APRIL 2018

Annual report



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4. Port fact sheets on biomass and outlook

Biomass in the port of Liège




  • The port of Liège was founded in 1937 and is the largest inland port in Belgium as well as the third largest European inland port. Despite a fall in traffic in 2012 (-10% compared to 2011), due to both a macroeconomic recession and the steel crisis, the port of Liège managed to restructure its activity by shifting goods traffic from traditional segments towards containers and renewable energies. The recent growth of the volumes is mainly explained by the increase of container traffic and, to a lesser extent, by the rising importance of biomass.


Evolution of waterside goods traffic in the port of Liège (in Mio t)

Source : Port of Liège


  • An important element of the restructuring process concerns the biomass traffic in the port of Liège. In 2005, an existing coal fired power plant on the Maas River was fully reconverted to biomass. This reconversion was the first 100 % shift from coal to biomass worldwide.
  • After a difficult period related to a low profitability and high wood pellet prices, its activity has strongly increased since 2013, causing a tremendous rise in wood products being transported: in 2016, wood pellets traffic increased by 130%, compared to 2015, and in 2017   there was a growth of 20 % compared to 2016.


Evolution of wood products traffic in the port of Liège (in 1000t)

Source : Port of Liège


  • Another activity in Liège in the field of renewable energies is the production of biofuel based on agribulk. For their logistics, this plant makes use of both inland waterways and road transport, while IWT is preferred for long distance transport.



Biomass in the Port of Straubing-Sand




  • The port of Straubing on the Danube (founded in 1996) in southern Germany lies in a region where agricultural products, forests and wood are highly abundant. This was one main reason why the port developed the strategy to become a centre of “green” chemistry. The positive evolution of waterside goods traffic, which nearly tripled between 2007 and 2017, confirms the potential of renewable energies as a segment of activity for inland ports.


Evolution of waterside goods traffic in the port of Straubing (in Mio t)

Source : Port of Straubing


  • Within waterside goods traffic, the share of biomass is very high (85 %). The largest part of the biomass is used by a company for producing rapeseed oil and shredded rapeseed as by-products. The oil is transported by rail to companies in Austria and the Rhine region, where it is further transformed into biodiesel. The shredded rapeseed is an input for the foodstuff industry in the Netherlands and Belgium.
  • Apart from the regional abundance of biomass, the port is importing large volumes of biomass by ship on the Danube from Hungary, Austria and other Danube countries. In 2016, all Danube countries taken together had a share of 56 % of total waterside traffic relations. The modal split share of IWT in Straubing stood at 19.8 % in 2017, which is well above the average modal share of IWT in Germany.


Waterside goods traffic in the port of Straubing (in 2017, in %)

Source : Port of Straubing



World trade outlook and transport trends


RWI/ISL Container throughput index

Source : Computations of RWI and ISL based on data from 82 ports


  • The RWI/ISL container throughput index is based on data from 81 world container ports covering 60 % of worldwide container handling. This index is an early indicator for world trade and maritime container shipping.
  • The index gained 5.4 % in the course of 2017. Its expansion was similarly as strong as in 2016. The progression in 2016 and 2017 indicates that the weakness of world trade, that was present in 2015, has been overcome.


Trends in demand for transport in 2018 in Rhine countries
Main driversTrends in demand for transport in 2018 vs 2017
Agricultural productsHarvest resultsIncrease
Iron oresSteel productionIncrease
MetalsSteel productionIncrease
CoalWeather & energy Policy, partly steel productionDecrease
Sand, soil & building materialsConstruction activityIncrease
ContainersWorld tradeIncrease
Mineral oil productsOil prices & refinery outputDecrease
ChemicalsChemical productionStable

Source: CCNR analysis based on macroeconomic and sectorial data.


  • The only change in the outlook compared to the previous report concerns the mineral oil products. Even if oil prices are thought to increase in a limited scope in 2018, transport demand for mineral oil products is expected to decrease slightly in 2018. The reasons are not only the rising prices of on the spot markets, but also the change from contango to backwardation on the future oil market, a development that usually causes a falling transport demand. (Contango is a situation regarding the future oil market, when contracts for buying or selling oil in the future indicate a rising oil price (expressed by the behaviour of oil traders). In this case, transport of oil products is increasing, as more oil products are delivered into storage depots. From these depots, oil products are delivered to customers once the increase in prices has materialised. A changing pattern of the future oil market, from contango to backwardation, however, deteriorates the profit potentials of this trade, and decreases related transport activities.)
  • 2017 harvest results in France have recovered from very low levels in 2016. This will also increase the transport demand in this segment in 2018 on the French waterways, the Moselle and the Rhine. In the Danube region, however, transport demand in 2018 is weaker than one year earlier due to a weaker harvest result in the Danube region.
  • For the steel segment, production figures for 2017 were overall very positive, and the further outlook for the steel industry has brightened, thanks to a synchronised global upswing (see chapter 1) which is expressed by a strong increase in steel production.
  • The decline in coal consumption is accelerating. In Germany, the use of coal decreased by 10.4 % in 2017. In the electricity sector, coal was replaced by more renewables and more natural gas. Besides this, several coal-fired power plants were taken off the net. It was only in the steel industry that coal consumption increased slightly in 2017, by 0.6 %.
  • The upward movement in the building industry is continuing, as new figures confirm, especially for the Netherlands. The transport of sands, stones and building materials will be promoted further by this development. Even the increase in mortgage interest rates is not supposed to finish the upward movement in the building industry.
  • The world trade indicator (RWI/ISL index) showed 5.4 % in 2017 and indicates a clear acceleration in world trade. The world trade outlook for 2018 and 2019 is fundamentally positive.
  • It is expected that chemical production will grow only very modestly in 2018. Therefore, the outlook for chemical transport is also stable, with the possibility of a slight increase.

APRIL 2018

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A project co-financed byEuropean Commission

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