Wärtsilä to develop autonomous, zero-emission barge for Port of Rotterdam

Inland Container Shipping, Port of Rotterdam
Inland Container Shipping, Port of Rotterdam Image credit: Port of Rotterdam

Finland-based technology group Wärtsilä is embarking on a project to develop and demonstrate an autonomous, zero-emission barge for the Rotterdam Port Authority.

Inland Container Shipping, Port of Rotterdam Image credit: Port of Rotterdam

The endeavor is part of a research project, nicknamed sMArt Green Ports as Integrated Efficient multimodal hubs (MAGPIE), which was borne out of a collaboration between the port authorities of Rotterdam, DeltaPort, HAROPA and Sines. The project is being pursued in partnership with 10 research institutions and over 30 companies in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Portugal and Denmark.

Earlier this month, the alliance was awarded nearly € 25 million ($30.4 million) in EU funding to implement projects aimed at sustainable and smart port logistics. It also involves the development of a plan on making port transport carbon-free by 2050.

Wärtsilä Corporation, as the largest industrial partner of MAGPIE, is set to receive the biggest portion of the grant to demonstrate a commercially viable autonomous intra-port inter-terminal container shuttle. The shuttle aims to address the issue of an emerging capacity bottleneck for internal container transportation.

The technology company said that the installation onboard the vessel will include several of its solutions, such as SmartMove Suite, a unique pairing of sensor tech with navigation systems for safe, automated ship movement.

Developing autonomous shipping operations has been high on the priority list for Wärtsilä. Namely, the company has been working for years with  Singapore-based towage services provider PSA Marine on the IntelliTug autonomous ship project to demonstrate some of its solutions.

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“We believe that overland transport modes will not be able to absorb the emerging capacity bottleneck for internal container movement. So, we will be delivering an autonomous e-barge concept that can greatly enhance efficiency in the Port of Rotterdam through automated seaborne cargo transshipment. Our ambition is to see these container shuttles introduced into a smart logistics network within the next few years,” says Hendrik Busshoff, Business Development Engineer, Wärtsilä Voyage.

The barge is also set to be fitted with electric propulsion enabled by an electric drive train and an interchangeable battery container solution, which is charged using renewable power. The technology would make the barge emission-free.

“To complement the e-navigation set up, we are part of a consortium that has developed a concept based on the use of replaceable battery containers, known as ZESPacks (Zero Emission Services). A network of open access charging points will be set up for exchanging battery containers for fully charged replacements, thereby keeping waiting time to a minimum. The first of these battery containers will be installed in the summer,” says Teus Van Beek, General Manager, Ecosystem Innovation, Wärtsilä Marine Systems.

Last year, the Heineken beer company entered into an agreement with ZES to utilise the service for transporting beer, thus becoming the first end customer for the enterprise. The first ship fitted with ZES-Packs, De Alphenaar, started carrying beer from the Heineken brewery in Alphen aan de Rijn to the port of Moerdijk last year. The first vessel is scheduled to be joined by another five over the course of 2021.

“Utilising new technology, we will change short sea and inland shipping into a safer, cleaner, and more efficient link in the logistic chain, with greater accessibility to those who need it. That’s why we are automating operations,” says Sean Fernback, President, Wärtsilä Voyage.