Port of Hamburg uses green ‘smart batteries’ to support the German energy transition

Driverless container transporters operating in the port of Hamburg, Germany, at the HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder, are being run on lithium-ion batteries instead of diesel. The new batteries are recharged using green energy sources and can be used as power storage units capable of feeding energy back into the local power grid when needed. This EU-supported project is making an important contribution to Germany’s and Hamburg’s transition to cleaner energy sources and is helping improve air quality across the region.

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Driverless container transporters in the Port of Hamburg, at the HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder, are contributing to better air quality. © CC0 Creative Commons Driverless container transporters in the Port of Hamburg, at the HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder, are contributing to better air quality. © CC0 Creative Commons

" With the high level of automation at Container Terminal Altenwerder, the terminal is already leading the way for container handling of the future. Through this project, HHLA is making yet another contribution to the Ministry’s air purification plan by using container transporters powered by lithium-ion batteries. "

Angela Titzrath, Chairwoman of HHLA’s Executive Board

Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) operates the Container Terminal Altenwerder, one of the most modern and eco-friendly container terminals in the world. The company runs a fleet of fully automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that move transport containers between ships and the yard. The AGVs are being switched over to lithium-ion batteries, which will result in a reduction of energy consumption of around 80 % per hour of operation.

The AGVs are automatically loaded at electric charging stations. By the end of 2022, a fleet of almost 100 AGVs will be completely switched to lithium-ion battery drive, plus 18 charging stations will be installed.

Successful transition

The AGVs are controlled via software that allows the batteries to be charged whenever much green energy – such as wind or solar – is being produced in northern Germany. In case of a drop in output, the AGVs’ flexible power storage systems can return unused energy back to the grid. All this can be achieved without any interruption to terminal operations. Moreover, lithium-ion batteries take in and give out electricity within seconds, which means they can help stabilise the grid and reduce power fluctuations.

From an economic point of view, the ratio of energy consumed to actual power output for lithium-ion battery-powered AGVs is three times higher than that of the diesel alternative. Other advantages of the batteries include the charging time – which is 1.5 hours – and their high durability. They weigh less than lead batteries, bringing the battery weight down from 12 to 4 tonnes. In addition, lithium-ion batteries do not require any upkeep, unlike lead-acid batteries. This reduces costs and downtime resulting from maintenance work.

Reducing emissions

When the transition to battery power is complete, the container terminal can expect to deliver an annual reduction in emissions of approximately 15 500 tonnes of CO2 and around 118 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide. As well as helping to provide cleaner air across Hamburg, the AGV conversion programme will save an estimated 5 million litres of diesel a year at the terminal.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Energy Transition and Cleaner Air in Hamburg: HHLA’s container transporters run on smart batteries instead of diesel” is EUR 61 500 000, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 7 782 000 through the “Hamburg ERDF” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Low-carbon economy”.


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