Europe’s inland waterways provide a vast transportation network across and between countries. Most forms of aquatic transportation use Diesel engines due to their reliability, fuel efficiency and ease of repair. However in recent years diesel technology has been in the spotlight for the high volume of pollutants it produces and the associated health problems linked to air pollution.

Despite increased efficiency over their petrol counterparts, diesel engines produce larger quantities of nitrogen oxides and dioxides (NOx) and particulate matter. This contribution to air pollution alongside the other greenhouse gases they emit, has led to questioning whether there is a suitable greener alternative for heavy-duty vehicles available.

Even if waterway management organisations and fleet operators are willing to make the switch there are barriers that make this difficult, which primarily revolve around information sharing. There is a lack of research, therefore organisations are unlikely to invest without proof that the performance and reliability matches that of a Diesel engine. New technology is also often perceived as costly, whereas Diesel engines are very economical. As well as the difficulty in accessing accurate information due to conflicting views on the environmental benefits of green technologies.

The River project has worked to break down these barriers. River is supported by NIWE and Canal and River Trust. Project partners promote the use of greener technologies and educate stakeholders, providing them with the knowledge to drive change in this area. River partners maintain and expand the network of organisations which educate and enable the manufacture and use of greener technologies for waterways, with a primary focus on Oxyfuel and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

Oxyfuel and CCS allow combustion engines to burn pure oxygen instead of air and therefore produce no NOx and improve fuel consumption. It recaptures heat from the exhaust to increase the amount of power produced by the engine, as well as capturing CO2 and other gases produced – preventing them from entering the atmosphere.

By supporting a technology that is greener yet still familiar and ensuring organisations have access to the information they need to make informed decisions, River and its partner organisations are taking a pragmatic approach to tackling climate change.

Despite current uncertainties the aim is for Canal & River Trust to carry out ‘on water’ trials on the workboat fitted out with the oxy fuel combustion engine and carbon capture system, in the UK in Spring 2021.



Article written by Sian Steel, Canal and River Trust Volunteer