Circle Economy Foundationnews
Published on: 
February 9, 2024

Gas off, circular economy on: Dutch province of Groningen preps for a future without fossil fuels

The Dutch province of Groningen sits on the largest natural gas field in Europe and one of the largest in the world. However, on the 1st of October, 2023, Groningen’s gas pumps went silent. In the year of the Dutch gas industry’s 60th anniversary, production was halted, presumably, for good. This decision was long-awaited as extraction activities provoked disastrous earthquakes, endangering the local population and making Groningen’s gas one of the most debated topics in Dutch politics. 

To aid Groningen’s transition to a more sustainable and diversified economy, the Dutch government launched The National Programme Groningen (NPG)—a partnership between the government, province and municipalities—allocating seed capital of €1.5 million to implement initiatives and projects that could strengthen the living environment, the economy, education, jobs, nature and the climate. 

Together with the Programme, NOM, Groningen Seaports, Chemport Europe and Circle Economy Foundation developed a circular economy transition plan. We explored four strategic directions to guide future NPG’s multi-year investment plans towards a circular economy: optimised biomass valorisation, circular industrial processes, circular agricultural practices and urban-rural-industrial symbiosis. 

The study zoomed-in on two of the region’s biggest industries: chemical manufacturing and agrifood. These sectors are crucial for the regional economy, but they are also massive resource consumers and carbon emitters. Building a symbiosis of agriculture and chemical manufacturing could substantially cut emissions and waste, creating an efficient, circular system. 

We found that many elements needed to build a circular economy are already present in the region. Groningen's farmers, for example, have some of the most advanced equipment and knowledge in Europe, which would facilitate a seamless transition to circular agriculture. In addition, the green chemistry sector has already taken root in the province. Advanced logistics and infrastructure, including a seaport, could also contribute to Groningen’s status as a global circular economy hotspot. 

However, a lack of skilled workforce hinders the region's transition, and circular materials are still more expensive to produce and obtain. On top of that, local legislation needs to be adapted to favour more circular business models. 

Although barriers to Groningen's circularity remain, local entrepreneurs, government representatives and knowledge institutions support the transition plan. The Circular Economy in Groningen report was presented at the event ‘Circular without borders’ in Delfzijl on the 14th of November. The event was attended by local stakeholders and co-organised by Holland Circular Hotspot and Circular Groningen, an organisation established just six months ago that already boasts more than 50 participating companies. 

Groningen’s provincial council member responsible for agriculture and economy, Henk Emmens, officially endorsed the transition plan, adding: ‘In this way, we’ll maintain guaranteed employment for a generation in sectors that continue to become more sustainable. We’ll have jobs and a better environment.’

The benefits of the circular economy in Groningen are clear to all stakeholders: from job creation to enhanced social welfare, prevention of additional earthquake damage, and a competitive advantage for the region's main economic sectors. Governments and industries are ready to take action. Groningen’s journey from  gas capital to circular hotspot can also serve as a blueprint for the European post-fossil fuels future. 

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