Green ports as energy hubs

In a world of climate change and the ‘green agenda’, the focus has been primarily on air, rail, and road transportation in regard to emissions.

So attention has now turned to the maritime transportation sector, hence the discussions around this important sector at COP26 and beyond due to our increasing appetite for consumer goods, foodstuffs and produce from around the world.

To date the government has formed a strategy to a) reduce emissions within the maritime sector and b) at the same time convert our ports into areas of ‘green opportunity’ as hubs that produce energy for the wider economy.

Challenges – How can we reduce these emissions within the maritime sector?

Governments, academia, and ecological bodies have come together to form a strategy of action to reduce carbon dioxide globally.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has set a target to halve 2008 emission levels by 2050.

The strategies in place to reduce these emission levels are through:

  • increasing electrification of ports and port handling processes, and
  • the adoption of future fuels for example LNG (liquified natural gas), hydrogen or ammonia

Globally we all need to ‘come together as one’ to decarbonise shipping and ports, thus ensuring we meet our target for maritime CO2 reduction.

The UK leading the way

The United Kingdom is ideally positioned to lead the way in maritime carbon and CO2 reduction. Due to the UK being the home of the IMO, having direct access to regulators and the other bodies listed above. Though we must not forget the United Kingdom has always been a pioneering and seafaring nation when it comes to shipping. This has stemmed from the pioneering days of the seventeenth century exploration, the creation of the commonwealth and through to the present.

The United Kingdom – An opportunity to take the lead

There are over 100 ports are operating around the UK that process over 95% of UK trade. Thus, the time is right now for us to take the lead and lead by example in decarbonising our ports. ‘First mover’ opportunities within this sector allow us to build a significant competitive advantage.

For example:

  • The governments ‘Build Back Better’ strategy places the UK in the ideal position for our Ports to be among one of the first countries in the G20 to achieve net-zero.
  • The use of offshore wind farms to generate ‘clean energy’ in turn to supply the local logistics and warehousing sector with electricity.

Strategies & Enablers – reducing the carbon footprint within our ports

Ports are a complex mix of internal processes and wider stakeholder interactions that present significant challenges and opportunities in terms of reaching our national net-zero targets. Today our ports incorporate a broad range of infrastructure ranging from dockside facilities built in the Victorian era to highly automated cargo processing equipment. Therefore, what is the upshot and what is needed to achieve net-zero within our ports? Here are a few examples:

  • Adoption of ‘clean fuels’ e.g., Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) or Hydrogen. It has been noted that a green hydrogen industry could generate £320bn for the UK economy by 2050 and would support over 120,000 jobs within Freeports nationally.
  • Offshore renewable energy – the UK has the largest installed offshore wind capacity in Europe. This creates significant opportunity for our ports in the wind supply chain, for example, manufacturing, maintenance, and servicing. Plus, the added benefit of supplying energy to connected stakeholders (warehousing and logistics hubs).
  • IT (Information Technology) integration and ‘The Cloud’ – streamlining goods handling processes and reducing the number of goods movements within the port, saving time and energy consumed by loaders, forklift trucks and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs)

Ports as Green Energy Hubs – some examples

  1. Shell is developing a hydrogen hub through the Port of Rotterdam and the Hollandse Kust windfarm. Aiming to start production in 2023 it is expected to produce up to 60,000kg of hydrogen daily. This would in turn fuel 2,300 hydrogen-powered goods vehicles per day.
  2. The Port of Amsterdam is also involved in a green hydrogen project with Tata Steel and Nouryon, with the aim to create a 100MW hydrogen plant using energy generated by offshore wind.
  3. The Port of Aberdeen, Scotland is an accredited EcoPort and is playing a leading role in the region’s transition to a hydrogen economy, through the creation of an Energy Transition Zone. The Port of Aberdeen ETZ has primarily focused on renewables and their links to the wider transport network including hydrogen-fuelled buses and heavy goods vehicle fleets.

Find out more

This article is a summary of a full feature article which you can read in our Net Zero Places Innovation Brief.


