New ideas for inland shipping

Extremely low river levels are increasingly common in the summer as prolonged droughts during the European spring leave the major rivers narrower and shallower. The inland shipping sector has adapted by carrying less cargo and seeking the deepest channels. But there is a smarter way, says Rudy Negenborn.

Last year, the European Commission awarded Prof. Rudy Negenborn of 3mE’s Maritime & Transport Technology department almost €9 million for his Novimove research programme (Novel Inland Waterway Transport Concepts for Moving Freight Effectively). The goal is to increase the capacity of transport over water by 30% in 2030 compared to 2010. Transport by water has much lower CO2 emissions than transport by road, but the capacity of inland shipping is not being fully utilised due to poor connections and inefficient use of the available information.

“We plan to optimise transport over water along the entire corridor from Antwerp and Rotterdam to Basel,” says Negenborn. “We are examining three different things: ship design, smart navigation and logistics, i.e. which ship do you use for which cargo? Fluctuating water levels can have a major impact on what can and cannot be transported by water, and on the capacity of ships. One idea is a new ship design with inflatable floats on the side that reduce the draught.”

What does he expect will be the most tangible outcome of the research? “In four years’ time, we will have a system that allows us to determine which combination of innovations will bring the most logistic improvements, whereby simulations will allow us to demonstrate the benefits of the innovations. We will also have two ‘demonstrators’: a smart lock planning system (based on the communication between a lock and a ship), and a scale model of a vessel type with adjustable draught.”

One idea is a new ship design with inflatable floats on the side that reduce the draught.

TU Delft joins 21 other parties in the consortium: knowledge institutions, transport companies, port authorities and technology developers. "We can now continue to develop many of the ideas for fundamental research in the department with our external partners,” says Negenborn. The Novimove programme is one of four research programmes in the field of inland shipping innovation funded by the European Horizon 2020 programme. The programme started in the middle of last year and will run for four years. Research leader Negenborn expects the first public demonstrations in the course of 2022.