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Are autonomous river vessels the future of water freight?

A government-backed collaboration between Cory and BAE Systems announced last week (Thursday 16 September 2021) promises to design, develop and demonstrate technologies for the reduction of emissions from marine vessels.

As part of the Department for Transport (DfT) and Innovate UK’s Maritime Demonstration Competition, the study will consider river-based cargo vessels as a use case for low and zero emission technology with autonomous capabilities.


Beginning in September as a feasibility study, the project will explore a wide range of technologies, including vessel propulsion and systems, on-vessel power generation, low carbon storage, port and shore side solutions and autonomous smart shipping technologies. The feasibility study is due to be completed by March 2022 with the aim of producing a clear path towards demonstrable technologies.


“Cory’s collaboration with BAE Systems is an important, coordinated effort to reduce shipping emissions and explore the potential of autonomous propulsion,” said Fran Comerford-Cole, Cory’s Director of Logistics, “As a business, we are proud of our stewardship of the Thames and the river’s role in reducing the environmental impact of our operations. We want to take this a step further by helping to drive innovation in lower and zero carbon marine vessels. In turn, this will help the UK on its road – or voyage – to net zero.”


Paul Simavari, Business Development Manager at BAE Systems, Marine Europe said: “We’re excited to collaborate with Cory on this project which will move the maritime sector forwards on the journey to get to zero. Cory’s experience of reducing harmful carbon emissions, combined with our expertise in low and zero emission electric propulsion, power management and vessel autonomy, will help develop innovate solutions to ensure that we are firmly on the pathway to net zero carbon.”


Cory recently announced that it had switched its fleet of tugs to run on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), a biofuel. The move followed successful trials that resulted in a reduction of net carbon dioxide emissions by 90%. Regarding the move, Cory’s CEO, Dougie Sutherland, said: “While we know this is a great step forward, we also recognise that using HVO is a temporary measure on the road to net zero, and that is why we are also exploring opportunities for zero carbon marine vessels."


Cory has been operating on the River Thames since the company’s incorporation 125 years ago in 1896. The current fleet of tugs are responsible for transporting more than one million tonnes of recyclable and non-recyclable waste per year. Cory’s use of the river to transport waste is unique in the UK and saves 100,000 truck movements annually, helping to keep roads safer, cleaner, and less congested.

Alexandra Herdman, Public Policy Manager, Logistics UK, said: “This government-backed partnership between Cory and BAE Systems shows what it is possible to achieve when different sectors collaborate. Logistics UK fully supports this project to decarbonise freight operations on the River Thames and we applaud the Department for Transport and Innovate UK for supporting this exciting venture as part of its Maritime Demonstration Competition.”


Published On: 23/09/2021 16:00:09


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