"The energy transition fires the imagination"
‘As business development manager I mainly focus on all things related to renewable energy. These last few years, that has been our biggest growth market’, explains Jef Monballieu. ‘I follow up on very real projects, but also explore brand new and still-developing markets and technologies. What role can our company play there? But also: how can we optimise our own energy transition?'
Ten years ago, Jef, recently graduated as engineer, saw the documentary Big, bigger, biggest and went knocking on Jan De Nul's door. 'Those days, the gigantic projects were what you went for as an engineer. But things have changed quite drastically during those ten years. Nowadays, the innovative and sustainable projects have taken over as forces of attraction. The new sexy, if you will.'
Floating solar panels
An example of such an appealing and future-oriented project is the installation of floating solar panels at sea. ‘In a large offshore wind farm, the wind turbines are sometimes located at more than a kilometre from one another. We are now investigating if we can fill that area with floating solar panels, which would theoretically double the energy output of the farm.'
Terranova in Zelzate, one of the largest solar parks in the Benelux, is currently also running a pilot project to produce green hydrogen. 'We can use that green hydrogen to power a part of our machine park or as basic molecule for tomorrow's fuel. Today, green hydrogen is quite expensive compared to the so-called grey hydrogen - which is released during the production of other gasses - but the technology itself is very promising', Jef specifies.
Jan De Nul owns a rather large fleet. In the long run, green hydrogen-based fuel may become an interesting and CO2-less replacement for the biofuels the company is already using to reduce its emissions.
The public at large probably knows Jan De Nul as a civil engineering and dredging company, but the worldwide energy and sustainability challenges have expanded the scope quite a bit these last few years.
'We are constantly looking for new tendencies in the market and do our utmost to be a pioneer on that front‘, as Jef puts it. 'In the year 2021, it is simply expected from a company of such magnitude. Things have been moving especially fast in the offshore industry these last few years, as both size and power of the wind farms keep on increasing.’
The unpredictable character of green energy complicates the attempts to attune supply and demand of electricity. Jan De Nul is actively cooperating to improve this on a large scale. 'We install subsea interconnector cables, hundreds of kilometres long, that connect countries with one another to balance this. We're also developing "energy islands" as junctions between countries, to store energy or to produce green hydrogen.'
There are only a few companies worldwide that have the knowhow to design, develop and build such installations from scratch, and Jan De Nul is one of them. ‘Moreover, our government and clients put on some extra pressure as well: a 'green installation' is nice, but the story only really generates added value on a social level if that installation is built by vessels running on green energy.’
‘From our business development department, we try to anticipate on all those trends and expectations. Jan De Nul employs more than 900 engineers and this is one of our main strengths: we have a lot of in-house core competences and it's simply part of our DNA to go and find those highly complex projects.’
Article written in collaboration with Mediafin, De Tijd.
Text Filip Michiels
Pictures Studio Dann
We are constantly looking for new tendencies in the market and do our utmost to be a pioneer on that front.
Business Development Manager