Antwerp blockchain pilot pioneers with secure and efficient document workflow

Sarah Carter
Sarah Carter

19 June 2018


The Antwerp Port Authority and the Antwerp blockchain start-up T-Mining have developed a solution to make document flows safer and more efficient.

Documents, such as certificates of origin and phytosanitary certificates, are transferred via blockchain technology and the document flow is automated by means of so-called "Smart Contracts".

Together with Belfruco, Enzafruit, PortApp, 1-Stop and T&G Global, a specific solution was developed for phytosanitary certificates – which guarantee the safety of fruit and vegetables. With this pilot project, the port of Antwerp confirms its pioneering role in the field of innovation and digitization and actively collaborates on new solutions to further secure our food chain while automating the administrative processes.

During this pilot project, fruit from New Zealand and destined for the European market is provided with digital phytosanitary certificates that are transferred via blockchain technology. Now, the New Zealand exporter will transfer this digital certificate to the Belgian importer, Enzafruit. It transfers it to Belfruco, freight forwarder within the SEA-invest group - which in turn has to transfer these certificates to the Belgian authorities before releasing the cargo of fruit from the SEA-invest terminal.

"Today these paper certificates are sent by courier from New Zealand." explains Nico De Cauwer, Business Architect Port Community Systems of the Antwerp Port Authority. "This costs a lot of time and money. With the pilot project we can transfer these certificates from New Zealand to Belgium much faster and then transfer them to the competent authorities in Antwerp. In this way, everyone immediately has all the latest information and the necessary preparations and checks can be made faster. On top, Blockchain technology guarantees that the authenticity of the certificates has not been tampered with and we can retrieve the origin of the documents in real time. At the moment we are testing this solution on a small scale, with a limited number of parties. We want to test specific blockchain components, but also the new way of working, which is now fully digital. With the results of this pilot we will see which adjustments are needed to consider a possible further rollout."

"Thanks to blockchain technology, we are able to transfer the original version of documents fully digitally - rather than forwarding a copy of it," explains Filip Heremans, Chief Product Officer at T-Mining. "Compare it to a text file that you email to a person. Both have their own version of the same document, so the question is who has the original version. With important documents such as certificates that guarantee the origin and safety of our food, this is of course a problem.

Blockchain technology allows to transfer documents without duplicating them, so there is only one party that owns the original document at any time. On top, the blockchain guarantees the authenticity of the document – as no one can change or delete anything unnoticed – one of the key characteristics of blockchain. For that, all data is stored decentralized on multiple nodes2 at various parties such as the Antwerp Port Authority, the Australian & New Zealand Port Community System 1-Stop, Belfruco and T-Mining. Another key characteristic of blockchain technology is that all parties have access to exactly the same data, which is crucial for an efficient process.

Today this is a known problem, causing long waiting times. Finally, so-called "Smart Contracts" automate and secure the flow of documents between the various parties, so that certain access rules can be enforced and new information is shared with the parties involved without delay and in a secure manner. Because blockchain is a back-end technology, we work together with PortApp, which develops the front-end application so end-users can upload, transfer and approve documents via the blockchain.

According to Erwin Verstraelen, CDIO of the Antwerp Port Authority, the port of Antwerp confirms with this pilot project its worldwide pioneering role in blockchain technology in the maritime sector. "In 2017, we were the first port in the world to test blockchain in real-life. Today, we once again illustrate our ambition to be an open innovation hub that introduces new technologies, since innovation and digitization are crucial in the long term. To safeguard the competitiveness of our port, we are investing in pilot projects to better understand the possibilities of new technologies and to learn how to best apply them."

"As one of the spearheads of our ambition regarding Capital of Things, the development of a Smart Port is an absolute top priority for Antwerp," says Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of the Antwerp Port Authority. "The focus on digitization and technology is therefore one of our core tasks: with the establishment of NxtPort in 2016, we focus on cooperation between the various players in the port and this is already bearing fruit. With this pilot project we join forces between the government, port companies, and young, innovative technology start-ups to come up with innovative solutions that enable safer and more efficient processes in the Port."

According to Nico Wauters, CEO of T-Mining, blockchain is a new technology that enables completely new solutions but depends on partners collaborating closely and at arm's length. This pilot project shows that the Antwerp port community has an innovative mindset. "I dare to say that the Port of Antwerp is gaining worldwide recognition in the field of blockchain technology," Wauters said.

Michael Bouari, CEO of 1-Stop Connections, is pleased with the collaboration with the Port of Antwerp. "Digital connections between international Port communities is crucial for achieving growth and innovation. For this project we work closely with the Port of Antwerp to test a complex and high-tech solution on an international scale."

Sven De Cleyn, imec.istart Program Manager, is pleased that the opportunities created through new technologies such as blockchain find their way to concrete applications that make life easier and more efficient, and that start-ups such as T-Mining play an important role in that. “It shows that the new generation of start-ups, including T-mining, which are supported by imec.istart, develop relevant solutions for their customers, even if they are big players worldwide."