Energy transition

Key players develop emission-free navigation solution for barges

2 June 2020
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2 June 2020 saw the launch of ZES: a new company that helps increase the sustainability of the inland shipping sector by leasing exchangeable battery containers (known as ZES-Packs) to businesses in inland shipping. This year, the first ship fitted with ZES-Packs, De Alphenaar, will already be carrying beer from the Heineken brewery in Alphen aan de Rijn to the port of Moerdijk. This first vessel will be joined by another five over the course of 2021. The first ZES charging station will be realised in Alphen aan de Rijn.

The network of charging stations will be gradually expanded to form a national grid of approximately 20 charge points. An inland vessel can travel some 50 to 100 km on two charged ZES-Packs – depending, among other factors, on the currents and the vessel’s size and draught. ZES will initially be limiting its focus to the container inland shipping segment. By 2030, the company expects that around 150 inland vessels will be powered by the new battery containers.

Each container ship that switches from diesel fuel to ZES-Packs can reduce its carbon emissions by 1,000 tonnes per year. In addition, these battery-powered vessels do not release any particulates or nitrogen into the atmosphere. ZES is a joint venture of ING, Engie, Wärtsilä and the Port of Rotterdam Authority and is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Heineken will be the firm’s first client. 

Joint press release of Port of Rotterdam, ING, Engie en Wärtsilä

Today, Zero Emission Services B.V. (ZES) was founded. ZES is introducing a new energy system for making inland shipping more sustainable. This will be realized with emission-free navigation infrastructure that is accessible to everyone. Clean, climate-neutral and ready to compete with fossil fuels. ZES offers a complete range of products and services, based on interchangeable battery containers charged with renewable power, charging stations, technical support and an innovative payment concept for ship owners. The company was founded by ING, energy and technical service provider ENGIE, maritime technology company Wärtsilä and the Port of Rotterdam Authority. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management supports this first step in the transition to emission-free inland shipping. The HEINEKEN beer company has entered into an agreement with ZES, who will be providing emission-free beer transports from the brewery in Zoeterwoude to Moerdijk for ten years - a vital vote of end customer confidence.

The Paris Climate Agreement calls for a more sustainable transport sector. Today, the Dutch transport sector is collectively responsible for 21% of all carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions in the Netherlands. Within the transport sector, inland navigation makes up 5% of carbon dioxide emissions. The Green Deal Zeevaart, Binnenvaart en Havens (Maritime, Inland Shipping and Ports) includes agreements that aim to make inland shipping more sustainable. With a transformation from diesel-powered inland shipping to fully electrically powered transport, the inland shipping sector is taking an important step towards realizing climate agreement goals. In addition, electric barges will no longer emit nitrogen oxide.

Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, states: “The Netherlands is frontrunner in sustainable transport by water. Well over 1/3 of all goods and 80% of bulk transportation takes place via inland waterways. Not only does this lessen truck transportation, which reduces traffic, inland vessels also emit significantly less CO₂. That advance is extended even further with these new emission-free ships.”

How does it work?

Willem Dedden, CEO of Zero Emission Services: "With ZES, we are introducing a systemic change in inland navigation, allowing barges to sail emission-free thanks to replaceable battery containers. These ‘ZES-Packs’ are charged with sustainably generated power. A network of open access charging points will be set up for exchanging battery containers. Here, depleted ZES-Packs are exchanged for full ones, so that ships can sail on quickly, with minimal waiting time. The energy containers are designed for multiple applications, so they can also be temporarily used on shore to stabilise the electricity grid or to meet momentary local demand for electricity. The system is future-proof because it is independent of the energy carrier. We will start out using batteries, but if hydrogen becomes cheaper in the future, hydrogen technology-equipped containers with will be able to supply power in the same way.

Low threshold through innovative financing

In order to make the transition to emission-free sailing easier for skippers, an innovative 'pay per use'-based financing model has been developed. As a result, ZES only charges the cost of consumed renewable energy and a battery container rental fee, so that the skipper's operating costs remain competitive. However, ships must be equipped with an electric propulsion line.

This systemic change involves a total cost of € 20 million for the first phase. Financial supported is provided by ING bank, ENGIE, Wärtsilä, the Port of Rotterdam Authority and the Dutch government. The government’s contribution is in the form of a grant from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Works and a grant from the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland supporting the goal of making transport more sustainable.

Additional support comes from HEINEKEN, in the shape of a long-term transport agreement and an initial contribution to the development costs of a first ship operated by its carrier CCT. CCT will not charge any handling costs for the loading and unloading of the first ship.
A strong team effort, in which all parties have contributed to making this systemic transition financially feasible and ensuring the lowest possible threshold for skippers, ship owners and forwarders to make the switch.

First order

HEINEKEN has been involved as a forwarder since the initial development of the system and is now the first end customer to sail with this new system. The first ship will be used to transport beer from the HEINEKEN brewery in Zoeterwoude via the inland shipping terminal Alpherium to the port of Moerdijk. HEINEKEN considers it important to contribute to the development of clean climate-neutral logistics with sustainably powered transport. The company aims to make its entire chain climate-neutral.


ZES plans to use this concept to move the entire inland navigation and short sea sector toward emission-free sailing. The first loading point will be along the Zoeterwoude - Alpherium - Moerdijk corridor. Next, the focus will be on setting up an Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp corridor and making a connection to Nijmegen. In the first phase the emphasis will be on converted and newly built inland container ships.

Source figures: CBS