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  • Writer's pictureFirst Port Global (FPG)

Electric tug for Auckland

Ports of Auckland has ordered the “world’s first full-size, fully electric port tug” from Damen.

Damen will build a fully electric tug for Auckland
Damen will build a fully electric tug for Auckland

Ports of Auckland has placed an order for a new Damen RSD-E Tug 2513 with a 70 tonne bollard pull. The tug, which will be delivered in 2021, will have the same bollard pull as the port’s strongest diesel tug Hauraki, also built by Damen.

The move is a significant step for a New Zealand port, all of which rely on diesel and diesel electric yard equipment for their landside container handling.

Auckland, however, wants to get to zero emissions from its own operations by 2040.

Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson
Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson

"In 2016 we set ourselves the goal of being zero emission by 2040," said Tony Gibson, CEO of Ports of Auckland. "We set this goal because we recognise that urgent action is needed on climate change, and we wanted to be part of the solution. However, setting that goal created a tough challenge. We have a lot of heavy equipment, like tugs, and in 2016 there were no zero emission options.”

"When we first looked into buying an electric tug in 2016, there was nothing on the market," said Allan D’Souza, Ports of Auckland’s General Manager Marine, Engineering and General Wharf Operations. "We talked to several manufacturers about building a battery powered tug. They told us we were dreaming. Hybrid tugs were possible, they said, but not battery. No way."

D’Souza and Marine Technical Superintendent Rob Willighagen persevered, and eventually Damen shipyards took up the challenge. "I would like to acknowledge Damen for their work on this project since 2016,” said Gibson. “They have invested a significant amount of time and money to develop this innovative vessel. In the fight against climate change, partnerships are important, and Damen have been a great partner," he added.

Auckland’s electric tug could mark the start of an heightened national focus within New Zealand on marine emissions at its ports. Some ports are planning for shore power, but for now none of the country’s ports are able to connect a vessel to the grid, despite most of its container terminals being located in urban harbours.

The electric tug is the first step in Auckland’s plan to be zero emissions by 2040, and the project highlights that publicly owned ports are willing to invest in clean technology. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said, "Commissioning the world’s first fully electric large tug represents a strong commitment by Auckland and its port to reducing carbon emissions and achieving our carbon zero target. "It’s great for the environment, reducing pollution in the city centre and cutting back carbon emissions. The life of the tug is around 25 years. By going electric now, we save 25 years of diesel pollution and a net reduction in costs of around $2.5 million because it is so much cheaper to operate.”

The electric tug costs nearly twice as much as a diesel, which is a significant financial hurdle as the port, which has to generate a profit for the city, had to fund the purchase itself without emissions reductions grants and funding that ports elsewhere can access for clean equipment. “However, we are prepared to wear that up-front cost because our commitment to reduce emissions has to be more than just words. Fortunately, the cost of operating an electric tug is less than a third of the cost of running a diesel tug. So while we pay more up front, over the life of the tug we’ll save around $12 million in operating costs, making our electric tug cheaper in the long term," Gibson added.

Matching the bollard pull of the port’s existing diesel tugs will be a challenge. According to Auckland, there is an electric tug under construction for use in Turkey, “but it is small (18.7m), is designed with a conventional twin screw propulsion line (as opposed to the Azimuth propulsion in the RSD-E 2513) and will work in a very narrow and tight environment”. Nevertheless Auckland is confident Daman can deliver an electric vessel that matches the duty cycle of its diesel tug Hauraki.

Auckland wants the new electric tug to match the performance of its diesel vessel Hauraki.
Auckland wants the new electric tug to match the performance of its diesel vessel Hauraki.

“Our new e-tug will be able to do three to four shipping moves on a full charge, or around three to four hours work (one shipping move takes an hour on average). A fast charge will take about two hours. This is just what we need,” said Gibson.”

The electric tug will have two 1000kW back-up diesel generator sets (IMO Tier 3 compliant) onboard to provide sufficient power for a 40-tonne bollard pull in the event of a power failure or the need for longer operation. The port stressed that this should only be required in an emergency or unusual situation once or twice a year.

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