Drones transport chemical samples in Antwerp Port

Petrochemical analysis samples can now be transported by drone from the Antwerp port area to a laboratory. The innovative project by SGS, German chemical giant BASF, and ADLC was launched to make port operations more efficient and reduce the environmental impact of transporting analysis samples.

According to SGS, a Swiss multinational specializing in inspections and certifications, which is also part of the project, this is a European first. “The transport of petrochemical analysis samples by autonomous flying drone has never been carried out in Europe.


The Belgian Civil Aviation Authority already gave the Belgian start-up A Drone Logistics Company ADLC permission for the project, which was launched under the name Samplify last year.

This meant that ADLC was allowed to conduct so-called Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights in the port over 12.5 kilometers. These flights involve the pilot losing visual contact with the drone (BVLOS). The goods transported may weigh up to 15 kilograms, and the course of the autonomous flying drone is monitored from the ADCL innovation center, The Beacon, in Antwerp.

Currently, ADLC employs two drones, costing about 150,000 euros each, with a top speed of 120 km/hour. In four beau forts and torrential rain, though, they cannot fly out.

80% less CO2 emissions

“After more than two years of development, we are now in the starting blocks,” says Kristof Van Hoecke of SGS. “In the coming months, everything will be digitally integrated into the service we provide to our customers. The ambition is to further scale this up to interested companies in Port of Antwerp Bruges and beyond.”

Every year, SGS analyzes some 6,000 (metro)chemical analysis samples for raw material quality for BASF Antwerp, Belgium’s largest chemical production center, and more than 60,000 samples for other companies in the port of Antwerp. BASF’s products, such as chassis and battery technologies or interior design, are used in the automotive industry.

The raw materials for these products are transported by ship to the port of Antwerp. But before the raw materials are used, their quality is tested at SGS via analysis samples. Once the samples are approved, the substances can be removed from the ship.

Until now, transport from the docked ship to the lab has been done by panel truck. Henceforth, this will thus be done by drone. Air transport by drone reduces CO2 emissions by as much as 80% and is up to four times faster.


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