Port of Antwerp seeks new investor for Churchill site

ERS requests more time for WtC project in Antwerp

04 May 2017

Antwerp Port Authority and Energy Recovery Systems Company Ltd. (ERS) have decided by common consent to cancel the option held by the company on the Churchill site. ERS informed the Port Authority that it needed more time to reach the milestones imposed by the Port Authority, which means that the option it obtained from the Port Authority last year will expire. Despite this ERS is continuing to work on the project for a Waste-to-Chemicals (WtC) plant that it wants to build in the Antwerp port area.

In the meantime the Port Authority is now looking for another investor for the 88 hectare site in the Churchill dock, and a new international Request for Proposals will be launched.

From the Delwaide to the Churchill dock
In May 2015 ERS announced that it wanted to start large-scale production of “green” ammonia and “green” urea (“green” fertiliser) in the port of Antwerp, representing an investment of 3.7 billion euros and potential employment of 900 FTE (full-time equivalents). In addition to the many possibilities for integration with the Antwerp industrial platform, the WtC plant would represent an important step in the development of the “circular economy” as it would use waste from other industries as its raw material.

The Delwaide dock was initially considered as a possible location for the new plant. However, further studies convinced both parties that the former Opel site at the Churchill dock was more suitable. Unlike the Churchill site, the Delwaide dock is a deep water dock, and various other investors had expressed an interest in it as it offered the necessary direct access to the water that was essential for their projects. One such investor is the SEA-Invest group which has since signed a concession agreement for construction of a new tank storage terminal and an independent container terminal at the Delwaide dock.

Milestones and deadlines
ERS was given an option on the Churchill site in May 2016. By that time the consulting company PwC had already carried out an in-depth analysis of the ERS project at the request of the Port Authority. PwC confirmed the intrinsic value of such a circular economy project for the port of Antwerp, but also called attention to a number of important conditions for it to be successful. Among other things it specified that there had to be more clarity about the technical partners in the project, the financing of the project, its technical feasibility, the quality of the non-recyclable waste and the impact on the existing waste processing industry. The Port Authority therefore decided to make the option dependent on these points being cleared up. To make sure this was done the points were translated into milestones and deadlines were set for reaching them.

It gradually became clear that the ERS project management was incapable of producing the required answers in the time required. At the latest board meeting (on 13 March) it was therefore decided to give ERS, which had made progress on a number of points but was significantly behind with others, until 8 May to submit a final dossier. ERS subsequently announced on 17 April that it was unable to meet this timing.

In search of a new investor
The Port Authority is now in search of new investments for the Churchill Industrial Zone. As before, the basic requirement is to attract an investor that can offer a sufficient amount of employment and high added value.

ERS in Antwerp
In the meantime ERS will continue to develop its WtC project, but with the emphasis now on avoiding emissions (including CO2) and recycling additional types of waste. This development work will be partly managed by a Belgian subsidiary which is due to be set up. Once the project is sufficiently mature, ERS plans to ask the Port Authority once more to consider whether it can still be accommodated within the Antwerp port area.

Antwerp Port Authority, press release