A sustainable carbon future

Feedstock Transition for Harbor Industrial Cluster Rotterdam

A sustainable carbon future - Feedstock Transition for Harbor Industrial Cluster Rotterdam

23 December 2022

As the energy transition is gaining scale and speed, the feedstock transition poses an even greater challenge for decades to come. A clear picture does not yet exist as to the potential of sustainable carbon to replace fossil-carbon (mainly crude oil) in the Port of Rotterdam Harbor Industrial Cluster (HIC). This study, executed by Power2X and Deltalinqs, in cooperation with the Port of Rotterdam and the Provincie Zuid-Holland, identifies the key sustainable pathways, their relevance and scale-up potential, and the key actions for achieving a future sustainable feedstock system.

Executive summary

The feedstock transition at the HIC is still in its early stages. Many challenges need to be overcome before crude oil can be replaced by sustainable feedstocks. The large-scale use of sustainable carbon-based feedstocks is difficult to implement cost competitively. The current share of sustainable feedstock represents less than 10% of total feedstock flows, and no clear picture of the target feedstock mix exists yet for the HIC Rotterdam. Feedstock availability may be limited in the future. Preparations therefore need to start early to secure feedstocks and to retain a vital industry in a globally competitive market during the transition.


Four main sustainable feedstock pathways are expected to shape the future fuels/chemicals value chains:

  • Bio oils, imported or produced locally from e.g., residual vegetable oil, animal fat or used cooking oil (UCO);
  • Pyrolysis oil, imported or produced locally from plastic waste;
  • Green methanoleq1, imported or produced locally from hydrogen and biomass or residual gas;
  • Hydrogen (or hydrogen carriers), as a key enabler for processing sustainable carbon feedstocks.


Liquids (bio/pyrolysis oils) are easiest to implement, while solids (waste, biomass) and green methanoleq1 require major changes to the existing supply chain infrastructure and asset base.
  • Bio oils and pyrolysis oils are more compatible with existing fuels and chemicals infrastructure and assets and require the least amount of space and energy.
  • Solid feedstocks (plastic waste, biomass, etc.), require the development of new supply chains, along with more energy and space. They could be pre-processed elsewhere and imported as liquids instead.
  • Residual gases, though already available in large quantities in the HIC, will need large amounts of hydrogen and new processing assets for conversion to fuels and chemicals
  • Green methanoleq1 has a relatively low conversion efficiency compared to other feedstocks and requires major changes to replace naphtha in chemicals production. As an advantage, methanol is a proven raw material and fuel.


Bio oils and pyrolysis oil may have limited availability in the long term. Eventually, there may not be enough sustainable carbon feedstocks available to fully replace the large amount of fossil-based carbon we use today. Ultimately, green methanoleq1 produced from green hydrogen and biogenic CO2, or from atmospheric carbon sources by using direct air capture (DAC), could contribute to solving this challenge. This will take substantial time and technology and cost breakthroughs. Based on our analysis of availability of sustainable feedstocks, we have identified their potential for replacing crude oil as follows:
  • Bio oils and pyrolysis oil could potentially replace up to 20%.
  • Residual gases could potentially replace up to 10%.
  • Solid biomass and plastic waste could potentially replace up to 20%.
  • In the long term, in order to fully replace crude oil, up to 50% of the balance will need to come from additional sources. Green methanoleq1 could potentially fill this gap.

Space requirements

The lower energy densities and conversion efficiencies of sustainable feedstocks compared to crude oil create the need for higher storage and throughput volumes. Depending on the ultimate feedstock mix, the space required for processing sustainable feedstocks could double or triple compared to the current infrastructure for crude oil. Land constraints will therefore be a dominant limitation in the feedstock transition, as space is already scarce in the HIC.

Energy and hydrogen feedstock requirements

Energy requirements in the form of heat and electricity and hydrogen feedstock could also be multiple fold higher for processing sustainable feedstock than for crude oil processing. Most sustainable feedstocks such as bio oils, residual gases, waste, CO2 require significantly more hydrotreatment and energy than crude oil. Depending on the ultimate feedstock mix, the use of hydrogen feedstock may shoot up to 10 times and the use of energy could go up 2–3 times from the current requirements for processing crude. Subsequently, the energy infrastructure required for the feedstock transition is expected to be significantly more than currently planned for the energy transition.

Action plan

Actions can be started across all feedstocks today, optimized in an overarching vision and masterplan for HIC Rotterdam. Firstly, sustainable carbon feedstocks can already be secured (and prioritized for the hardest-to-abate products). Secondly, a feedstock- and energy transition masterplan should maximize economic viability through site integration synergies and opportunities to build world scale assets. Thirdly, expanding the energy infrastructure to increase baseload supply is likely a no regret in any scenario.

Exhibit 1: Feedstock mix transformation from a crude oil-based system to a sustainable energy and feedstock system

1. Green Methanol equivalents represents a combination of carbon molecules made from synthesized gases such as methanol, DME and formic acid.

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