Decarbonising the Rail Freight Estate

Connected Places Catapult, in collaboration with Department for Transport (DfT) are publishing this notice to explore the state of the market in relation to the business challenge described below.

The purpose of this Request for Information (RFI) is to provide potential suppliers with an overview of the challenge and seek responses that explain the capabilities of products and solutions available in the marketplace, or near-market prototypes. A variety of potential solutions are sought to this challenge, and there is no presumption that respondents will have previous experience operating in a rail, freight or logistics area. Given the complexity of this challenge, it is anticipated that individual suppliers might not be able to address every aspect of the solution and would need to work with partners for any development activity that follows. If this is the case, please include this information in your response, such as information on your organisation’s strengths and the partner capabilities you might seek.

This request for information is purely for the purposes of creating a clear understanding of possible solutions, their capabilities and technical readiness. This information will be used to inform future development opportunities.

Please respond by completing the template attached with this notice. Closing date for this opportunity is 22nd of October 2021.

If you have questions relating to this request for information, please send them to


In order to address the challenge of climate change, the UK Government became the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming and bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.  While substantial progress has been made to reduce total carbon emissions in the UK, transport emissions have remained broadly flat over the last 30 years. To address this, the Government recently published its Transport Decarbonisation Plan – the first such plan in the world – which sets out their plans to deliver a net zero transport system by 2050.

On average, rail freight trains currently emit a quarter of the CO2 emissions of HGVs per tonne km travelled. Due to this, Government supports and incentivises the modal shift of freight from road to rail to reduce carbon emissions from across the freight sector.  However, rail freight itself will also need to decarbonise to help reach the UK government’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. While the decarbonisation of trains is already being addressed by Government and industry, what more can be done to decarbonise freight terminal operations?

Why should you respond?

Your responses will help to inform us of potential technology directions and innovation spaces. In turn we can use this to inform on where future technology support and possible CR&D activities could be focused to accelerate the deployment of lower-carbon approaches. Should this happen, your feedback into this process will enable us to signpost you to such opportunities.

What happens within a typical rail freight estate?

There are also two main classifications of freight goods: bulk products and intermodal containers. The former category can refer to aggregates, cement, scrap metals, grain, biomass or oil & petroleum, for example – the product is fundamentally a loose product. The second category, intermodal, refers to the transportation of goods in standardised ISO containers that facilitate transfer between road, rail and sea.

Some terminals have automated loading and unloading systems, some have diesel-powered lifting systems having limited movement within the terminal, while many rely on the use of non-road mobile machinery (NRMMs) which to date are typically diesel powered. What can be done to transition the industry away from diesel-powered equipment to lower carbon forms of product movement?

We need solutions for the loading, unloading and movement of goods within the rail freight estate in a way which supports a pathway to net-zero

Goods need to be moved on and off trains. How can this be achieved in a way which emits lower and ideally zero carbon emissions? In this challenge, we are interested in learning about any potential innovative solutions that could support the industry in achieving lower carbon emissions.

There is no strict boundary to this challenge. This request for information is seeking to understand the landscape for technology or potential developments which will solve the broad challenge of emissions generated from the operations within a rail freight terminal.

Do you have technologies, ideas or business models which could support a pathway towards zero-carbon emission operations within a rail freight terminal? This could include

  • equipment used within the rail freight terminal for loading and unloading of goods to/from trains
  • movement of goods within the rail freight terminal
  • equipment used within the rail freight terminal for loading and unloading to/from the next transport mode in the journey such as HGVs.
  • design aspects of rail freight wagons which facilitate lower-carbon handling of goods through the terminal

While the scope for ideas within the terminal operations is broad, the following specific areas are considered out of scope:

  • Heating and lighting within buildings on site
  • The rolling stock locomotives
  • Road vehicles which enter and leave the rail freight terminal not belonging to or directly operated by or on behalf of the terminal

If you have questions relating to this request for information, please send them to

Link to the Low Carbon Freight Estate project privacy notice.

Download Expression of Interest