Wärtsilä to develop autonomous, zero emission container shuttle

Written by Nick Blenkey
Containers on barge in Port of Rotterdam

Inland container shipping, Port of Rotterdam [Image © Port of Rotterdam]

Kicking the container-on-barge concept up several notches, Wärtsilä is to demonstrate a commercially viable autonomous intra-port, inter-terminal container shuttle vessel. The vessel is being developed as part of an EU-funded project led by the Port of Rotterdam that aims to address an emerging capacity bottleneck for internal container transportation.

The shuttle vessel will be a self-propelled barge that will showcase several of the latest Wärtsilä solutions. These including SmartMove Suite, which provides a unique pairing of sensor tech with navigation systems for safe, automated ship movement.

Wärtsilä says its autonomous solutions can handle high traffic volume safely, by design. They have been successfully tried and tested before in busy and highly congested waters, both in complex inland waterways and at international ports such as Singapore.

“We believe that overland transport modes will not be able to absorb the emerging capacity bottleneck for internal container movement,” says Hendrik Busshoff, Business Development Engineer, Wärtsilä Voyage. “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.”

The e-barge’s propulsion solution will have an electric drive train and a ground-breaking interchangeable battery container solution, which is charged using renewable power.

“At Wärtsilä, we maintain that an autonomy strategy is key to a zero-emission ambition. 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),” says Teus Van Beek, General Manager, Ecosystem Innovation, Wärtsilä Marine Systems. “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.”

Wärtsilä has drawn on its inland waterway experience to create the most effective battery containers – something which, as we reported about a year ago, brewer, Heineken, has already signed up for as a carbon-neutral way of moving 45,000 containers of beer a year up to the Port of Rotterdam.

“The world’s largest economies have high hopes of resolving some of their greenhouse gas challenges and their infrastructure bottlenecks with smart shipping. Since 2015 and combined with an effort to reduce ground transportation, the EU has targeted a 25% increase in cargo transportation by short sea shipping before 2030. We feel we can enable this. Utilizing 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.

“We are proud to partner with Wärtsilä Voyage and Zero Emission Services (ZES) in the development of autonomous solutions for intra-port container transshipment. The future of port logistics belongs to intelligent connected and sustainable systems such as the autonomous e-barge system that we now set to develop together. We very much look forward to this highly promising collaboration,” says Ori Marom, Director of Smart Mobility & 5G, Port of Rotterdam.

The e-barge container shuttle is being developed as part of a research project, nicknamed MAGPIE (sMArt Green Ports as Integrated Efficient multimodal hubs) that was born out of a collaboration between the port authorities of Rotterdam, DeltaPort (Germany), HAROPA (France: La Havre, Rouen, Paris) and Sines (Portugal), in partnership with 10 research institutions and over 30 companies in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Portugal and Denmark.

Wärtsilä is the largest industrial partner in MAGPIE.

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