, and supporting companies in the transition to a clean and circular future. Francesco is also the ideator and coordinator of the Re-think Circular Economy Forum, a format of events organized in many different locations in Italy showcasing the most relevant Circular Economy solutions.

Francesco has been a guest speaker at different universities and events, like Federico II University, Bocconi University, LIUC - Cattaneo University, Pavia University, Padua University, Catholic University, IPE Business School, 24ORE Business School, Campus Party, Torino Stratosferica, Visionary Days.

Francesco is passionate about Circular Economy, Cleantech Innovations, Venture Building and Entrepreneurship.