World’s first fully electric barges are coming to Antwerp


The emission-free canal boats are part of moves to replace freight traffic, and the first ones are due to start using Antwerp’s port this summer

‘Tesla of the canals’

The Port of Antwerp is preparing to welcome the world’s first fully electric and emission-free barges.

Port spokesperson Annick Dirkx confirmed to the VRT that the five small and six large vessels are being developed in the Netherlands with €7 million in subsidies from the EU and €200,000 from Antwerp, following the port’s call for projects to reduce freight traffic on the roads.

The first of the boats, called Port-Liner, is expected to arrive in August. Initially there will be 10 voyages made by smaller vessels in or out of Antwerp each week. These boats are 52 metres long and 6.7m wide, and can carry 24 20-foot containers weighing up to 425 tonnes. The larger models are 110m long and can carry 270 containers.

The boats are driven by 20-foot batteries that power the electric motor. Smaller barges carry one power-box with 15 hours’ power; the larger barges will carry four boxes that give about 35 hours of autonomy. Because there is no need for a traditional engine room, the boats also save space: up to 8% compared to a traditional boat using fossil fuels.

The electric motors and batteries can also be retrofitted into older boats. The new barges can theoretically travel autonomously, without crew, though this is not yet an option on most waterways.

The “Tesla of the canals” will only represent a tiny fraction of shipping traffic to begin with – there are 7,000 barges in Europe. But the six large boats are expected to lead to a reduction in CO2 of 18,000 tonnes per year compared to diesel ships. The electricity that powers them will come from renewable sources.

Photo: Omega Architects

Port of Antwerp

The port of Antwerp is Europe’s second-largest port and one of the world’s most important ports for container traffic.
Going green - The port’s first-ever sustainability report won it the Award for Best Belgian Sustainability Report.
Size - The port takes up more space than the actual city of Antwerp.
Roots - Historians have found evidence for the port’s existence dating back to the 12th century.

barges entering the port daily


companies in the greater port area


tonnes of freight handled in 2012