In the pipeline: an emission-free pusher boat, zero-emission barges & hydrogen-fuelled ferries

Peter Hugman has drawn attention to a report in The Engineer that the Technical University (TU) in Berlin is developing a zero-emission electric pusher. Batteries and a hydrogen-fuelled fuel cell provide the energy. There will be no combustion engine. Technical details given in the report may be read by following the Engineer link.

A pusher, pusher craft, pusher boat, pusher tug or towboat, is a boat designed for pushing car floats, multiple barges lashed together, or a boat and any barges lashed to it. These boats usually operate on rivers and inland waterways.

The research project RiverCell – ELEKTRA will provide those operating regionally with the required energy via rechargeable batteries. In supraregional operations fully electric driven pushers are also supplied with fuel cell technology to increase range.

This project will show that innovative energy supply concepts will be economically viable and will also have great ecological advantages.


In June the Dutch technology group Wärtsilä announced that it has joined Zero Emission Services B.V. (ZES), an enterprise aimed at making inland waterway shipping more sustainable.

In the Netherlands transport sector inland navigation accounts for 5% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. By switching from diesel fuelled propulsion to fully electrically powered transport, an important step can be taken towards realising the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

Replaceable battery containers, to be known as ‘ZES Packs’, will be used on vessels equipped with an electric propulsion line and  charged using energy from renewable sources.

A network of open access charging points will be set up to exchange depleted battery containers for ready-charged replacements, keeping waiting time to a minimum. Should hydrogen become a viable alternative at some point, containers equipped with hydrogen technology could supply power in the same way.

A ‘pay-per-use’ financing model has been developed; ZES charges only for the cost of renewable energy consumed plus a rental fee for the battery container, so the skipper’s operating costs remain competitive.

An English language video may be accessed from the website of New Mobility News

The HEINEKEN beer company has entered into an agreement with ZES to use the service for transporting beer from its brewery to international ports. Heineken has signed a 10-year commitment with ZES, becoming the first customer for the enterprise.

Scotland is also innovating:

A team awarded funding by the Scottish Government carried out a successful feasibility study into developing a hydrogen-powered ferry service to some of Scotland’s remotest Hebridean island communities. Ultimately, the hydrogen for the ferry would be manufactured using local community-owned wind power. The ferry was to be in operation this year but has, presumably, been delayed by the COVID epidemic.

An Orkney venture using hydrogen generated from local renewable energy sources, is developing HySeas III to operate on a route between Kirkwall and Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands. It will be one of the first vessels to attempt to accommodate compressed hydrogen below deck and is at the testing stage – completion 2021.





1 thought on “In the pipeline: an emission-free pusher boat, zero-emission barges & hydrogen-fuelled ferries

  1. What a splendid development!

    I well remember waiting for a bus in Frankfurt with Richard Body, and watching an enormously long goods train transporting hundreds of new cars across a bridge, and him remarking ” I wish the English could see their way to adopting these energy saving transport methods instead of conveying everything by road, and clogging up our motorways”.

    It seems as though the Germans and Dutch are usually well ahead with these energy saving technologies.

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