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Ports will be “playgrounds for innovation” and the energy transition

Tugs assisted the arrival of new cranes on a heavy transport vessel into Port of Antwerp

Posted on May 24, 2023

Port of Rotterdam state harbour master René de Vries kicked off the second day of the conference with a keynote address on the challenges ports face and the solutions they are implementing.

“We will be playing a major role in the energy transition,” he said. “We all need to contribute to reducing emissions.”

Shipowners are looking at new energy carriers and fuels as part of the solution – whether this is biofuels, methanol, ammonia, hydrogen and LNG – and will need bunkering infrastructure in ports.

“We will need investments in bunkering and services to help vessels in ports,” said Mr de Vries. He said investment is also required in technologies for cutting emissions in ports. “Innovation is key,” he said.

This keynote address was followed by a view from the quayside from two port authorities in a roundtable debate.

They shared their knowledge, experiences and best practices for exceeding current and future requirements for safe and sustainable harbour operations.

“We will need investments in bunkering and services to help vessels in ports”

Port of Antwerp-Bruges manager for nautical and fleet operations Peter Degroote explained how investment is central to driving the introduction of new fuels and power technologies.

Around 85% of the port authority’s own emissions comes from its fleet of tugs, pilot boats and patrol vessels, which is why it is actively investing in testing new fuels.

“We have taken responsibility in innovation before someone tells us to do so,” said Mr Degroote.

“We are actively taking a lead, with our first methanol-fuelled tug coming into operation in the next couple of weeks and the first hydrogen tug coming later this year.”

Port of Antwerp-Bruges has also invested in new hybrid-electric patrol vessels for testing these propulsion technologies.

Mr Degroote explained how there would be a mix of new fuels and technologies in its future fleet: “It is selecting the most efficient tugs and fuels that match our operations.”

Port of Antwerp-Bruges will offer bunkering of alternative fuels and different energy sources to port service vessels and ships in the future, starting with supplies to its own fleet.

“There will be a mix of new fuels and technologies in the future fleet”

“Ports will be central to the energy transition; they will be playgrounds for innovation,” said Mr Degroote.

“We are open to support alternative fuels. There is no need for the silver bullet as we can support everything and provide the best options for shipping,” he said.

On the need for innovation, Mr Degroote said there is need for digital networks and communications between shipping and marine service providers.

He also explained how remote control of inland barges has started around the port of Antwerp and this will be expanded over time to include larger vessels.

Top executives from Port of Antwerp-Bruges and Port of Rotterdam were on the panel at TUGTECHNOLOGY ’23

Port of Rotterdam director for nautical developments, policy and planning Ben van Scherpenzeel said a digital platform has been introduced in the port for sharing data between stakeholders, shipping companies, terminals, pilots and tug operators.

“We need to align marine services with requirements from the ships and the berths,” he said.

Information from ship agencies, such as an announcement of when the ship is ready to leave its berth in a terminal, would be useful to tug operators.

“The half hour before departure is important for the operation of tugs and planning rest hours,” said Mr van Scherpenzeel.

“We need to align marine services with requirements from the ships and the berths”

This information would enable tug operators and pilots for planning schedules for tugs to safely manoeuvre the ship from its dock and out of the harbour.

“We all need to work together – nautical service providers with shipping lines and shipping companies,” he added.

Mr van Scherpenzeel expects this can be expanded to just-in-time port arrivals of ships, where vessels are sailed at optimal speeds to reduce emissions during trans-ocean voyages.

When they arrive at the port, the terminal berth, pilots, tugboats and linesmen are ready to support the transit into the harbour and berthing at the quayside.

“We all need to work together”

“We need to manage peak demand and smooth operations across the day, to reduce tug idle time, optimise port operations and ensure berths are ready for ship arrivals,” said Mr van Scherpenzeel.

Port of Rotterdam is relocating tug berths and investing in charging stations so they are closer to ship terminals, ready for when vessels are set to leave the harbour.

TUGTECHNOLOGY ’23 has taken place 22-23 May in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The two-day conference, exhibition and awards alternates on a bi-annual basis with The International Tug & Salvage Conference, Exhibition & Awards as the industry’s must-attend event – in odd rather than even years.


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