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Robot barges are taking over European canals — without fossil fuels

They're nicknamed the "Tesla of the Canals."

by Alex Lubben
Jan 25 2018, 6:00pm

The first fully electric, and possibly unmanned, barges are heading to European canals in August.

Nicknamed the “Tesla of the Canals,” the barges will run on huge, 20-foot-long electric batteries that can power them for up to 15 hours. At 170 feet long and 22 feet wide, the five first will hit the canals of the Netherlands and Belgium this summer, according to the Guardian.

They’re also capable of running entirely without a crew, though they’ll be manned at first while they’re being tested.

The boats are expected to take 23,000 diesel-powered trucks off the roads, according to the Guardian. And this round of barges is just the beginning: Another six of them, with more powerful batteries capable of running for 35 hours straight, are expected to hit the water some time down the line.

The barges’ manufacturer, Port-Liner, says these are the first ships to be powered entirely by fossil-free methods, according to industry publication The Loadstar. The energy used to charge the batteries will come from solar, wind, and other renewable power sources.

The barges may be the first powered on carbon-neutral power, but they’re not the first electric boats. Two electric ferries are already running a 2.5-mile route between Sweden and Denmark. And a Chinese freighter designed, ironically, to carry coal, launched in December.

Cover image: The container barge La Primavera passes Kehl, Germany, 22 August 2017. (Patrick Seeger/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)