Dubbed the ‘Tesla of the canals’, the unmanned vessels will operate on Dutch and Belgian waterways, vastly reducing diesel vehicles and emissions
The world’s first fully electric, emission-free and potentially crewless container barges are to operate from the ports of Antwerp, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam from this summer.
The vessels, designed to fit beneath bridges as they transport their goods around the inland waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands, are expected to vastly reduce the use of diesel-powered trucks for moving freight.
Dubbed the “Tesla of the canals”, their electric motors will be driven by 20-foot batteries, charged on shore by the carbon-free energy provider Eneco.
The barges are designed to operate without any crew, although the vessels will be manned in their first period of operation as new infrastructure is erected around some of the busiest inland waterways in Europe.
In August, five barges – 52 metres long and 6.7m wide, and able to carry 24 20ft containers weighing up to 425 tonnes – will be in operation. They will be fitted with a power box giving them 15 hours of power. As there is no need for a traditional engine room, the boats have up to 8% extra space, according to their Dutch manufacturer, Port Liner.
About 23,000 trucks, mainly running on diesel, are expected to be removed from the roads as a result.
At a later date, six larger 110m-long barges, carrying 270 containers, will run on four battery boxes capable of providing 35 hours of autonomous driving. Their use alone could lead to a reduction of about 18,000 tonnes per year of CO2, it is claimed.
According to the latest statistics from Eurostat, 74.9% of freight in the EU is transported by road, compared to 18.4% by rail, and 6.7% along inland waterways, although the use of water routes has been rising.
The barges are being developed in the Netherlands with €7m in subsidies from the EU and additional funds from the ports involved. Port Liner believes it could produce about 500 barges a year to revolutionise the freight industry, although the electric motors and batteries could also be retrofitted into older boats.
The company’s chief executive, Ton van Meegen, told shipping industry trade journal the Loadstar that the barges would be the first in the world to sail on carbon-neutral batteries and that only the low bridges in the low countries prevented them from being loaded with more goods.