An all but emission-free container terminal

HHLA’s Container Terminal Altenwerder is not simply one of the world’s most state-of-the-art container handling facilities. As testbed and research laboratory, it is the site for pioneering work for the future


Electric propulsion is the mobility system of the future. So far, Germany has not exactly shone as a pioneer in this area. Its automotive industry for a long time overlooked the trend. Now it is striving to catch up. It’s all the more gratifying that a Hamburg-based port enterprise is among the leaders on electro-mobility. Hafen Hamburg und Logistik (HHLA) is well on the way towards making an existing facility the world’s first zero-emission terminal. The aim is complete electrification of the site, with all operations running entirely on eco-power.


Ever since opening in 2002, HHLA’s Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) has been among the world’s most state-of-the-art facilities. With its automated, software-based processes, and even then a high degree of electrification and extremely productive use of space, from the start CTA was seen as a milestone in terminal development. Reason to sit back? No Way! With its innovations, HHLA is constantly taking its CTA further into the future. In short, the facility is now a testbed and research lab doing pioneering work for tomorrow and beyond.


One of its biggest achievements was the deployment of driverless AGVs - Automated Guided Vehicles - to transport containers from the waterside to block storage. The first diesel-powered vehicles were followed by low-emission diesel-electric AGVs. First battery-powered heavy-load vehicles with lead batteries entered service in 2011. In autumn 2016, the prototype of an AGV using modern lithium-ion technology then transported containers across CTA for the first time. Tests of operation using an automated charging station proved successful.


In April 2018, HHLA announced the acquisition of 25 of these AGVs powered by ion-lithium batteries. These should enter service at CTA before the end of the year. By the end of 2022, the fleet of almost 100 AGVs here should have been completely converted to using lithium-ion batteries. In addition, twelve charging stations will have been installed to reinforce the present six.

New AGVs charge their lithium-ion batteries automatically at one of the charging stations. 


The new e-vehicles score, not just for sustainability, but are attractively economical. With the ratio of energy used to actual propulsion output of diesel AGVs, they are three times more efficient than their first-generation diesel-powered predecessors. Additional advantages of lithium-ion batteries are a charging time of around one and a half hours, and longer working life. In addition, they weigh just four tons, compared to twelve for lead batteries. Unlike those, they even require no maintenance. That cuts costs and reduces workshop downtime. 


Very close to the aim of an emission-free container terminal

“In the past, AGVs were CTA’s heaviest fuel consumers,” explains Jan Hendrik Pietsch, HHLA’s Sustainability and Energy Management Officer. “We had been consuming five million litres of diesel here every year, so our sustainability strivings at CTA are focussed on the AGV.” With some success, since the new eco-power AGVs will in future produce annual savings of around 15,500 tons of CO2 and 118 tons of nitrogen oxide. “We are therefore very close to our aim of an emission-free container terminal,” said Pietsch.


As the last section of the terminal, diesel-powered vehicles are only still in use for transporting containers between electrified block storage and the container rail terminal. “Yet there too we are already planning for the future,” said the ecology expert. “At the end of 2017 we successfully completed a research project into operation of tractors powered by ion-lithium batteries.” Along with Konecranes, the prototype of an electric tractor plus a container with a charger has been developed and exhaustively tested with CTA as the testbed. Just when the tractors can be converted to battery power, however, is still not clear. Pietsch: “So far, no series production facility exists. And without this, nothing goes. We are not manufacturers. In addition, we shall require functioning maintenance, service and spare-part infrastructure. We are seemingly a step ahead of development.” All the same, he is convinced that the next few years will bring further progress on the market, enabling these last diesel-powered vehicles to be converted to electric operation. Then the world’s first totally emission-free container terminal world actually become reality.




This project has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).