PIONEERS and MAGPIE, the road to sustainability: ports join forces

Unity is strength, especially if what is at stake is the future of the planet. With this goal in mind, two consortiums, PIONEERS and MAGPIE, funded by the European program Horizon 2020 within the framework of the so-called Green Deal call about sustainable and smart mobility, will develop scalable and transferable projects for the whole sector. The aim, to eliminate carbon emissions to transform ports into green infrastructures by 2050. Green ports? That is the goal.

Posted on 07.30.2021
Led by the Port of Antwerp, PIONEERS (Portable Innovation Open Network for Efficiency and Emissions Reduction Solutions) is a consortium made up of 46 partners who will work to develop specific solutions to reduce carbon emissions in the sector.

PIONEERS consortium: sustainability and digital transition

Led by the Port of Antwerp and with the intervention of the Ports of Barcelona, Constanta and Venlo, PIONEERS (Portable Innovation Open Network for Efficiency and Emissions Reduction Solutions) is a consortium formed by 46 partners that will work hand to hand to develop specific solutions to reduce carbon emissions in the sector.

To reach their goal, they will rely on grants from the Horizon 2020 European program, which finances research and innovation projects in different areas through its 25-million-euro subsidies.

Ports — in this case, the Port of Barcelona, the Port of Constanta (Rumania) and the inland terminal of the Port of Venlo (Netherlands) — will play a crucial role in maximising the transferability of the proposed solutions.

“The selection of these ports was a key point during the preparation of the proposal, as they provide an excellent combination of size, type and scope to ensure that everything built in the Port of Antwerp is applicable to a wide range of European ports,” says Hanna Van Kraaij, Funding Desk Manager at the Port of Antwerp.



Network of cycle lanes at Port of Antwerp

Project types

The 19 projects that the partners of PIONEERS will launch at the end of 2021 will be concentrated in four areas of action to be developed in the next five years:

  • Production and supply of renewable energy
  • Design of sustainable ports
  • Modal change and flow optimization
  • Digital transition

More precisely, these projects include the generation of renewable energy and the introduction of vehicles that run on electricity, hydrogen, and methanol; the adaptation of buildings and heating networks to achieve energy efficiency; a circular approach for sustainable infrastructure works; automation; and the deployment of digital platforms to promote modal change and optimise the movement of vehicles, vessels, and containers.



The PIONEERS and MAGPIE consortiums will explore scalable solutions focused on all aspects of sustainability throughout the last quarter of 2021 and the next five years

Scalability, the key

For Van Kraaij, the leading position of the Port of Antwerp can be attributed to an ecosystem that has allowed them to test and set in motion a series of technologically disruptive initiatives in the context of Smart ports that have later been assimilated by other ports. This has been the case with drones.

The development of these solutions will count with the participation of associated ports that, despite not receiving part of the grant, will be tied to the PIONEERS consortium through linked actions.

These include, for instance, specific projects in the field of Carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS), hydrogen trucks, wind energy and Power-to-X technologies (energy conversion technologies that can be used to store excess renewable energy sources).

“The ports of Barcelona and Constanta, in addition to the Venlo river port, will participate in PIONEERS and will contribute to the design of the pilots,” explains Van Kraaij. The location of these ports, with access to the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and the North Sea, will be essential to contribute their own experiences and practices – beneficial to all agents in the sector.



The Port of Antwerp and the university of the same city have developed tests with a new asphalt that better withstands heavy traffic and increases recycling and circularity thanks to data provided by sensors distributed throughout the test route.

MAGPIE, in search of new fuels

Rotterdam, DeltaPort (Germany), HAROPA PORT (formed by Le Havre, Rouen, and Paris) and Sines (Portugal) form another consortium, in association with 10 research institutes and more than 30 European companies under the acronym MAGPIE (sMArt Green Ports as Integrated Efficient multimodal hubs).

MAPGIE will execute 10 pilot projects. Unlike PIONEERS, this alliance has a special focus on new fuels and energy carriers under development, including production, transportation, storage, distribution (fuels), and charging (electrical energy).

The MAGPIE project plans to create pilot and demonstration projects in a living lab environment of the port of Rotterdam to advance the technological, operational, digital, and organizational aspects of the supply of energy for use in ports.

Transport is transitioning to clean energy, but it is not yet clear what types of energy will be used and what forms of transport will eventually adopt them. However,  MAGPIE intends to accelerate the implementation of sustainable energy and improve its deployment on a larger scale, given that the development of new digital tools, new market mechanisms and non-technological frameworks depend on it, as explained by spokespeople of the Rotterdam School of Management, whose Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics, together with the Erasmus University and the Erasmus Centre for Urban Port and Transport Economics (Erasmus UPT), will play a prominent role in the consortium’s projects.




Turbina eòlica al port de Rotterdam © Danny Cornelissen


Autonomous barge and zero emissions in Rotterdam

The use of clean and renewable energies such as green hydrogen, large electric batteries, ammonia, and bio-LNG is being explored and developed for both maritime and land transport within the port hinterland.

Also funded with 25 million euros, a significant part of the budget will go to one of the star projects already announced – the joint development between the Port of Rotterdam and Wartsila to design an autonomous, zero-emission container barge.

The boat will be equipped with sensors and the SmartMove Suite navigation system, which guarantees coordinated and safe manoeuvres. Energy enabled by an electric drive train and an innovative solution of interchangeable battery containers (ZESPack Zero Emission Services) charged with renewable energy will power it.

To ensure its efficiency, a network of open-access charging points will be established to exchange batteries for others that are already charged, thus reducing waiting times. The first battery container will be installed this summer.

The project seeks to alleviate, in a sustainable way, the bottleneck that the transport of containers between terminals causes in some of Europe’s most important ports as well as to avoid or reduce the traffic of containers that leave by road. In the area of modal transport, this is the way of transport the EU specifically seeks to reduce, as it is particularly polluting.


Achieving results before 2050

The deadlines set by the European Green Deal call for speed, meaning that one of the requirements established for the two consortiums is the development of a master plan that implements measures so that maritime transport becomes zero emissions by 2050. The consortiums also be expected to lay out the intended actions to achieve the goal of becoming green ports by 2030 and 2040.

The structure of both consortiums, led by one port associated with three others, is a requirement within the basis to receive European funds. The Horizon 2020 program trusts that the scalability of solutions that port environments come up with will positively impact all agents in the sector.

44 proposals were submitted to the call, of which four were chosen for grants: two related to ports, PIONEERS and MAGPIE, and two related to airports.