E-barges to take trucks off Dutch roads

A Dutch shipbuilding company says it will start operating electricity-powered container ships in August. The barges, which can run without any crew, are powered by seven-metre battery packs charged up on land. The company says use of the barges between three Dutch ports will take around 23,000 trucks off the roads.

Illustration: Frank Laupman/Omega Architects

The company, Port-Liner, is developing the electric barges in the Netherlands with €7 million in EU subsidies and additional support from the ports of Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, where the barges will begin operating this summer. It also claims the energy provider that will charge up the batteries for the ships is using carbon-free electricity, thereby making the barges emissions-free after manufacture.

The first five barges will be 52 metres long and 6.7 metres wide, and are designed to fit under bridges. They can carry 24 seven-metre containers; the chief executive of Port-Liner has said in a shipping magazine interview that they could take more freight if the bridges over the Dutch and Belgian waterways were not so low.

The battery packs are also seven metres long (essentially batteries are fitted in the standard seven metre long cargo containers), but rather than this reducing carriage space on the ships, it will create about 8% more space because the battery removes the need for an engine room. In theory, the barges can be operated remotely, removing the need for a crew, but it is not clear whether they will be crewless at first.

Freight transported on inland waterways has been growing steadily in recent years, and is now close to 7% of total EU goods transport. Information from Eurostat says roads still account for around 75% of goods transport, and the potential for electric barges to take freight off diesel-fuelled trucks motivated the EU to give money towards the development of the barges.