Navigating the rivers and canals, no modality is as conscious of the environment as the inland navigation sector. Using this naturally occurring infrastructure can make a difference, because waterborne transport has the least impact on the environment. In addition, inland navigation has a natural and permanent advantage over other transport modalities due to its lower energy consumption per tonne kilometre. This ensures a CO2 emission that is 3x lower than road transport. Nonetheless, inland navigation must also seek to further reduce energy consumption and emissions, because in the area of air emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen (NOx) and particulate matter (PM10), there is still considerable room for improvement. In 2016, inland shipping must prove to be the cleanest transport modality.
CO2 (carbon dioxide) is the main greenhouse gas which is created by the burning of fuels. The capacity of a transport mode has a significant impact on this emission. Certainly in this area, inland shipping has an advantage over the other transport modalities. The fuel consumption per tonne kilometre is relatively very low due to the large volumes that the inland vessels can carry in one trip. Inland navigation’s share in the entire CO2 emission from the transport sector in the Netherlands is just 5%, while inland navigation’s share in the Netherlands’ transport performance amounts to 35%. Transport per ship emits 3 to 6 times less CO2 than by road.
The emission of NOx (nitrogen oxides) is responsible, inter alia, for acidification, ozone formation (smog) and for the greenhouse effect. By equipping ships with so-called SCR catalysts and soot filters, NOx emissions can be reduced to 90%.
PM10 is better known as particulate matter. The amount of particulate matter emissions depends also on the amount of sulphur in the fuel. From 2011, the entire inland shipping fleet will use a fuel with a lower sulphur content. Emissions of particulate matter will thus be reduced by 17%. The application of soot filters will have an even greater influence on particulate matter emissions. It will reduce the emissions by as much as 98%.
As with particulate matter, the level of emissions of SO2 (sulphur dioxide) is dependent on the amount of sulphur in the fuel. The sulphur content in the fuel of inland shipping vessels is higher than that of road transport. From 2011, inland shipping and road transport will receive the same low-sulphur fuel. Inland shipping will then be obliged to use this low-sulphur fuel, resulting in a drastic reduction of SO2 emissions.
NOx, particulate matter and SO2 emissions are the most harmful pollutants to public health, which is why the EU will initially focus on this area. The intention is to reduce the emissions by imposing more stringent requirements. By taking various measures, the NOx, particulate matter and SO2 emissions will be reduced to minimum units.
Actual emissions always depend on the amount, the distance and the age of the engine in the vehicle or vessel. Ships and trains are always more energy efficient compared to lorries, because they carry more cargo at a time. Ships emit three to six times less CO2 per tonne kilometre compared to lorries. As a result, this sustainable modality can maintain a substantial lead on road transport, also in the long-term.
The average lifespan of a ship and the engine is higher in the inland navigation sector than that of a vehicle in the road transport industry. This results in a lower replacement rate of capital equipment (such as the engine). A longer lifespan of replacement parts is also a component of sustainability.