Shell in Amsterdam-Noord: Then and now
The choice for Amsterdam-North was no coincidence. The history of the oil industry in Amsterdam started at the end of the 19th century.
At that time a transition was taking place as well: from vegetable oil and whale oil to petroleum lamp oil. After a fire in Bordeaux and Antwerp, the population pressured to move the storage of lamp oil to outside of the city’s borders. A storage solution was found in 1868 by opening the first ‘Petroleum Entrepot’ in Amsterdam-North. A year later, more than 70,000 barrels of petroleum were supplied. Since the opening of the North Sea Canal in 1876, the area has grown into the largest industrial estate in Amsterdam. There was room for heavy industry, shipbuilding and the petrochemical industry.
In 1914, the Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij* established the first laboratory on the Dordtsche Petroleum Maatschappij grounds** on the northern bank of the IJ-river. Including a pilot plant with a distillation unit and nine staff members. Ultimately, the area of the Shell laboratory grew to cover 27 hectares.
In 1929, the lab had already grown to approximately 300 people and a Shell site was created where offices, laboratories and workshops were built. Shell had relatively little trouble during the great depression in the 1930s. After short-term downsizing, the workforce increased in 1940 to more than 1,300 employees. Although during the Second World War the Nazi’s tried to get a grip on the results of the scarce work done at the laboratory, the then director managed to prevent this. The laboratory helped ease the distressing circumstances of employees and fellow city residents. For example, by distributing potatoes and vegetables grown in the experimental field.
After the war, chemical and technological developments went extremely fast. In 1949, the laboratory was renamed Koninklijke Shell Laboratorium Amsterdam [Royal Shell Laboratory Amsterdam] (KSLA). In 1954, the KSLA was the first Dutch company to use an electronic calculator. 4000 Radio tubes, 2500 condensers, 15,000 resistors, 10 kilometres of wire and 100,000 solder plates: the Miracle. This monster occupied an entire room and was able to carry out calculations in an instant, instead of people who needed days for the same calculations.
The introduction of the computer combined with increased automation resulted in the scaling down of some experimental work. Along with the desire to collaborate more effectively, the construction of a new technology centre was initiated. At the start of this millennium, the simultaneous plans of the municipality of Amsterdam for the development of the northern bank of the IJ created the possibility of selling 20 of the 27 hectares of the Shell site. A total of 42 of the 45 buildings were demolished.
In 2009, the new research centre full with laboratories, workshops, test halls and offices is opened. The Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam (STCA). On an average working day, there are around 1,100 people of more than 50 different nationalities at work. A quarter of them are women. Men and women have always had many opportunities within Shell. A good example: the previously mentioned industrial calculator was operated by a woman.
What in 2022 became the open Energy Transition Campus Amsterdam (ETCA) is now one of Shell's most important research centres worldwide and technology development is the key focus, together with partners. Of course, the 90,000 m2 large building also needs energy. It therefore has 196 solar panels for direct energy supply. The temperature is regulated via underground heat and cold storage together with heat pumps, which use green electricity from Dutch wind farms. This combination of renewable energy systems ensures that Shell's laboratory at the IJ river in Amsterdam is virtually CO2 neutral.
* The history of the Bataafsche [Batavian] goes back further than 1914. At the end of the 19th century, the discovery of petroleum in the north of Sumatra led to the establishment of the plc Koninklijke Nederlandse Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van Petroleumbronnen [Royal Dutch Corporation for the Exploitation of Petroleum Sources] in the Dutch East Indies. In 1907, the Royal Dutch/Shell Group was formed by merging the interests of Royal Dutch and the British Shell Transport and Trading Company. The Bataafsche was also part of this. In 1911, the Dortsche was also included through an exchange of shares.
** In 1905, the Dordtsche Petroleum Maatschappij received more than 4.5 acres in Amsterdam-Noord in leasehold. In 1907 and 1908 a purchase led to another 1.5 and 4.3 hectares being added. The Dortsche then started a paraffin factory here, which later moved to the southside of the IJ. Subsequently, surrounding sites were purchased, such as the Obelt swimming pool in 1926, Nooddorp Erica in 1930 and the Tolhuistuin including the IJ pavilion in 1938.
Shell's roots in the Netherlands go back 130 years. Since then, the red-yellow shell has become a global player in the energy sector. History leaves traces anywhere in the world. But the head office was in The Hague at the time, just like now.