As part of an international alliance headed by the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Wärtsilä seeks to demonstrate a commercially viable autonomous intra-port inter-terminal container shuttle. The barge will feature electric propulsion supplied through interchangeable containers.

The international alliance is working on the development of a grand plan that sets out how transport within, to and from ports can be made carbon-free by 2050. It has received 25 million euros in EU funding for this. While numerous green fuels and energy carriers are being advanced, the partners have also initiated a series of digitalisation and automation projects in relation to the energy transition.


The research project nicknamed MAGPIE (sMArt Green Ports as Integrated Efficient multimodal hubs) was borne out of a collaboration between the port authorities of Rotterdam, DeltaPort (Germany), HAROPA (France: La Havre, Rouen, Paris) and Sines (Portugal), in partnership with ten research institutions and over thirty companies in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Portugal and Denmark.

Wärtsilä, who is the largest industrial partner of MAGPIE, is set to receive the biggest portion of the grant for the sub-project of the autonomous container barge. This shuttle is to address an emerging capacity bottleneck for internal container transportation.

The installation will include several of the latest Wärtsilä solutions; including SmartMove Suite, which provides a pairing of sensor tech with navigation systems for safe, automated ship movement. The company’s autonomous solutions have been tried and tested successfully in highly congested waters before, both in complex inland waterways and at international ports like Singapore.

E-barge with battery container

‘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.’

To lift the ambition level for such a barge to not only being smart, but also emission free, electric propulsion will be enabled by means of an electric drive train and an 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). 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.

Also read: Interchangeable batteries to ‘electrify’ Dutch inland navigation

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

Making shortsea and inland shipping safer and cleaner

Sean Fernback, President, Wärtsilä Voyage: ‘Since 2015 and combined with an effort to reduce ground transportation, the EU has targeted a 25 per cent increase in cargo transportation by shortsea shipping before 2030. We feel we can enable this. Utilising new technology, we will change shortsea 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.’

Also read: Wärtsilä to build hydrogen cruise ship engine for EU research project

Picture: Inland Container Shipping, Port of Rotterdam (by Port of Rotterdam).