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Wholesale Banking

ZES: a zero-emission service cleans up inland shipping

An unlikely collaboration is addressing the problem of how to reduce emissions in the supply chain: battery-powered barges. In June 2020, Zero Emission Services began to offer an alternative to diesel-fuelled shipping on Dutch inland waterways by deploying electric barges running on modular batteries.

A cargo ship

The Zero Emission Services (ZES) consortium, consisting of energy company ENGIE, Dutch multinational bank ING, Finnish energy and maritime equipment company Wärtsilä, and the Port of Rotterdam Authority, is investing in concrete steps to decarbonise the shipping sector.

Acting with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, and through regional and national subsidies, the pilot kicked off this year with the world’s most international brewer, HEINEKEN, as its first client.

ZES has won the World Ports International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) Sustainability Awards 2021 in the category Climate and Energy.
The IAPH Sustainability Awards are part of the World Ports Sustainability Program, which aims to demonstrate global leadership of ports in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. World Port Sustainability Program (

Beer on the move

HEINEKEN is working towards a climate-neutral supply chain, says Jan Kempers, Program Manager for Sustainable Development at HEINEKEN Netherlands Supply.

“In transport and distribution, it’s clear that, in the coming 10 years, the more reliable and financially effective solutions will be with batteries,” he confirms.

Having to phase out fossil fuels requires “entering unknown territory,” continues Kempers. “We need to develop all kinds of new technology and new business models to accomplish that. Rather than being in competition with each other, we have to develop solutions and systems collaboratively,” he says.

A question of responsibility

ING supports the energy transition through greening its portfolio of clients’ businesses and making investments in sustainable start-ups with a positive environmental impact. Anouk Meevis, Associate at ING Corporate investments, describing the motivation behind ING’s involvement in ZES, suggests that, in many instances, there is no “natural owner” to move the transition process forward.

“The bank can take the initiative together with other stakeholders to kick-start an energy-transition value chain,” suggests Meevis. “In inland shipping, there is not one party that can take responsibility for emissions, so all the parties, ship owners, transport and logistics companies, and the government, need to connect to complete the transition in the value chain from being entirely run on fossil fuels today to zero emissions.”

Another impetus, says Meevis, is the EU Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) Directive, which aims to reduce polluting emissions from inland waterway vessels, among others. ING found that the modular electricity concept was much less polluting than both traditional and alternative fuels.

Powerful container

ZESPacks can be moved and stowed like any other standard shipping container. Uniquely, however, they are able to store enough electricity to propel a barge 50 to 100 kilometres with zero CO2 or nitrogen emissions. Each ZES-powered barge will create emission savings of 1,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

Finnish technology company Wärtsilä, which has extensive experience in the maritime industry, has been instrumental in the development of the battery technology.

Henk de Jong, Wärtsilä’s Director of Delivery Management Propulsion, expects all stakeholders in the value chain to benefit from ZES’s infrastructure. “We are supporting the conversion of vessels and setting up new business models for this innovation. Ship owners will be able to build cheaper vessels and have lower operational costs.”

The pay-per-use model of the modular energy containers, or ZESPacks, does not require a large upfront investment from ship owners and operators. The user only pays for the energy they use and a fixed rental fee.

A ZESPacks container

Easy docking

The packs can be exchanged and charged at stations along the waterway. These open-access charging points are connected to the existing power grid, and can help balance surges in local demand.

Brendan Wauters, Director of Business Development at ENGIE, which is responsible for developing the ZESPack charging infrastructure, explains: “It needs to be extremely simple to dock these batteries into the docking stations, and the interface needs to be highly standardised.”

Wauters highlights the challenge of combining the strengths of each participating organisation without allowing bureaucracy to hinder progress. “We had a meeting of minds in the later part of 2019. I'm happy to see the project proceed to the pilot stage,” he affirms.

The Port of Rotterdam also added to the consortium’s list of competencies by determining the right spots for the docking stations.

Port of Rotterdam Director New Business Development, Nico van Dooren, says: “The unique composition of the consortium enables innovative developments. It’s not just about the technological aspects, but also the contract standards and the financial construction – the end result is more than the sum of its parts.”

Setting sail for net-zero

ZES has embarked upon its journey to making European inland shipping carbon neutral.

The Netherlands is an ideal pilot location: about 80% of the country’s bulk freight travels on 4,800 kilometres of canal system, navigable by cargo-carrying vessels (1). ZES has plans to go beyond the Netherlands and populate the Amsterdam‒Rotterdam–Antwerp (ARA) corridor with charging points next.

“We have agreed with the Dutch government that, by 2030, we will have at least 150 of these vessels sailing with zero emissions in the ARA corridor. The end game for 2050 is for the network to stretch all the way from Rotterdam to the Black Sea and everything in between,” says ING’s Anouk Meevis.

Fact box

  • A ZESPack can power a barge for 50-100 kilometres
  • A ZES-powered barge can save up to 1,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year
  • About 80% of the Netherlands’ bulk freight travels on the canal system

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