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Three questions about … Inland ports « next generation »

The digitalization of the economy, the development of Internet of Things, the greater focus put on environmental questions and the emergence of new modes of social action are going to deeply modify the role of inland ports in the future. How will the « inland port of the future » look like ? An interview of Roland Hörner, managing director of Port of Mannheim and president of the European federation of inland ports / EFIP.

Roland Hörner, president of the European federation of inland ports / EFIP. (Doc. EFIP)

Roland Hörner, president of the European federation of inland ports / EFIP. (Doc. EFIP)

NPI – The circular economy is partly thought to cut undue, parasitic movements of goods. Does its development not put a risk of reduction of raw material flows and question the very existence of inland ports ?

Roland Hörner – On the contrary ! The circular economy has an important potential for inland ports. We expect this new kind of economy to lead to new transport flows. It is thus an important trend for ports to attract these activities to locations along the inland waterways.

Port areas are attractive for the recycling industry. They provide crossing points between transport modes of waste streams with connections to hinterland and on-site industrial activities and a nearby urban setting. This means that inland ports, despite their limited areal footprint, have access to significant quantities of bio wastes, surrounding bioenergy resources, biomass from crossing supply chains and energy from intensive activities. But they are neither exploiting the circular economy nor a producer of sustainable energy.

As landlord and matchmaker, inland ports have the commercial assets to stimulate the industries within the port area. They can support cluster development and activities to produce in a biobased, sustainable and circular way in view of creating an added value for the port. Besides, they bring both the producing and re-using industries in contact with each other for the re-usage of energy in the chain. But the development of the circular economy heavily depends on the final market uptake and initiatives of individual companies.

The problem today is that even if waste and its valorization are considered as a new business model, there is still a lack of common understanding and interpretation of waste depending on the value. Moreover, the development of waste units is hindered by the overall negative public opinion about waste. One must also understand that ports cannot stop from one to another day the import of fossil raw materials such as coal and phosphate, as it is still important for the energy production by coal power plants or for the production of fertilizers used in the agriculture sector. In fact, the development and implementation of circular economy strategies requires a renewed cooperation between the various stakeholders (ports, authorities, companies, etc.), including the role of citizens associations.

NPI – Does the development of digitalization and the Internet of Things sound as an opportunity or a threat to inland ports ?

R. Hörner – Like in other industrial processes over the world, the European inland port sector is undergoing a transformation because of digital technologies and the further digitalization of logistic processes. As trade and cargo volumes are expected to grow on a global level, EFIP believes that new technologies and digitalization will help to increase efficiency of logistics and manage flows of goods in the port in a more sustainable and cost-effective manner. Without digitalization, the logistic sector is nowhere these days ! Moreover, many inland ports are currently in transition towards greener and more efficient practices with the help of technology enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT).

EFIP believes that the competitive position of inland ports is not only depended on infrastructure development, but nowadays also linked to the way in which digital approaches and solutions are integrated in the port community. As the benefits in efficiency and energy savings are far-reaching for inland ports, so will be their impact on current port communities. In general, we are convinced that digitalization of logistic services can improve efficiency, and ultimately increase sustainability and profitability of a port when organized well.

NPI – What can be the role of inland ports concerning the development of River Information Services and other ITC systems ?

R. Hörner – Since the Port Authorities are not directly involved in the supply chain, they can play a neutral role to increase the visibility of cargo flows for shippers and operators, to bring the parties together and to act as a catalyst to discuss with stakeholders about the strategy to develop and use multimodal transport. Port Authorities should therefore play a role in the development of a transparent and independent IT platform in order to enable shippers and forwarders to bundle their freight flows.

A good example of that is the implementation of the Rhine Ports Information System developped within Upper Rhine ports cooperation program and supported by the Connecting Europe Facility. The traffic management platform, which includes four features (booking of windows at container terminals, automatic transmission of loading lists, automatic establishment of custom declarations, forecasts on ships time arrival, with the implementation of alerts in case of delay), has been validated for Rheinports Basel, Weil-am-Rhein and Mulhouse-Ottmarsheim and will be tested this year by ports of Strasbourg, Kehl and Colmar. Its extension to Karlsruhe, Ludwigshafen and Mannheim is also envisaged. In this case, the usage of ICT systems increases efficiency and sustainability of infrastructure use, by supplying both static and dynamic information about the actual infrastructure conditions and traffic forecast.

Interview by Nathalie Stey

Des ports intérieurs nouvelle génération

Pour Roland Hörner, directeur général du port de Mannheim et président de la Fédération européenne des ports intérieurs / FEPI, le développement de l'économie circulaire représente une opportunité, pour les ports fluviaux, de valoriser leur position géographique, à la croisée d'importants flux de produits secondaires et de flux d'énergies, qui en font d'intéressantes zones d'implantation industrielle. Si le fonctionnement du secteur portuaire est aujourd'hui bouleversé par le développement de la digitalisation, l'accès aux nouvelles technologies fait partie des pré-requis pour des ports intérieurs compétitifs, au même titre que l'infrastructure. Bien souvent tiers de confiance entre industriels, chargeurs et opérateurs logistiques, ceux-ci ont un rôle particulier à jouer dans le développement de plates-formes d'échanges d'informations et de données, comme le montre la réalisation du Rhine Ports Information System à l'échelle des ports du Rhin supérieur. 

N. S.

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