Deme: ‘In 2050 solar energy will be transported from Australia to Europe’
There’s a changing of the guard at Deme, one of Belgian’s big dredging companies, but the old and the new CEO think almost the same: sustainability is the new key word and Deme wants to play a big role in it.
Alain Bernard is making way for Luc Vandenbulcke as CEO for Deme, but the strategy of the dredging company won’t change and the belief in new technologies and how Deme can play a role in this is the same for both industry captains.
The priorities of Deme are in new solutions and durability. “We can’t persuade new engineers from our universities to come to work with us to build a coal mine in Poland”, says Vandenbulcke, “these youngsters want us to be sustainable, they ask how we will reduce the CO2 emissions of our vessels, how we will stop the desert, how we will halt global warming.”
For Vandenbulcke it’s obvious that we go to a renewable society. “Take electricity, for example. At the moment the big problem is that it is not always needed where and when it is produced. In 2050 we will be able to transport renewable energy over long distances, not by cables but by gas. Solar energy will be transported from Australia to our continent, presumably in the form of hydrogen.”
Where Deme was originally a dredging company, it’s becoming a company delivering maritime services as a whole. “We will be active in dredging and other domains, we can’t remain static”, Vandenbulcke continues, “we will go into deep sea mining and renewable energy, building windmill parks in the sea, for example.”
“The biggest challenge is to find or keep the right people at the right places. We will have engineers of 25 years old giving orders to other engineers and technicians of 22/23 year. That’s very young. In order to attract them, sustainability is necessary but also innovation. We’re also obliged to recruit internationally”, concludes Vandenbulcke.
“We have to stay awake”, says his predecessor Alain Bernard. “Our first testing robot to gain manganese from the deep sea soil is ready. We have to prove that this digging is not harmful for the environment. An independent research vessel will come with us to control what we are doing.”
Deme wants to play its role in the search for minerals and rare earth metals, because of the increasing demand but also because of the inhuman conditions people are working in actual mines in developing countries.
‘Trump is right about China’
The competition has become extremely intense. “Each country, each company is fighting for itself”, says Bernard, “but our biggest competitors are the Chinese. Trump is right when he wants to break open the Chinese market, though, the way he handles it is not ideal. At the moment there is no level playfield. I don’t want Europe to be more protectionist, but it can’t be one-way like it is now. New trade agreements have to be negotiated.”
“At the moment there are four big dredging companies in Europe (Deme, Jan de Nul, Boskalis and Van Oord)”, Bernard concludes. “They are too big to be able to fuse, according to European rules, but in China they are creating mega-companies like Cosco. We have to find a new equilibrium here, otherwise we will be eaten.”