These were exciting days for the technicians of Zero Emission Services (ZES) and the skippers of the Alphenaar. Since September 6, the ship has been sailing twice a day between Moerdijk and Alphen aan den Rijn, fully loaded with Heineken beer.
Two containers full of batteries
Of the more than fifty containers on board per cruise, two do not contain beer. There is a large Z on the two containers painted bright green. They are fully loaded with batteries that provide the propulsion of the ship.
One energy container is used on the way there. The other on the way back. From Moerdijk, the export beer goes to Rotterdam and Antwerp for transport to various countries in the world.
36 electric cars
“It concerns two megawatt hours per container, which is the equivalent of 36 electric cars,” says a spokesperson for ZES. In addition to the batteries, the containers also contain fire protection systems, communication systems and servers.
“We installed the last batteries this week, which were delayed by the problems in the Suez Canal,” says Teus van Beek, technician co-responsible for the project. “We have also optimized some settings around cyber security. But we have not suffered from any real teething problems so far. Things are going well.”
Charging the batteries is relatively simple. Both containers are unloaded with a crane at the Alpherium inland shipping terminal in Alphen aan den Rijn and placed on a special frame, says Van Beek.
“They are charged with a plug via that docking station. That takes two to three hours. In the meantime, the ship is loaded and unloaded. When it is full, it can continue. We can monitor everything, if something is wrong or if if a battery fails on the way, we get an alarm,” he explains.
An energy container full of batteries costs almost a million euros. The inland skipper, who often owns the ship, does not have to buy this. He pays SIX for use and charges per kilowatt hour delivered.
The first week there was a lot of contact with the skippers. How do you like electric sailing? “The loading and unloading of the electricity containers is going well. We are now carrying out further testing,” says Van Beek.
“Today, for example, we asked a skipper to first empty one container completely. How far will you get? That also depends on the current and wind, of course,” he explains. “But you have to be able to make a one-way trip. By pressing a few buttons, they switch from one power container to the other.”
Diesel engine as backup
A ten-year contract has been concluded with Heineken and carrier CCT. A charging station with a full container must also be installed in Moerdijk as soon as possible, so that only one energy container needs to be on the Alphenaar.
In case all systems fail, the old diesel engine is still on board. “That is mandatory, you must have a backup,” says Van Beek.
The transport sector is still responsible for approximately 21 percent of CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. About 5 percent of this is accounted for by inland shipping. The Aphenaar saves 7 tons of nitrogen and 1000 tons of CO2 per year, a small contribution to emission-free inland shipping.
ZES wants to scale up as quickly as possible to increase that contribution. Ultimately, by 2030, eight ships will have to sail on 30 shipping routes on exchangeable batteries. According to the company, this means that 360,000 tons of CO2 and 2,800 tons of nitrogen can be saved in emissions.
Network of charging stations
In that case, charging stations or full loading containers must be placed at strategic locations in ports, so that skippers can sail on almost immediately. These charging stations, with a capacity of approximately 1 megawatt, are planned for Rotterdam, Moerdijk and Alblasserdam, among others.
With twenty charging stations, a comprehensive network can be made within the Netherlands. The company hopes to receive a subsidy for the costs of approximately 20 million euros.
While the Alphenaar sails on batteries, other shipping companies are looking at alternatives such as fuel cells with ammonia, synthetic methanol, hydrogen and biofuels. But all these alternatives are currently losing out to the batteries on the Alphenaar, says Van Beek.
“With biofuel, harmful substances such as nitrogen and CO2 are still emitted,” says Van Beek. Sailing on ammonia is only possible in a decade, according to the experts.
“And hydrogen is clean, but you cannot yet apply that technology on a large scale. You need a lot of space for storage. But it is something we are looking at for the future,” he concludes.