Electric, Fully Autonomous Containership Barges to Ply European Waterways
New electric powered container carrying barges are being built to carry shipping containers around Europe’s inland waterways.
Highways of ages
The great rivers of Europe, including the Rhine, Seine and Danube, have been the major cargo highways of the continent for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Despite the advantages of trucks and trains, they are still being used heavily by commerce in getting goods into and out of Europe from around the world.
The largest container port is Rotterdam, which can be reached by water from as far south as Flanders in Belgium and as far east as Romania without using the sea lanes of the English Channel and North Sea. Moving to a low emissions transport system is a core interest of the European Union, which is the biggest industrialised bloc in the world. The barges are expected to take 23,000 trucks off Europe’s roads, significantly tackling Europe’s carbon emissions.
280 TEU electric barges
The Dutch shipbuilding company Port Liner is building a number of autonomous capable, electric propulsion container barges to ply Europe’s inland waterways. The first being built are capable of carrying 200, 20ft shipping containers.
The company already has orders for barges at the maximum size that will fit under the low bridges of Belgium’s waterways – 280 TEU. While the historic development of the rivers and canals have positively helped commerce in Europe, the infrastructure planners of 200 years ago had no idea about ‘future proofing’ their roads and waterways!
One of the containers on each barge will be its battery bank. This means that rather than spending a day or more plugged into the dock charging up, when the batteries are exhausted the container is lifted onto the dock and swapped for another one with fully charged batteries. This should be almost as quick as its other cargo operations so will minimise delay in its dockside activities.
Robots silently taking over logistics…
One of the draws to the barge owners and operators is that these barges have been set up to run fully autonomously. This is ultimately about saving money. Initially they will be crewed as per normal barges but the crew will do much less aboard than their opposite numbers on other container barges. Ultimately the plan is for the crew to step ashore for the last time and leave the barges to do their own thing.
Though it is interesting that robot barges will soon quietly move containerised goods all over the continent with humans only there to maintain them, it will be killing off an ancient trade – the watermen who have for generations moved goods around the waterways.
Speaking to the Maritime Journal, Ton Van Meegan, CEO of Port Liner said, “There are some 7,300 inland vessels across Europe and more than 5,000 of these are owned by entrepreneurs in Belgium and the Netherlands. We can build upwards of 50 barges a year, but at that rate it would still take many years to get the industry operating on green energy.” It also means that it could be a long time before the last barge crew walk ashore for the final time.
The batteries of the containers are set to be charged using entirely renewable energy. This means they will be ‘carbon neutral’. As such the European Union has found €7 million (AUD $11m) to subsidise the project. The Port of Rotterdam has also thrown cash at it to help reduce its own overall carbon emissions.
Here at Gateway Container Sales we recently looked at a Norwegian containership that’s set to move containers up and down Norway’s fjords. Navigating the Norwegian fjords is arguably a lot easier to do with open water for much of the time. The Rhine and ancillary waterways are vastly busier and can be a bit of a maze. The navigation and collision avoidance systems on the Port Liner barges are going to be working out of their skin to manage. It will be interesting to see if they can as they shed their crews and start going it alone.
Gateway Container Sales
No matter what happens to their transportation methods, there will always be a need to reuse shipping containers in some way! Get in touch with us at Gateway Container Sales to discuss your needs, we have hundreds of shipping containers in stock for sale or hire.