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Canal clusters

A cluster is as an ideal type of institutional and economic structure involving collaboration among different actors and firms, normally operating within a discretely defined industry. The Canal Cluster is a specific type of economic agglomeration that can include firms in the maritime sector (from bunkering and shipping agencies, to ship or container repair and maintenance, or dredging) or any other industry - typically in the construction, recycling and food processing industries.

A ‘park manager’ assures the development of synergies among those industries, also in terms of industrial symbiosis. It helps to interconnect firms active in similar or related sectors and those firms to knowledge-support organizations. Such cluster is located along a waterway, normally near a city. The waterway is often under-exploited.


A quick geographical description

This building block is characterized by its strategic position: close to the city, along the waterway and having access to logistical infrastructure. It is thus very accessible from major urban economic centres and located next to the passage of port flows too via the canal.

Observed advantages and disadvantages

Despite the spatial advantages of these Canal Clusters, the waterway is often underused. The same applies to old railway infrastructure. And while many, diverse companies are in permanent cohabitation, few synergies are created between them. Moreover, the proximity to residential areas is a real opportunity to develop activities that could be beneficial to both the residential and industrial milieus, not less in terms of energy and material flows. Once again, this potential is hardly exploited.

Different situations analysed

The comparative analysis of three clusters in different port contexts, casts light on the workings of this building block. The cluster might be inside or outside the port area (e.g. Kanaalkant is outside, while the other two are inside a port area). Its management can be trusted to the Port Authority or to some other consortium (e.g. North Sea Port is managed by a cross-border group integrated by the Zeeland Seaports and the Port of Ghent; Kanaalkant is managed by province of Antwerp, POM and Economic Network of Albertkanaal).

A perimeter around the cluster might be established, allowing a common management and communication. An area manager might have been appointed in order to smoothen coordination among the different parties and start new projects. In all cases, a specific InfoPoint helps companies to find their way through to sustainable transition, for instance by guiding them to specific funds that will allow the companies to shift to renewable energy resources, reusable water and alternative solutions to road transport.

Analysis - the generic case: what activities can be found here?

The activities fall into several categories. The first includes activities near the canal, mostly linked to transhipment platforms (e.g. recycling centres, concrete mixing plants, building materials, food manufacturers, pharmaceutical products, chemical industries). The second category takes advantage of the large available surfaces, plugged into a wellconnected road network, and brings together activities that are grafted around the existing core (e.g. services to companies and industries, logistics services, suppliers of industrial or construction equipment, or wholesalers). A third category, much less present but none the least a job-intensive one, consists of private training centres or training as part of the industrial activity. The challenge remains as to how can a link be created between these activities and their environment, enriching each other.

Towards more circularity: what are the ongoing initiatives?

01 Regional Material Bank: High-value separation and repurposing of construction and demolition residual flows (e.g. Stockholm Royal Seaport Building Logistics Center, SW)

02 Incinerator W2E: Small scale installation for those fragments of the construction and demolition streams hard to recycle or reuse.

03 Large recycling plant: Intended for mixed construction waste (wood, windows, plaster, isolation, concrete, and electric and electronic equipment). New materials and components can result (Sharp Skips Construction and Demolition Waste Processing Plant, London, UK).

04 Paper paste sub products facility: The sorted paper and cardboard (and eventually textiles and wood) coming from (3), which are high fibre, can be used in new biodegradable plastics.

05 Chemical recycling plant: Some recycling can be carried out on-site, but often the waste must be sent to an offsite recycling company for processing. This is the case with plastic waste. The process of chemical recycling changes the chemical structure of the polymer and converts into chemical building blocks including monomers that are then used again as a raw material in chemical processes. It covers processes such as gasification, pyrolysis, solvolysis, and depolymerization, and reduces the use of fossil feedstock. Some test plants exist dedicated to Polystyrene and PVC (RecoVynil) chemical recycling.

06 Concrete tiles factory: Treatments in the CDW produce aggregates of diverse sizes, the fines fraction of which is rarely used as secondary raw material for concrete production because of the high-water absorption and impurities content. Inside this cluster, recycled sands together with by-products or waste (wood, slags, foundry sands, etc.) coming from the other companies in the cluster, could be valorised in the fabrication of new tiles.

07 Mixing renewable and shared energy resources: At all scales and in all locations, solutions are sought for diversifying the energy mix in favour of renewables and low-carbon conversion technologies for electricity, heating and cooling.

08 Water harvesting: Longer drought periods and soaring water demands coming from agriculture oblige us to look for alternative ways to manage our water reserves, locally harvesting rainwater and reusing it whenever possible.

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