Greening Inland Waterway Transport in The Innovation Lab

Context of Transport Climate Action

The sector of Inland Waterway Transport (IWT) has a solid track record when it comes to its environmental performance. Measured in grams CO2 per ton kilometer, none of its competing modalities are as fuel-efficient as IWT.

To maintain this superior CO2 performance, the sector is paying attention to sector-wide innovations. These innovative developments are being facilitated in the Innovation Lab, led by the Dutch Expertise- and Innovation Centre (EICB). Its principal aim is to develop technical solutions for retrofitting existing vessels with environmentally friendly technologies. The Lab consists of 40 members all of whom have an important role in the IWT sector (for example engine manufacturers and suppliers).

Special attention is being given to retrofit solutions for the current European IWT fleet, as approximately 4,200 vessels (out of a total of 7,500) will have to be compliant with stricter European emission regulations in the near future.

Currently the focus of the Innovation Lab is on reducing NOx and particulate matter (PM). As there is an internal drive to reduce the fuel consumption overall, it is not thought that presently a CO2 reduction target should be one of its explicit goals.


The Innovation Lab provides a context to exchange insights on state-of-the-art technologies within the inland waterway transport sector. Stakeholders from public institutions, academia, private companies and the industry periodically come together in the lab to share their thoughts. They discuss their experiences, expected bottlenecks and solutions to the environmental challenges in IWT and help in the process of developing innovative technologies. The involvement of end users in the Innovation Lab ensures that technological solutions respond to the market needs. 

The Innovation Lab encompasses two levels of interaction:

  • A higher level ThinkTank assembly helps to get a clear view of the broader picture in terms of financing, legal contexts as well as general state-of-the-art of different technological solutions (and how they interact).
  • Sub-level working groups are where most of the practical work is done. These groups are based on specific sailing profiles and their most suitable solutions. There is for example a group working on LNG and one working on after treatment systems.

Currently the Innovation Lab consists of 40 members. Members include European shipping companies VOF Anda and NPRC, engine suppliers Wartsilla and Pon and solution providers Emigreen and Discom.

Through constant communication and dissemination activities, the Innovation Lab continuously attracts innovative ideas and requests by partners who want to be involved.



In its initial stage, the Innovation Lab was funded by the Port of Rotterdam. This was based on a surcharge on the port dues for the most polluting ships that call in at Rotterdam port. The port uses differentiated port dues for inland ships, based on their environmental performance.

In addition, the Innovation Lab receives additional project funding from regional and national authorities.

A European roll-out of the concept is foreseen as from 2016. This will be possible due to funding by European institutions in combination with private funding.


The Innovation Lab’s work has resulted in numerous solutions that have been implemented on vessels. Altogether, the emission reduction potential of the innovations which have been worked on in the Innovation Lab are:

  • 80% NOx reduction (by using catalytic reduction systems);
  • 95 % PM reduction (by using particulate filters);
  • 20% CO2 reduction (by using LNG or diesel electric propulsion Tank-to-propeller emissions).

Potentail for scaling up

The Innovation Lab is currently working on implementing its current activities on a European level. The full-scale roll out in Europe’s IWT sector has been foreseen in 2016.

The methodology of bringing stakeholders of a transport sector together and motivating them to work together in working groups can also be an inspiration to other transport sectors. Similar initiatives could also be organized in other geographic locations.

Selected references









Europe, Mitigation,


Expertise- and Innovation Centre Barging (EICB)


Khalid Tachi, director 0031 (0)10 7 98 98 30

"The Innovation Lab unites key players of the inland waterway sector and joins their efforts to find answers to today’s most important questions: ships’ optimal environmental performance"
-Khalid Tachi, director EICB