SmartPort: research and development for the port of Rotterdam

Innovation News Network speaks to Elisabeth van Opstall, managing director of SmartPort about how the port of Rotterdam is leading the way in port technology and sustainability, identifying the key elements behind their research.

The port of Rotterdam is leading the way in port technology and sustainability and one of the main drivers behind this is SmartPort. The port has a strong focus on enhancing its competitive position as a logistics hub and as a world-class industrial complex. Rotterdam is using innovation and technology to do this and to ensure that development and management of the port is done in a sustainable way.

“The port of Rotterdam is the biggest port in Europe and has the best infrastructure in the world (World Economic Forum). Being well connected to many important mainland regions, it means that all of the products arriving in the port can be easily transported all over Europe. The extensive port industry as a whole is based around the use of fossil fuels; around 80% of the industry is reliant on them. It is essential to re-think how activities in the port can be redesigned in order to be ready for the future – what trends are evolving and which opportunities occur when transforming logistics processes and existing industry, combining this with renewable energy and new bio-based, circular companies entering the industry” explains Elisabeth van Opstall, managing director of SmartPort.

SmartPort operates in the earliest stages of innovation development. Their goal is to make people aware of the impact by creating coalitions with willing partners around scientific research. SmartPort provides, stimulates and finances collaborative research to pave the way in creating the smartest port. The companies within the Port of Rotterdam are in need of scientific based knowledge to make long-term decisions for the innovation of their business. To keep a strong, profitable and competitive role in the port industry, but also to meet their social responsibility within a sustainable world.

The importance of technology in the port industry

SmartPort focus on three roadmaps; smart logistics, smart energy and future-proof port infrastructure. These roadmaps are guidelines to address scientific research needs that contribute to a smart and more sustainable port. It is crucial to assess and identify the challenges of the future and focus on the possible benefits. Within these roadmaps, programmes are pinpointed based on trends and developments which are important at the time. The programmes which SmartPort develops focus on research projects which are created together with its partners.

We foresee that technical opportunities in combination with the availability of structured information will optimise many processes within the port. Having the ability to know when a product is arriving and leaving a port through digital alerts can optimise the process enormously. Knowing what kind of goods are on board and being able to pinpoint which ones need to be dealt with first at a terminal – like perishable products – are all examples in which connecting information and technology can improve the efficiency.

There are still many steps to take in order to realise this. Not only technically and financially but also through organisation and behaviour. How do you co-operate within a chain, share data in a safe way and redesign and protect your business process and model? These are relevant questions for future development which should be addressed for companies to move forward.

It is always important to emphasise that scientific research centralises it’s focus on the long-term development effects, governmental organisations mainly focus on societal effects and companies generally think with a short-term perspective due to their commercial goals. All three perspectives are essential for a smart port and therefore are included in the research projects of SmartPort. This way SmartPort is able to support companies active in the Rotterdam port with the scientific information needed for making strategic choices.

Future research from SmartPort

Within the smart energy and industry roadmap there is a focus on industrial electrification of the port. Industrial electrification is about replacing processes based on fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, such as wind and sun and by using hydrogen, for example. Electrification provides a range of possibilities for reducing the amount of CO2 emissions effectively throughout the port and its connections. This is very complex and is a particular area which still needs more research. Therefore, a wide range of companies, knowledge institutions and the government are working alongside the port authority to amplify the necessary knowledge to realise the innovations foreseen.

With regard to the roadmap for future proof port infrastructure, research is done on the use and maintenance of infrastructure in certain areas/parts of the ports. It is about predicting the maintenance of quay walls for example, that makes it possible to know what new care is needed for current use but also for future use of infrastructure. This information also helps innovation for future use, protection and maintenance. Altogether, information will lead to asset management with built in flexibility for future developments.

Automation and digitalisation are processes that have also created prominence, not only in port infrastructure but also the transport industry; in road transport but also on ships and connecting waterways and railway. We believe that this is one of the topics within smart logistics with a huge impact on future logistics and port processes. As one of the largest innovative logistics hub’s in Europe, this can only be addressed by co-operation between companies, governmental organisations and knowledge institutes.

One of the interesting projects of SmartPort within the smart logistics roadmap at the moment is truck platooning. This is where technology is inserted into a whole fleet of trucks, however, the front truck is in full control of the following vehicles. This is a development which can make the whole process of transporting products more efficient, reduce fuel usage and improve traffic situations. In order to make this kind of technology possible on the highways between the port and the hinterland, one of the big questions now is how these trucks will find each other; for example, what kind of platform can be used to make this possible?

Truck platooning is a concept that is already in the testing phase in collaboration with TNO, Rotterdam Port Authority, TKI Dinalog, truck companies, several container and logistic companies and the government. Developments such as truck platooning are imperative and the next step for SmartPort is the development towards autonomous shipping.

We are looking forward to a smart future and we are eager to provide the scientific knowledge which is essential to the companies of the port of Rotterdam. Not only to remain the biggest port in Europe, but to transform it into the smartest port in the world.

SmartPort is a joint venture between the port of Rotterdam authority, Deltalinqs, the Municipality of Rotterdam, Erasmus University and Delft University of Technology, TNO and Deltares. By inspiring, initiating and forming alliances, SmartPort stimulates and finances scientific research for and by the companies in the port of Rotterdam in collaboration with knowledge institutes. For more information please visit our website at

Elisabeth van Opstall
Managing Director

Subscribe to our newsletter


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Featured Topics

Partner News

Latest eBooks

Latest Partners

Similar Articles

More from Innovation News Network