Dubbed the "Tesla of the Canals" these unmanned ships will operate on the waterways of Belgium and Holland, moving cargo which is now transported on diesel trucks and significantly reducing emissions. The ships are being built by the Dutch manufacturer Port Liner, part of the Van Meegen group.
The electric motors of the barges will be powered by large Tesla batteries that will provide them with 15 hours of navigation and will be recharged ashore by the carbon-free energy supplier Eneco, with electricity generated by solar, wind or other renewable sources. The boats are designed to operate without a crew, although in a first period if they will be manned, to navigate autonomously as a new infrastructure is developed around the busiest waterways in Europe.
The first five barges will start operating next August. They will have a length of 52 meters and 2.6 of width, and will be able to transport 24 containers of 20 feet (60 meters) with a weight of up to 425 tons. As there is no need for them to include a traditional engine room, the ships have up to 8 percent additional space, according to Port Liner. It is expected that, as a result, some 23,000 trucks, mainly diesel, will be removed from the roads.
In a later phase six other barges will enter into operation that will have double the size (110 m long). They will be able to transport 270 containers and will house four battery boxes capable of providing 35 hours of autonomous driving. Its use will reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 18,000 tons, according to Port Liner.
According to The Guardian, which cites as source Eurostat, 74.9% of cargo in the EU is currently transported by road, 18.4% by rail and 6.7% by inland waterways, although the use of water routes is increasing.
The barges, which are being built in the Netherlands, have received some €7 million ($8.7 million) in subsidies from the EU and additional funds from the ports involved. Port Liner believes it could manufacture around 500 barges a year and revolutionize the freight industry. Electric motors and batteries could also be installed on older vessels.
Tom van Meegen, Executive Chairman of Port Liner, has told the Dutch press that these barges will be the first in the world to sail with carbon neutral batteries and could carry more cargo if it were not for the height of the river bridges in the Netherlands and Belgium would prevent them from passing under them.