Sustainability and the Triple Helix

The subject of sustainability in the Dutch maritime sector can be summed in part by looking at the outcome of the IMO meeting in London in April last year. This resulted in the IMO announcing the goal to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 50 per cent by 2050 (compared to 2008 levels).

However, it must also be noted that sustainability goes far further than the matter of exhaust emissions. It is a hugely expansive subject that, for the maritime sector, encompasses topics such as clean air and water, safe and environmentally friendly production processes, activities that limit environmental damage, and biodiversity in operational areas, to name just a few.

Maximising sustainable operations to achieve the IMO’s 2050 goal can only be accomplished through an effective interaction between the three major areas involved: government, research institutes and business – often referred to as the ‘triple helix’.


Starting with the Dutch government’s position in this ‘triple helix’, policy and support in the form of subsidies for the maritime industry certainly exist. For ship-owners, an extremely pertinent example can be found within the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. This government agency, operating under the umbrella of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, is in the process of handling 5.6 million euro of subsidies for sustainable shipbuilding, with a maximum of 1.25 million euro per application. Aiming, among other things, to test emissions reduction technologies, the application process for this sustainable shipbuilding subsidy (Subsidieregeling Duurzame Scheepsbouw in Dutch) closed in September 2018, and, according to the RVO, is still under evaluation.

Dutch ship-owners play an unquestionably significant role in the maritime sector. Therefore, in discussing sustainability, the input from the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR) is highly valued in order to gain a balanced view. In representing Dutch ship-owners, the KVNR has taken the IMO goals a step further to setting down a more ambitious target of a minimum of 70 per cent CO2 reductions by 2050 compared to 2008. When asked about the most important technical aspects to consider when aiming for this target, KVNR’s adviser on Climate and Environment Nick Lurkin, responds by highlighting the importance of pushing towards emissions-free technologies.

“We need zero emission vessels by 2050 otherwise we're not going to make it. This means that the first vessels that will be built in the next 10 to 20 years have to be zero emissions. We are speaking with MARIN, TNO, various universities and Netherlands Maritime Technology on how to achieve this.” Taking the subject further, Lurkin goes on to say that the KVNR does not believe that there is one technology in particular that will serve as an all-inclusive solution. “There isn’t a silver bullet in the form of hydrogen, batteries, methanol or ammonia. Because of this it is indeed difficult for a ship-owner to see what solution is the best one. You have to fit the technology with the purpose of the vessel depending on parameters such as ship type, operational profile and trade of the vessel.”

Van Oord installed, in cooperation with the North Sea Foundation, the Natuur & Milieu organisation and Eneco, reef balls and cages containing flat oysters within the Luchterduinen offshore wind farm. The “Rich North Sea” project will investigate how nature conservation and sustainable energy generation can reinforce one another. Photo by Van Oord.

Van Oord’s ReefGuard is an innovative method for actively rehabilitating coral reefs. The ReefGuard has been used in a total of five projects based in the Bahamas and Australia. Photo by Van Oord

Noting that a major part of the KVNR’s activities is to enable profitable operations in a financially attractive business climate, it is imperative that the subject of economics is raised when talking about sustainability. For ship-owners of all sizes, one of the most important questions to ask is how to ensure that sustainable operations also remain financially profitable. Marjolein van Noort, advisor on Economy and Finance at the KVNR, has a justly pragmatic reply. “Remember that 2050 is 31 years from now. We have gone through a lot of technological changes in the last 30 years but we didn't really put finance at the core of the discussion. From a ship-owners point of view there are two things really important. The first is security on investment. When investing in a retrofit or a new vessel, you need to be sure that the investment will last and it is going to be applicable for quite some years because otherwise the investment is not economically viable. The other aspect is that new technologies take time to enter the market and first movers in general pay a higher price.”

Van Noort continues by pointing out the need for a new type of financing tool. “Subsidies are generally used in small amounts for more experimental technologies. For the more proven technologies that are already in use, we have to look at new financing options. We are currently in a transition period where we need different financing tools than we needed 20 to 30 years ago or will need in 20 or 30 years’ time.”

