Chinese company launches battery-powered cargo container

The ship has swappable batteries that will help it traverse the nearly 600-mile (965 km) inland route without any emissions.
Ameya Paleja
The 700TEU after being floated from a shipyard recently
The 700TEU after being floated from a shipyard recently

Cosco Shipping 

Chinese operator Cosco Shipping Heavy Industry has launched a battery-powered electric container ship on the Yangtze, the third-longest river in the world, media reports suggest. The ship was floated from a shipyard at Yangzhou and is currently being referred to by its hull number N997 and is expected to serve as a pilot for future electrification efforts.

As Western countries push the transition to electric vehicles to curb their carbon emissions, other contributors, such as long-haul air and maritime transport, are still awaiting technological advances.

There have been some moves from private players such as Yara Birkeland, which is not just electric but also autonomous. But the distance traveled by the ship is not even 10 miles (14 km). While it does solve the problem of its parent company, it is hardly a model to overhaul maritime transport.

The electric container ship

The N997 has been in the works for the past year, and the dry dock assembly began in March 2023. The 393-foot (119 m) long ship weighs 10,000 tons and has a carrying capacity for 700 standard-sized containers, earning it the moniker 700 TEU.

For its 600-mile (965 km) voyage on the river, the ship has been equipped with two 900 kW propulsion engines. To overcome range anxiety, the battery packs on the ships are completely swappable and have been housed in 20-foot containers to facilitate the swap. Together, the battery packs are estimated to occupy the space of 36 containers, a small sacrifice for the possible reduction in emissions.

The approach makes perfect sense for an inland route so that the ship does not have to spend hours charging itself, and the battery packs can also be repurposed on other ships operating on the route in the future.

A smart ship system will be tested alongside the trials to help the vessel manage the resources and plan its speed and arrival time based on multiple factors.

China shows the way

Cosco's attempt at electrification of container ships isn't a one-off. The company is already building N998, the successor to this ship. The company is already the founding member of the Electric Ship Innovation Alliance, a consortium of 80 organizations working on various aspects of electric propulsion from manufacturing to research, CleanTechnica reported.

Chinese company launches battery-powered cargo container
Stock image of a cargo ship on an inland route

China's shipbuilding industry accounts for 44 percent of the ships built worldwide, and the country can single-handedly put electric drive trains and massive battery packs into them. It has also already demonstrated this ability by floating a fleet of several hundred thousand electric buses and trucks on its highways. It is also heavily involved in processing critical minerals required for manufacturing battery packs.

Alongside changing the world's transportation, China is keen to clean up its home turf. Inland shipping in China accounts for 50 percent of global traffic, and decarbonizing this is one of the country's priorities as it aims for net zero emissions.