First Electric And Emission-Free Barge To Launch This Summer

A Dutch company is planning to launch the first emission-free barges in Europe this summer. These vessels will be the first autonomous and fully electric barges to operate in the coastal highways between the Netherlands and Belgium.   


May 23 2019, Updated 10:27 a.m. ET

Diesel-fueled ships from all around the world visit busy ports every year to ensure that essential supplies reach millions of people. During the process, these vessels can create significant congestion in the ports and leave behind a considerable amount of pollution in their wake as they depart. 

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The Dutch company, Port Liner, is trying to steer away from traditionally powered ships and is on course to launch the first emission-free barges in Europe. While countries such as China are working to create large-scale electric ships, these vessels will be the first autonomous and fully electric barges to operate in the coastal highways between the Netherlands and Belgium.   

While it’s not unusual to see children maneuvering battery operated sailboat toys in park ponds, these ships take that concept to a whole new level. The new barges have the capability to operate on their own. If a ship sailing around without a crew on board evokes an eerie scene from a ghost movie, don’t worry. The barges aren’t traveling on their own in most waterways, yet. 

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One of the unique features on these barges is the battery set up. The 20-foot batteries that power the electric motor are in a container of their own on the vessels. This is a key feature because the batteries can be retrofitted to any similar vessel, including older boats. With traditional engine rooms no longer needed, the electric vessels are also able to save up to 8 percent more space. 

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Port Liner’s CEO Ton van Meegen told The Loadstar, “This allows us to retrofit barges already in operation, which is a big boost for the industry’s green energy credentials. The containers are charged onshore by carbon-free energy provider Eneco, which sources solar power, windmills and renewables.”  

The technology behind these autonomous ships was encouraged by groups hoping to see an increase in port efficiency. The European Union kicked in €7 million in subsidies to help reduce commerce related traffic. The port of Antwerp contributed €200,000 to the project for improvements, as well. 

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Unsurprisingly, many expect this will have a positive impact on the environment. Since the ships will source their electricity from renewable sources, the shift is estimated to reduce 18,000 tons of carbon emissions every year. These barges are also expected to remove about 23,000 trucks from nearby roads every year. 

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These barges will be able to carry up to 280 containers and are designed to fit under Europe's numerous bridges. According to van Meegen, these electric barges will first test the waters between De Kempen in the Netherlands and Antwerp in Belgium. The Rotterdam port will also host the new vessels. 

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As van Meegen expressed to The Loadstar, “There are some 7,300 inland vessels across Europe and more than 5,000 of those are owned by entrepreneurs in Belgium and the Netherlands. We can build upwards of 500 a year, but at that rate it would take some 50 years to get the industry operating on green energy.”  

The ships will start hitting the waterways this August. Many expect them to encourage the conversion of diesel-powered coastal and inland ships to electric power.

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