One of the biggest brands of beer is Heineken, located in Alphen aan de Rijn. From this Dutch town, located about 30 kilometres from the sea, beer is shipped throughout the world for export. This export beer is bottled, and transported in carboard boxes by container. From the Port of Antwerp or the Port of Rotterdam, these containers are shipped over the world. The first part of the journey, from Alphen aan den Rijn to the seaports, is done by Combined Cargo Terminals (CCT), based in Moerdijk. This full-service transporter has its own cargo storage and transshipment terminal in Moerdijk, but also owns a fleet of inland vessels. .

Beer transporter’s goal is to sail without drinking a drop

Recently, CCT took delivery of a new vessel, designed specifically for the river transport of containers with beer. The ship, christened as Alphenaar will shuttle between the Alpherium terminal in Alphen aan den Rijn and the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. The company contracted captain Meine van der Knaap to oversee the design, building and outfitting of this ship.

Meine van der Knaap, owner’s representative: “One of the main goals of this new vessel was to make it possible to sail emission-free on the rivers IJssel and Gouwe, which are based in what we call the “green heart” of Holland. This covers about 30 per cent of the sailing route. The initial idea was to use a containerised battery, as the loading/unloading of the vessel takes too short period of time to charge fixed onboard batteries, and having the batteries in a container gives the option to charge batteries on shore while the ship is sailing. There would be three battery containers available, with only one on board at any time and the remaining two charging at a container terminal. Each container will have a capacity of 2,400 kWh, roughly 24 Tesla cars. For the time being, we are waiting for the certification of these containerised batteries, which we hope to be able to acquire around the end of the year. In any case, the power architecture is ready for it, being currently a diesel-electric propulsion system, with E-power supplied by an onboard generator.”

Hull Construction: Shipyard Orsova

Builder: Concordia Damen

Owner: Combined Cargo Terminals

Length over all: 90.0 m

Beam over all: 10.5 m

Depth: 3.60 m

Draft: 3.00 m

Main generator: 1 x Mitsubishi 603 kWe

Auxiliary generator: 1 x Mitsubishi 194 kWe

Stern trusters: 2 x Veth L-drive type VL-400 400 kW

Bow thruster: 1 x Veth steering grid VSG-1300L 478 kW

Max speed: 19 km/h


Crew 3

Cargo hold 52 / 104 TEU

Fuel tanks 39 m3

Fresh water tanks 17 m3

Ballast water tanks 920 m3

Sewage tanks 3 m3

Lub.oil tanks 1.3 m3

The difficulty to certify a containerised battery, compared to a fixed onboard battery bank – which was applied for example in Concordia Damen’s previous newbuild Sendo Liner – resides in the fire protection and ventilation requirements. The battery container will be carried in the cargo hold, among other containers, which is certified for dangerous goods, even though the intended initial cargo is beer. The proposed position is forward in the cargo hold, between the two “dummies”, a steel structure with the shape of a container, but with the hull shape protruding in the forward part. These dummies are used on the Alphenaar to house the main 603 kW generator on portside and the smaller 194 kW generator on starboard side. Both the exhausts of these generators, and the ventilation of these spaces pass through a trunk forward of the cargo hold up to the deck. The “lost space for containers” due to the hull shape is therefore used very effectively as engine rooms.

Because of this layout, there are 12 lengths of 40-foot containers available, which is more than usual for this length of ship. The first ship to feature this layout was For-Ever, built by Concordia Shipyards in 2011. For the Alphenaar, the hull shape was optimised in collaboration with Sastech (Lathum, Netherlands). A pram-type aftbody was designed with two gondolas which house the Veth L-drive thrusters. The dimensions of the ship are dictated by the limitations of the Gouwe river. The challenge is to get a maximum loading capacity within a ship length of 90 metres, a beam of 10.5 metres and a draught of 3.0 metres. A part of this equation is achieved by moving the accommodation as far aft as possible. It is full-beam, single-level, and extends all the way to the transom, except for a void space of 1 metres at the aft due to a new collision-safety requirement. The aft mooring deck is therefore located on top of the accommodation, accessible by stairs from the side decks.

