Electric barges: new trend in intermodal transport

2021/09/15 at 8:37 AM

Decarbonisation of intermodal transport is gaining momentum in Europe. More and more road hauliers are implementing innovations to reduce emissions generated by their fleets. The railway undertakings and shipping lines are following the same way. Now, it is the turn of the companies engaged in inland shipping. Among the latest trends in this area is the electric barge, which is powered by batteries.

80 per cent of barges operated on the inland waterways of northwest Europe are sailing under the flag of the Netherlands. It is no surprise that this country has become a pioneer in promoting and implementing innovations for inland shipping. To this end, several parties concerned established the Zero Emission Services (ZES) consortium in the Netherlands. The Port of Rotterdam Authority, maritime technology company Wärtsilä, energy company Engie and ING bank joined forces to decarbonise the inland shipping. After the year-long hard work, the initiative resulted in the first real achievements.

Alphenaar battery-powered barge, source: Concordia Damen

Strategic goals

In early June 2020, the ZES consortium unveiled the concept of the first zero-emission barge. More than a year later, in early September 2021, the electric inland vessel performed the maiden zero-emission delivery of containers. On behalf of Heineken, the innovative barge delivered boxes loaded with beer from Alphen aan den Rijn to the Port of Moerdijk. It sails a distance of around 60 kilometres only by power from batteries. As the first customer of the zero-emission delivery, Heineken concluded the ten-year contract with the consortium for moving its containerised freight along the Zoeterwoude – Alpherium – Moerdijk corridor.

Loading ZESpacks on the Alphenaar electric barge, source: Wärtsilä

Meanwhile, the ZES consortium itself and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, which supports the project, have much more strategic goals. First of all, they intend to reduce the carbon footprint of inland shipping in the Netherlands by 50 per cent. It is worth noting that this mode of transport currently generates only 5 per cent of the Dutch transport sector’s carbon emissions. To achieve this goal, the number of zero-emission barges will increase at least to 150 units by 2030. They will sail not only on behalf of Heineken but for other customers performing the deliveries on the Amsterdam – Rotterdam – Antwerp corridor, the key inland waterway in Benelux. Moreover, the consortium partners will install charging stations along the route to charge the vessels starting from the installations in Rotterdam, Moerdijk and Alblasserdam.

Containers for batteries

The first electric barge is named the ‘Alphenaar’. It was originally designed by Damen and built by the Romanian shipbuilding company Santierul Naval Orsova as the conventional diesel-powered vessel. With a length of 90 metres, a width of 10.5 metres and a draft of 3.6 metres, the Alphenaar barge has a capacity of 104 TEU. To make the ship zero-emission, the ZES consortium equipped it with the two so-called ‘ZES packs’, which are the 20-foot standard containers filled with batteries. These energy boxes are charging at the onshore charging station and then reloaded to the vessel.

Scheme of using ZESpacks for inland shipping, source: Port of Rotterdam Authority

The solution for inland shipping was developed by Wärtsilä. Two ZESpacks are filled with 45 battery modules with a total power of 2 megawatt-hours, which is equal to the capacity of around 36 electric cars. The ZESpacks are charged with certified green energy at the first ZES charging station at the CCT’s container terminal in Alphen aan den Rijn. With two fully charged ZESpacks, the electric barge can deliver freight at a distance of 60 to 120 kilometres. That is enough for zero-emission deliveries of the containers between the main inland hubs in the Netherlands.

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