Jurrit Bergsma

Scientist integrator sustainable shipping

'The shipping industry is like a big vessel: it takes time to change course, but when we are on route, we’re unstoppable'.

Jurrit Bergsma and his colleagues are looking for solutions to the challenges of making the shipping industry more sustainable. He does this as a business developer and a PhD candidate, both for the shipping industry itself and the world in which we live.

There’s still a long way to go before all shipping, inland navigation and ports are climate-neutral. There are major interests at stake in this internationally-oriented sector, and the desire for greater sustainability is by no means equally strong everywhere.

At TNO, we want to accelerate the maritime energy transition. We’re conducting research into circularity, smart logistics, energy-efficient motors and alternative fuels in order to show the maritime sector what’s possible. In principle, the Netherlands has all the knowledge, skills, people and stakeholders needed to fulfill a leading role internationally.

As business developer, I deal with the question of ‘how to shape the maritime energy transition’ and ‘which technologies we need to develop for this?’. For the latter, TNO set up the Dutch Ocean Technology Centre in 2019 together with TU Delft. Here, I’m doing part-time PhD research into the adaptability of the maritime sector in this transition. The insights I gain here will help me as I contribute my ideas to the sector as a business developer at TNO.

Green business case

The maritime sector still runs on fossil energy. Many ships use fuel oil and have high CO2 emissions. We can improve this with short term available technology, such as by sailing on (bio-)methanol. An even greater step towards greater sustainability can be made with hydrogen fuel cell technology for ship types that do not travel extreme distances.

However, there is overall still a great deal of uncertainty on the energy carrier of the future and what its impact will be on ships and in ports. This has an effect on the green business case because uncertainty almost always means extra costs. In order to overcome this situation, we’re conducting pilots in smart places in order to show that the technology works and what the economic impact will be, such as with maintenance vessels for offshore wind farms. Ultimately, the aim is to realise the green business cases as quickly as possible, thereby convincing the sector and its customers that sustainability is not merely an option but rather a logical choice.

It happens at sea

A lot is going to change in the North Sea over the next 20 years. Drones will carry out tasks which currently use manned vessels, such as the surveillance and maintenance of offshore infrastructure. .It is important that clear and supportive regulatory preconditions are created so that the green business case is brought closer to reality. Think of emission taxes and green tendering. The government has an important role to play in these.

This requires a strong management of the creation of these preconditions. In all scenarios we will see a rapidly evolving maritime sector in the North Sea with floating islands, seaweed farms and offshore wind parks of an enormous scale. With the combined knowledge, skills and preconditions, we can create great added value in a sector that already employs more than 260,000 people in the Netherlands.


I’ve been a sailor since an early age and have a strong intrinsic motivation to make a societal contribution linked to sustainability. The choice of Maritime Engineering at TU Delft and sustainability was therefore logical. . I learned a lot about technological innovation, but also about how to involve people in it. As a business developer at TNO, that’s where I can really make a difference.

The shipping industry can be compared to a big vessel: not very manoeuvrable but once on a course, we keep going. This is why it’s incredibly important to set the course for sustainable shipping as soon as possible, for both the shipping industry itself and for the world in which we live.

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