City Barging pushes zero-emission city logistics forward

City Barging transports construction goods by water in the (inner) urban area with eight zero-emission pusher tugs. The Rutte Groep subsidiary thus makes an important contribution to the Green Deal Zero Emission City Logistics MRA, an initiative of Amsterdam Economic Board. For example, the satellite tower of the Nederlandsche Bank has already sailed out of the city via the Amstel river.

Smart and clean city logistics do not happen overnight. We need frontrunners, paving the way for others to opt for clean logistics transport in the future. Innovation is in the DNA of Rutte Groep a family-owned business in civil engineering, circular construction and transport. Director Rick Rutte: “My great-grandfather, who founded the company, did not necessarily adopt a sustainable ambition, but did handle things and materials with care. That has always played an important role in our company.”

Electric pusher tugs

In 2017, Rutte Groep won the ‘Smart and clean construction logistics’ competition for City Barging, which Amsterdam Economic Board co-organised . With its own financing of 1.5 million euros and a co-financing of 750,000 euros from MRA governments, City Barging has been able to expand its fleet to eight pushers, half of which are emission-free. “In 2018, nobody offered electric pusher tugs in the market, so we looked for parties with whom we could develop them,” says Rutte. “Battery technology for cars was already quite advanced at the time, only a car takes about 30 tons of cargo and a pusher tug has to be able to handle 200 to 300 tons. As a result, we had to look at costly undeveloped initiatives and our boats now have hefty battery packs.”

Another challenge was certification. European requirements for pusher tugs were mainly aimed at diesel boats. Rutte: “We were operating in a gray area, but luckily the parties that had to grant approval eventually showed a flexible attitude.”

Underwater parking garage

In order to gain experience, City Barging initially mainly provided transport for other projects within the Rutte Group, for example for a number of quay wall projects. A project with Mobilis, which started in 2019, was another important lesson for the company. “Mobilis is building a parking garage under the Singelgracht for which the canal had to be completely excavated. We have shipped about 100,000 cubic meters of soil emission-free for this purpose. Mobilis came to us because the municipality highly valued emission-free transport in the tender.” Thanks to this project, City Barging learned about the pushing capacity of the vessels in relation to their range, which is important for the further organization of their offer.

A project for New Horizon also proved instructive. That company disassembled the satellite tower of De Nederlandsche Bank on the Frederiksplein in Amsterdam. “We transported the dismantled building over water and stored it in a warehouse. We now also include this combination of storage and transhipment in City Barging’s offer. Material flows come from everywhere and sometimes you have to be able to buffer them near Amsterdam in order to transport them efficiently.”

Big ambitions

At the end of last year, two other Amsterdam contractors, Mobilis and H. Van Steenwijk, took a strategic interest in City Barging. “We are very pleased with this significant capital injection,” says Rutte. “Now we can further increase our coverage and expand our services. Moreover, these kinds of collaborations are the key to success. We can learn from each other’s experiences.”

“Collaboration is the key to success”

One such new service is the emission-free delivery of concrete over water. “That is quite revolutionary,” says Rutte. “Because it takes longer over water, transporting concrete is difficult. We have now made a mobile concrete plant on one of our boats that allows us to make concrete on location with water from the canal.”

City Barging also has an off-the-grid charging solution that can be used anywhere in the city to fast-charge boats. Rutte: “We can charge a boat within an hour. Builders with electrical construction equipment can also make good use of this capacity, so we are looking for partnerships for this.”

Rutte Groep will frequently use the services of City Barging in the coming years for the quay walls and bridges in Amsterdam that the company is working on. “We use the mobile concrete plant for this and are also investigating whether we can make prefab quay walls that we can transport over water.” Furthermore, thanks to a subsidy from Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland, the company is also converting a pusher boat into a hydrogen-powered boat.

Towards clean and smart city logistics

According to Rutte, what else is needed to boost smart and clean city logistics? “The new government wants us to be climate neutral by 2050 and I think that could be reflected a little more in governmental tender criteria,” says Rutte. “There needs to be more focus on zero-emission transport and zero-emission implementation, and parties must be prepared to pay for that.” Rutte also argues for a better charging infrastructure both along the water and on dry land. “It is still too interesting to come into the city using diesel fuel.”

There are still plenty of options for entrepreneurs who want to join the Green Deal ZES MRA, Rutte tips. “There are still many untapped subsidy opportunities for the switch to electric, so take a good look at what is possible for your company. And electric may be even more expensive to purchase, but if you look at the operational costs, it’s often cheaper. That’s worthy of consideration.”

Text: Mirjam Streefkerk
Image: City Barging

8 February 2022

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