Geothermal energy development at Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands

Geothermal energy development at Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands Container Ship in the Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands (source: flickr/ Frans Berkelaar, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 12 May 2020

The long term benefit of geothermal energy utilisation attracted the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and its partner Shell to explore development of a project that could provide steam and heat to industry.

The port of Rotterdam is conducting research with Shell into the possibility of geothermal energy. Factories located in the port of Rotterdam could use that heat for steam and heat. There will then be more sustainable energy for transport, for example.

Geothermal energy, which literally means geothermal heat, is the extraction of hot water from the earth. The deeper you reach, the hotter the water is. Okke Borggreve, the project leader of the Port of Rotterdam Authority: “We want to start with an exploratory drilling at a depth that is known to Shell – about three to three and a half kilometers – because the possibility of extracting heat is still quite new for all of us. At that depth, the water is expected to be 90 degrees. We can probably already use that to supply high-quality steam for the companies in the port. The water that is collected quickly cools down again. Therefore, you can not lay miles of pipelines to transport the heat. You have to sit on the spot and that is why we want to search for geothermal energy in the port of Rotterdam. This pump installation requires little space and can easily be placed at a B location, so that the companies and ships experience minimal nuisance, “explains Borggreve. The water that has cooled goes back into the earth to reheat; the same principle as a heat pump.

Why geothermal energy?

Heating requires a lot of energy, which can also be used for other things. “Eighty percent of all the energy you use in a house is used for heating,” says Jeroen van Duin, geothermal manager at Shell. The total heat demand in the Netherlands naturally concerns more than just houses. “By using geothermal energy, we are expected to be able to meet a quarter of the total heat demand. To do that throughout the Netherlands, many sources must be created. We start in Rotterdam, where we already supply residual heat from factories to block heating. With this experience we can supply the industry with heat here. The energy generated by windmills and solar panels can be used for transport. Geothermal energy is not suitable for this. But it is very suitable to meet the demand for heat.”

Why in the port of Rotterdam?

The port authority started the geothermal project in 2017. Knowledge partners and an exploration permit were required to investigate the feasibility and ultimately to extract geothermal heat. Shell was also interested in developing geothermal energy and the two partnered. The exploration license that the companies applied for together was granted in early 2020, which means that the parties know that they can drill with certainty to geothermal energy. However, this will only happen if research shows that there is a good chance of extracting geothermal heat. Energie Beheer Nederland (EBN) mapped the subsurface in detail by using known data. This was part of the national SCAN program.

The consortium will use the knowledge of the land to identify the most promising location for generating heat. Based on the ambition to become more sustainable in industry, it is expected that there will be interest in this new energy source. Port companies are invited by the Port Authority and Shell to exchange ideas and think along with them.

How does it work?

The hot water is extracted from the substrate with a borehole. The deeper the well reaches, the warmer the water you collect: an average of 30 degrees per kilometer of depth. The common goal is to investigate whether water can be pumped up to 140-150 degrees to supply steam and heat to industry. Shell has never drilled at that depth – which is why it will primarily be a research project in the first instance. “To meet the steam demand, 140-150 degrees is needed. That is deeper than we normally drill, namely at about five kilometers. We just don’t know how well we can extract water at that depth. This is probably not straightforward, but must be done with fracking, for example. In that case we draw water from very small holes and not from a well, as is often the case with gas extraction. At the depth where we want to drill, the ground is less open, “explains Van Duin of Shell. This requires a lot of research and therefore a lot of money. The government supports this research with the Green Deal UDG.

Does the transport sector benefit from this?

“Not immediately,” admits Van Duin. “But indirectly yes. If you need less renewable fuels for heating, those sources, such as bio-LNG, will remain available for the transport sector. This makes it increasingly sustainable, which is better for everyone. More sustainable energy means less emissions and more trucks that are allowed to enter the city centers. Ultimately everyone benefits. There is something new for the carriers in the port, but because there is flexibility in finding a location for the drilling rig, there will hardly be any nuisance for the environment. “