Meine van der Knaap: “Even though electric propulsion was the basis, we still had the choice between conventional drive shafts with an e-motor or azimuth stern thrusters. We opted for the thrusters, because the efficiency was near-identical, but with better manoeuvrability. In particular, when a ship has to make a crash stop, braking by rotating the L-drives to provide thrust aftwards is a lot faster than by reversing the thrust on a conventional shaft. I have managed to avoid three accidents in this way during my career as a captain. The distance to come to a full stop is reduced from 350 metres (on For-Ever) to only 150 metres on Alphenaar. Furthermore, during the crash stop, you still have controllability.”

Until she can sail also on battery power, Alphenaar is restricted to ‘only’ three sailing modes. She can sail up to 10 km/h on the small 194 kW generator, then up to 19 km/h on the larger 603 kW generator, and even a bit faster (or upwind at the same speed) with both generators running in parallel. The power network runs at 600V, which is reduced to 400V for the board net consumers, such as pumps and reduced further to 220V for the accommodation consumers. The entire electrical installation, including navigation and communication equipment, was done by Oechies Elektrotechniek from Rotterdam. All the thrusters and the variable frequency drives are watercooled with boxcoolers from Blokland. With the diesel generators far forward and down in the dummies, and equipped with exhaust silencers, the accommodation and wheelhouse are extremely quiet.

While Alphenaar is not family/private-owned but company-owned, the ship owner made effort to provide a home-like accommodation, in which each captain has his own bedroom, and each crew member his own (bunk) bed, making the crew rotations every fortnight (or every month for the A/Bs) a very simple procedure. The captain, usually Dutch or Belgian, and the crew, usually from the Philippines, each have completely separate accommodations, including a dedicated kitchen. It’s this amount of privacy and comfort that helps retaining crew, and pays off in the long run. A tasteful interior decoration initiated by Mrs. van der Knaap gives you that extra feeling of being at home. Electrical floor heating is provided throughout, which results in spaces heating up quickly when occupied. The ship sails with a single crew of three persons, which limits the sailing time to 16 hours per day as a maximum, with the rest usually spent in cargo loading/unloading.

The side decks are noticeably wide, and this is because of the ample ballast capacity in the wing tanks. 1,000 tons of ballast can be taken onboard, allowing the ship to pass under bridges of seven metres, even when loaded with three layers of empty high-cube containers on the way back to Alphen aan den Rijn. The wheelhouse is mounted on a hydraulic pedestal which makes it possible to pass the bridges en route. In addition to bridge passings, this is done during loading/unloading of containers, as the last row of containers is just centimetres away from the wheelhouse. Sturdy container guides prevent damages to the (lowered) wheelhouse.

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The attention to details and safety is visible throughout. A nice example are the engine room floor gratings. Rather than being made of closed plating, these are plastic gratings, giving perfect visibility to the bilges – meaning a leakage is spotted immediately – and to the valves and pumps under the bilge floor. Another example are the sturdy full-height handrails around the deck, allowing the crew to work on deck without lifejackets. Concordia Damen subcontracted the complete engine room outfitting to CCM3, which are located in the same building at ground level. The hull was built in Romania, and transported to Werkendam by a pusher tug. All paint, from hull and tank painting in Romania up to the final layer applied in Werkendam, was supplied by Nelf Marine Paints.

On every trip, Alphenaar will be able to carry 52 40-foot containers, which corresponds to 2,500,000 bottles of Heineken beer. Once the battery container is certified and implemented, it is expected that the full six-hour trip from Alphen aan den Rijn to Rotterdam can be done without a single drop of fuel. In Rotterdam, the vessel will take empty containers onboard, as well as a fully-loaded battery container to make the return trip to Alphen aan den Rijn, where another battery container is being charged during the roundtrip. The expectation – taking into account the lifecycle of a battery and replacement costs – is that sailing purely on shore power will be more or less break-even in costs compared to sailing driven by the diesel generator.

Once the configuration with containerized batteries is certified by the authorities, the Alphenaar will be the first inland container vessel to operate in this way, helped by the fact that she sails on a dedicated route. If and when a container-exchange infrastructure develops along the inland waterways, and the cost of batteries has been reduced to an acceptable level, Alphenaar may ultimately be the first pure-electric inland vessel of many.