Van Oord – Marine Ingenuity as Its Best
As a global marine contractor, the Dutch company Van Oord projects its century-long experience in innovative constructions that benefit both humans and the environment.
Van Oord reflects the Dutch marine engineering competence arising from the Netherlands’ unique location on the North Sea and its battle against the waters. The history of the company is closely entwined with the country’s biggest marine engineering works, including the Nieuwe Waterweg Canal, the Delta Works, and the Port of Rotterdam Maasvlakte II expansion.
The knowledge and experience it has acquired has helped the company to grow into one of the biggest marine engineering companies in the world. Since the late 19th century, its experience has been applied abroad. Van Oord dredged the Suez Canal, extended the port of Surabaya, and built the Palm Islands in Dubai and the Gemini offshore wind park – projects that have put the company on the map worldwide.
Robert de Bruin, Director of Communications, says: “We have a truly global operation, participating in major projects around the world of national and international importance. After venturing into the off-shore wind segment in the first decade of the new millennium, the company now operates within four business units – dredging; land infrastructure in the Netherlands; offshore wind; and oil & gas infrastructure.”
Focus on innovation
He points out that ownership by the family is a factor differentiating Van Oord from companies of similar size. Now under management by the 4th generation, with the 5th already active in the business, the company is focused on a long-term future, with a sound investment programme to secure its development.
The company’s strong position has also been supported by two other differentiators – Van Oord is an asset-rich company, operating its own vessels, as well as a knowledge-driven company. “Our people are our key asset,” affirms Mr de Bruin. “University graduates account for an exceptionally high percentage of the workforce, with degrees in engineering, design, fleet operation and project management. The projects we are involved in are complex and demanding, requiring a lot of expertise for both preparation and execution. Van Oord is renowned for providing that expertise.”
Focus on innovation has always been a strength of the company. Of many, Mr Bruin mentions the slip joint, an innovative connection for offshore wind substructures and WTG towers as an alternative to grouted or bolted connections. The solution was applied in Borssele V wind farm in April 2020 – the very first time that a slip joint was implemented in the foundation of a full-size 9.5MW wind turbine in a commercial wind farm with a lifetime of 25 years.
Mr de Bruin explains that the slip joint connection adds a new type of connection to the offshore industry, benefitting not only wind farms but also other offshore applications – it leads to faster installation, allows for submerged installation and is maintenance-free. “With foundation getting bigger and bigger, the slip joint could help to secure in a lower levelized cost of energy (LCOE), making sure offshore wind remains the energy source of the future,” he points out.
The wind of change
While Covid-19 has delayed some projects, Mr de Bruin affirms that the future looks good. “We do have to face uncertainty, particularly in terms of timing and the continuation of investment, but the fact that the company has a diverse portfolio of activities has provided clear benefits. We are financially stable, and we have been lucky in acquiring new contracts for the next few years.”
These include, for example, two contracts for rock removal and revetment work for the Aberdeen South Harbour expansion project, the largest marine infrastructure project underway in the United Kingdom; and the contract for an extensive port expansion project in Taiwan.
Another new project has been awarded to Van Oord by Ailes Marines, in charge of the offshore wind farm in the bay of Saint-Brieuc in France, to transport and install the 62 jacket foundations and the foundation piles of the offshore substation. In northern Europe, Van Oord has just become a shareholder in Saare Wind Energy, a company developing the Saaremaa offshore wind farm in Estonia that is a significant step towards offshore integration of the Baltic countries.
Back home in the Netherlands, in November Van Oord’s offshore installation vessel Aeolus successfully completed the installation of all 77 MHI Vestas V164-9.5 MW turbines at the Borssele III & IV offshore wind farm. In addition, the Aeolus was deployed for the transport and installation of the wind turbines. Upon completion of the project, the 731.5 MW wind farm will supply renewable energy accounting for up to 2.3% of total Dutch electricity demand.
On the global scale, the shift towards renewables is clearly visible, be it solar or wind energy, and it is estimated that demand will further accelerate as companies strive to progress under the Green Deal.
“The concept of renewable energy, sustainability and digitisation, for example, are more urgent than ever,” agrees Mr de Bruin. “The offshore market is really booming and we can see a lot of tenders coming up. However, fossil fuels have not seen the end of the day just yet. Within the energy transition, LNG will continue to play an important role in the next decade or so, and we do see a lot of gas projects in the market, as well as new LNG projects in ports.”
Building with nature
“As a family-owned company, we will continue to pursue a diverse portfolio of marine businesses to cover different developments within our core capabilities. This will be supported by substantial investment. In an average year, we invest around EUR 200 million in new equipment and plan to sustain this level for the next five years.”
The company has recently acquired new technologies to increase cost efficiency and currently has three new LNG dredging vessels under construction in Singapore, in line with the strategy to reduce its environmental footprint. Van Oord has also heavily invested in new assets to support the offshore wind segment and has recently announced construction of new green off-shore vessel, cable laying vessel.
“Overall, sustainability is the key driver of the business’s development, pervading all four business units. Sustainability, innovation, and collaboration are key to facing global challenges successfully. That is why we have started our game-changing programme based on three pillars: accelerating climate initiatives; enhancing the energy transition, and empowering nature and communities,” says Mr de Bruin.
In conclusion, he affirms that bio-diversity is high on Van Oord’s agenda and the company is involved in numerous actions to preserve or restore natural marine life, applying its innovative ideas and solutions. “We are contractors in the land-water domain and by developing smart solutions to guard the environment during our work, we can significantly contribute to a better world, building with nature.”