The Association of the Dutch Chemical Industry (VNCI) promotes the collective interests of the chemical industry in the Netherlands by means of consultations, information meetings and recommendations. The VNCI acts on behalf of the entire sector as a central contact point and undertakes activities that have a positive impact on the image of the chemical industry.
For several decades now, the chemical industry and the Netherlands have been a profitable combination. Due in part to the Rotterdam harbour, the infrastructure, top universities and the availability of qualified personnel, the chemical industry has found a good home base in the Netherlands. Many of the world's largest chemical industries have opened production facilities in the Netherlands - to the benefit of both the companies and to the Dutch economy.
Sector turnover in 2012 was a respectable € 60 billion, including € 7 billion of turnover from the pharmaceutical industry. With this, the Netherlands is the third largest chemical producer in Europe after Germany and France. It provides work for 64,000 people (including 14,000 in the pharmaceutical industry), distributed among more than 400 companies (excluding pharmacies and sole proprietorships). With the exception of the food, beverages and tobacco industry, the chemical industry is the largest business sector in the Netherlands.
The Dutch chemical industry is a player at the global scale as well. In areas such as basic chemistry, biotechnology, food ingredients, coatings and high performance materials, the Netherlands is among the world's top players. This can also be seen in its share of exports. The chemical industry accounts for nearly 20% of all Dutch exports. The Netherlands exports more chemical products than countries such as Japan.
The chemical industry is also important from an intellectual and social point of view. In the areas of research, knowledge development and innovation, the Netherlands is among the best countries in the world. One fourth of the country's efforts in the area of industrial R&D is accounted for by the chemical industry.
Innovation is essential to the Dutch chemical industry. This is evident from the sector's investments in research and development, among other things. Each year, the chemical industry in the Netherlands spends more than € 1 billion on research and development. Together with the Dutch culture and mindset, this ensures a powerful chemical industry that forms an engine for the economy and acts as a leader in sustainable development and entrepreneurship.
The Netherlands has an attractive business climate for the chemical industry because the proper preconditions are present. For example, important raw materials are available or can be supplied via the Rotterdam harbour or via pipelines. In addition, there are direct lines among the most important chemical centres in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and northern France. Together, they form a strong cluster in Northwest Europe.
In January 2012, VNCI and business consultancy Deloitte published a study of future opportunities for the chemical industry in the Netherlands and Northwest Europe. The results of that study were positive. Until 2030/2050, the sector should experience substantial growth regardless of global, social, political and economic developments. This all depends on the sector's continued building on its strengths. The existing collaboration with the cross-border chemical industry played an important role in this growth prognosis. The VNCI has since ordered an update of this study.
The researchers believe that the chemical industry will undergo large transformations. Raw materials will be used more efficiently and a shift will take place from fossil resources to biomass, (bio)waste and other resources that are less burdensome to the environment or which even result in a positive CO2 balance. Increasingly, the chemical sector will be seen as innovative, clean and safe and as an essential industry producing clever products that limit the negative impacts of economic activities on health and the environment.
To achieve this vision of the future, the investment climate in the Netherlands must remain attractive. The encouragement of free trade remains important. To produce more energy efficiently and to achieve diversification in raw materials, focused R&D, sustainable innovation and facilitating legislation are important.
The government endorses the Dutch chemical industry's important role. The first cabinet under Rutte (October 2010 to April 2012) developed the top sector policy aimed at strengthening business sectors in which the Netherlands excels globally. To achieve this, the government, business community, universities and research centres work together in the area of knowledge and innovation, among others. This collaboration comprises the entire chain of innovation - from fundamental research to application - and is expressed in such forms as public-private collaboration, innovation labs and centres for open chemical innovation. The second Rutte cabinet (October 2012 to date) continued the top sector policy. The chemical industry is one of those top sectors.
The Netherlands is a relatively small and manageable country with an outstanding infrastructure, both in terms of roads, rail and waterways, and of telecommunications, energy supply and networks of underground pipelines. These join the regions in which the chemical industry is primarily established via direct lines.
From a geographical point of view, the chemical industry in the Netherlands is distributed across five regions that strengthen and complement each other, each with its own specific qualities and specialities. Important chemical clusters can be found in the following regions:
In the Rotterdam region, the focus is on basic chemicals and petrochemicals. Nearly 90% of the activities fall into this category or are related to it. Furthermore, the region has ambitious plans. The Rotterdam harbour wants to integrate its petrochemical complex in the coming decades with the industries in Antwerp, Moerdijk, Terneuzen and Vlissingen. This, in fact, would create a single large petrochemical complex, a global leader connected closely with the complexes around the harbours of Antwerp and those in Germany, from Gelsenkirchen to Ludwigshafen.
The envisioned industrial cluster must be able to compete with Houston, Singapore, the Middle East and the Far East.
Clustering refineries and the chemical industry makes cost reductions possible. According to Hans Smits, CEO of the Rotterdam harbour company, clustering at sea offers huge competitive advantages. “The Rotterdam refineries will be modernised refineries, with lower sulphur contents and lower emissions of CO2”, says Smits. “The refinery and chemical industry are on the verge of the transition to more bio-based-production. And this is necessary in order to prepare us for the post-oil era".
