The world’s first fully electric, emission-free and potentially automatically controlled container barges are due to operate from the ports of Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rotterdam from this summer.
In the Netherlands, where cargos are commonly moved by water, Port Liner is developing all-electric barges driven by long batteries, charged on shore by the carbon-free provider Eneco.
Port Liner is also hoping to retrofit diesel barges to run on electric power and make zero-emissions barges commercially competitive.
The Dutch company’s sleek electric, autonomous barges and retrofitting kits use batteries packed inside seven-metre shipping containers, so they can easily be loaded and swapped at a shipping terminal or charge them directly when moored. The charging stations are intended to use renewable energy, making the transport emission-free.
The barges are intended to be competitive because charging with electricity is cheaper than filling with diesel, electric boats have fewer parts with less maintenance and self-driving technology cuts staff costs.
The absence of a large diesel engine leaves more space for cargo as a traditional engine room uses up around 8 per cent of a barge.
“The retrofit will be necessary because we must reduce our pollution,” said Port Liner chief executive Ton van Meegen. The firm began working on a solution after the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which would mean the owners of Europe’s 7,000 or more diesel cargo barges would have to address emissions.
Statistics agency Eurostat said 74.9 per cent of freight in the EU was transported by road, compared to 18.4 per cent by rail and 6.7 per cent on inland waterways, although the use of rivers and canals had been rising.
The first new barges are due to start operation in the Netherlands and Belgium this year, carrying 24 shipping containers. Five barges can reportedly replace 23,000 trucks. A larger version with capacity for 270 containers is under development. The larger vessels would have four battery boxes capable of providing 35 hours of autonomous driving, the firm said.
“The complete package that we sell for retrofitting can be done by every marine installation yard,” said van Meegan.
Low bridges presented one of the major challenges to the new barges, the CEO added.
The barges are being developed in the Netherlands with €7 million in EU subsidies and additional funds from the European ports involved.
Port Liner said it had the capacity to produce about 500 barges a year to revolutionise the freight industry, while even greater carbon savings were available in the US market.
The River Rhine at Cologne in Germany. Picture credit: Wikimedia