Prof. Gerd Holbach, TU Berlin

Lighthouse project: ELEKTRA

The focus was firmly on Germany’s climate policy goals during the development of the ELEKTRA canal push boat, whose technical and economic feasibility was tested by BEHALA and the TU Berlin. The aim was to incorporate inland vessels as a means of transportation in the logistical problem. The idea centred upon an emission-free hybrid/electrically driven experimental vehicle for use in the Berlin-Brandenburg region and for commercial operation between Berlin and Hamburg.

ELEKTRA impresses thanks to its unique main drive and the energy supply on board with freight transport. As an emission-free working vessel, it acts as a role model with respect to environmental requirements in sensitive regions. After all, the energy concept can be transferred to freight and passenger shipping as well as boating and is therefore forward-looking.

Prof. Holbach, what is so special about ELEKTRA?

ELEKTRA’s unique feature is its new energy system. ELEKTRA itself is merely the system carrier. At present, inland shipping is not, on the whole, CO2 neutral. This energy system is ideal for built-up areas in particular, as it is emission-free and guarantees noise protection. The idea of using hydrogen as a fuel was developed as far back as the 1960s. Together with H2 Energy, Hyundai is preparing the world’s first fleet of 1,000 fuel cell commercial vehicles, which will hit the streets of Switzerland as of 2019. Yet when it comes to freight traffic, ELEKTRA is a flagship project. This was all about proving that it is possible!

And what about cost effectiveness?

The investment costs are significantly higher than for comparable conventional push boats. The goal, however, is to achieve an efficiency in terms of operating costs like that seen with diesel drive technology. Yet, we can also put other aspects into the balance here: an additional use which is not immediately obvious is also conceivable. Elektra could function as an electricity supplier for a district, i.e., as a mobile power plant; the notion of integrated energy springs to mind here – comprising heat, energy and mobility!

That sounds interesting! When will we notice tangible changes in inland shipping?

A glance into the future: from a technical perspective, we will probably see well-engineered solutions emerge in five years’ time. That will then have an impact upon Europe’s inland waterways ten years from now. Hybrid technology will be more present then than we can even imagine today.


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Elektra – The film