The fact that the Dutch maritime sector’s 2050 goals are actually more ambitious that the IMO’s own goals will require a large amount of effort. For a marine contractor like Van Oord, this means that actions speak louder than words. “It’s no longer enough to say that we are sustainable,” says Van Oord Chief Operations Officer Paul Verheul. “Clients, project partners, job applicants and our stakeholders – they all want to see concrete proof of our actions and impact. It’s no longer the case that clients focus only on the price during a tender. We’re already dealing with tenders where 40 to 50 percent depends on price, but the remaining 50 to 60 percent is based on a range of other factors. For example, we have to estimate our carbon emissions and how many hours our vessels will be cruising, whether we’ll be consulting the local community, whether our work will cause turbidity in the water, and so on. In short, we focus on sustainability because we feel a sense of responsibility, but also because we have vision: we see that the world around us is increasingly demanding sustainability.”

Sustainable Earth Actions

Van Oord has introduced a programme of Sustainable Earth Actions that demonstrate their commitment to sustainable operations. “This is built on the sustainability issues found to be the most relevant for our company and stakeholders and in which Van Oord has the greatest impact.”

The KVNR works together with MARIN, TNO, various universities and the Netherlands Maritime Technology to develop zero mission vessels

Paying a considerable amount of attention on creating new partnerships, sharing knowledge and pursuing innovation, Van Oord has initiated several projects that underline the company’s sustainable ambitions. This includes a cooperative partnership with environmental organisations the North Sea Foundation and Natuur & Milieu, and Eneco Luchterduinen.

Van Oord has installed reef balls and cages containing oysters at the Luchterduinen offshore wind farm near IJmuiden, the Netherlands. “The aim of this project is to investigate how nature conservation and renewable energy generation can reinforce one another, and whether it can improve biodiversity.”

Coral eggs

Another joint project is a consortium to test new methods for large-scale coral recovery at the Australian Great Barrier Reef. “Due to climate change and coral bleaching, the reef has lost more than half of its coral since 1985,” explains Verheul. “The rehabilitation method involves harvesting coral eggs and later transplanting the coral larvae in places where coral is meant to grow. This proven concept is already being applied on a small scale.”

Van Oord’s collaborative projects highlight the importance of cooperation with the concept of the ‘triple helix’. Indeed, the three points of the triangle have worked together for many years and have accomplished multiple successful projects in the past.

Independent advisors The Future Mobility Network aim to build on this cooperative foundation. Senior Project Manager Sethi Plaisier explains the organisation’s ambitions. “Our goal is to push innovations further by bringing the different parties together. This includes research institutions, government and commercial companies.” The Future Mobility Network focuses on three different areas, smart mobility, smart shipping and smart logistics. Within the realm of smart shipping, the organisation has opened the Research Lab Automated Shipping (RAS) recently. “The goal of RAS is to speed up the process of innovation by setting out a shared research agenda that is carried out by government, research institutes and commercial companies. In this way you combine the three worlds with each other. Due to our experience with freight and smart mobility, there is various cross sector knowledge which will give smart shipping an extra advantage. The lessons learnt in smart mobility can be used in smart shipping.”

RAS is a very real example of the benefits of a productive ‘triple helix’ that communicates and interacts effectively. “If you look at the market at the moment, there are many isolated innovations – often from different research agendas,” Plaisier adds. “By bringing all the different parties together, this allows us to take all these various pieces of research and put them into one shared roadmap. Knowledge is shared, the process of innovation is speeded up and everyone knows where they are working towards.”

Tom Scott

European contribution

The ‘triple helix’ of government, research institutes and business does not only refer to the input of national governments. The European Union also provides an extremely significant and relevant contribution. Damen Shipyards’ research and development activities serve as an appropriate illustration of such EU involvement. “We see that our RD&I ambitions are often in line with the ambitions of the EU,” says Peter van Terwisga, Damen R&D Director. “We also want to work towards a more sustainable and efficient transport sector. And, as shipbuilder and technology provider, we have an enormous role – and responsibility – towards smart, green and integrated transport.”

In fact, Damen is involved in numerous EU-funded and facilitated sustainability research projects. Subject matter includes zero-emission transport, zero accidents, zero loss of life, zero pollution and environmentally friendly production methods. Damen’s fully electric ferries for Danish and Canadian clients, and the Tier III compliant Reverse Stern Drive 2513 tug are just two of the concrete conclusions of this EU research.

Highlighting the significance of such European-wide collaborative projects – and referring to the wider impact of the numerous multi-partner projects, Van Terwisga concludes: “The European research projects provide excellent opportunities to advance our research, development and innovation agenda in cooperation with all related stakeholders. This approach ensures that the developed solutions deliver sound business potential as well as a contribution to societal challenges.”