The petrochemical industry in the Rotterdam harbour area (Botlek, Pernis, Maasvlakte) employs more than 25,000 people.
Plant One, the test facility for sustainable process technology in the Rijnmond region, is also established in this area. Plant One fills the gap between laboratory and full-scale production. The encouragement and acceleration of sustainable development is a specific goal for the initiators behind Plant One. After all, the petrochemical industry is the largest consumer of energy within the entire industry. Plant One can validate new technologies that reduce the consumption of energy and raw materials or that use clean raw materials - quickly, cost-effectively and at the pre-industrial scale. This way, the industry can transform more quickly to more sustainable production processes.
Plant One's mission is to bring about "competitive sustainability". The Rotterdam harbour also wishes to be in the international vanguard for sustainability and therefore strives for a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions in 2025 compared with 1990. Plant One intends to grow into a centre of excellence in the area of sustainable process technologies.
South Limburg is the birthplace of Koninklijke DSM, known for its innovative products and services in the areas of life sciences and materials. In 2013, 6,000 people work at this innovative company. About one in every four DSM-ers in the Netherlands is working on research, development and innovation. So the Netherlands is an important incubator for DSM for innovation that takes shape in many places around the globe.
Significant innovative activity has arisen around DSM and the University of Maastricht in the so-called life sciences area. A portion of these activities is clustered at the large chemical industrial complex Chemelot. Its total area comprises some 800 hectares. Large "site users" include DSM and SABIC Europe; they operate the largest installations. In addition, more than 60 smaller, innovative companies are established on the grounds. The other tenants include such companies as the Japanese Sekisui S-lec, Lanxess and OCI. Chemelot has a Research and Business Campus where many companies perform research and develop new products.
The Southwest Brabant region can be mentioned in the same breath with the region of Rotterdam/Botlek/Pernis/Moerdijk. Not only are there direct connections to Antwerp by means of underground pipelines running through the Moerdijk area, there is also a lively cluster of chemical companies in the strip running from Bergen op Zoom/Roosendaal to Terneuzen (Dow Chemical) and other parts of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (Yara and Zeeland Refinery).
Around a third of the regional economy of Zeeland can be ascribed to the industry. This is due mainly to the strong presence of the chemical and energy sectors. The share of exports for the chemical industry in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen is above the national average. With around 2000 employees, Dow in Terneuzen is the largest industrial employer in Zeeland.
Since 2010, the 140-ha Valuepark has been developed near the Dow industrial site in Terneuzen, where companies with activities related to Dow can be sited.
The Green Chemistry Campus is established in Bergen op Zoom. Here, on the campus on the grounds of plastics producer SABIC, companies do research into the production of plastics and other products from agricultural wastes.
The chemical industry in the region focuses on the transition to biomaterials and intermediates. Thanks to the availability of sugar as a raw material, there are many opportunities in this area for the region.
Delfzijl and Eemshaven are in the far northeast of the Netherlands, not far from the Waddenzee (included as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2009). 160 companies are active in the area, mainly in the sectors of energy, recycling, chemicals, metals, logistics, offshore and wind energy. Together, the companies employ more than 5000 people.
One part of the Eemshaven region is the Delfzijl Chemicals Park. This area provides space to a large number of (mainly) energy-intensive chemical processes. In addition, the region of the eastern Netherlands/Twente is home to a large concentration of companies focused on intelligent materials.
One important strength of the chemical industry in the Netherlands is its embedding in a Northwest European cluster that comprises three countries. Furthermore, the Netherlands is a country with a stable political and social climate. From a physical point of view, the Rotterdam harbour - one of the largest in the world - is an important advantage.
The Netherlands used to have a reputation as a high-wage country. However, in recent years, labour productivity has increased in the Netherlands, while developments in wage increases were moderate. As a result of this, labour costs per unit of product decreased.
Just as in all other countries in the EU, industry in the Netherlands is faced with relatively high energy costs. However, in the summer of 2013, the government, stakeholders in the area of energy and social organisations (including the environmental movement) agreed to a comprehensive energy agreement containing commitments concerning energy savings, clean technologies and climate policy. Execution of the commitments must result in an affordable and clean energy supply, employment and opportunity for the Netherlands in the clean-technology markets.
In addition to the use of sustainable energy, the chemical industry is also striving for greater energy efficiency. Further energy savings can be achieved through improved process integration. Entirely new technological concepts must also be developed in order to arrive at more efficient processes (process intensification). This issue is at play throughout the entire industry, from the petrochemical installations in the Rotterdam region to the smaller installations at Chemelot in Limburg.
The chemical industry in the Netherlands includes several larger chemical companies. In the context of the top sectors policy, extra attention is paid to the development of small and medium enterprises.
The Netherlands has a good educational system, from elementary school to high-value (technical) universities. Increasingly, education, science, knowledge institutes and chemistry look to each other for educational solutions that better align with the business community. Cross-pollination is taking place in research, allowing innovation to occur more rapidly.
The loss of technical personnel due to an ageing workforce must be compensated by the inflow of young employees. Government, education and the business community are well aware of this and cooperate closely to prevent any possible shortage so that companies' development will not be hindered.