DigiPACT|Pioneering Smarter Shipping to Reduce Ship Emissions

How can we make sure that ships sailing automatically in the port of Rotterdam emit less particulate matter and CO2? This was the central question addressed by the Resilient Delta project called DigiPACT, conducted in collaboration with Deltares and DigiShape from November 2022 to May 2023. The project laid the foundation for real-time adjustments of routes and speeds for autonomous ships. This inspiring innovation, demonstrated through model ships, paves the way for future large-scale implementation. 

Testing in an operational setting

“In this project, we have enabled ships to automatically utilize environmental information in real operational scenarios,” states Prof Mark van Koningsveld of TU Delft Civil Engineering and Geosciences (CiTG). “The outcome: enhanced computational models, open source code, and software that will enable autonomous ships in the port to navigate in a more environmentally friendly manner.”

Fedor Baart of Deltares, in collaboration with CITG master’s student Max van Gijn, played a key role in developing and testing the control modules for the model ships in the pond. Baart explains, “Within DigiPACT, we have developed several simulations that will soon enable ships to navigate through the port more efficiently. For example, ships can adjust their speed if the berth is not yet available or wait for favorable tidal currents. Additionally, the route can be optimized by determining which terminal to visit first. These strategies are known as ‘green steaming’ and ‘green routing’ respectively, and can also be combined for maximum effectiveness.”

DigiPACT navigates in real-time

The simulations conducted in DigiPACT were developed within a digital twin of the Dutch waterway network, encompassing the port of Rotterdam. A relevant portion of this network was projected into TU Delft’s pond. Within existing shipping simulation software (OpenCLSim), essential information regarding the port and route selection was integrated. The display illustrates the ships’ movements within the pond, their speed, berth availability, and the location of quay walls. Accompanying the model ships is a virtual operator who navigates alongside, continuously assessing the optimal route and engine positioning, providing advice several times per second. Ultimately, these simulations enabled us to achieve real-time control over autonomously sailing ships.

“This real-time routing of a ship based on new information is very innovative and logistically very important,” explains Prof Dr Rob Zuidwijk of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). “Through DigiPACT, we learned a lot about how technical and logistical aspects of navigating ships are related and how ‘the devil is in the details’. In the follow-up project PATH2ZERO, among others, we can put these results to good use.”

Synergy between collaboration partners leads to new insights

The innovative nature of DigiPACT owes much to the synergy among its collaboration partners, each bringing unique expertise. The Erasmus University contributed scientific knowledge from the logistics domain, Deltares developed and tested the modules, DigiShape and Resilient Delta were involved from organizational and legal perspectives, and TU Delft provided technical scientific knowledge and facilities. The CiTG faculty, for example, incorporated existing ship simulation software (OpenCLSim) and added information about the Rotterdam port and quays.

The foundation for the real-time aspect of the research came from the ResearchLab Autonomous Shipping (RAS) at TU Delft. They provided their framework for autonomous navigation, facilities for real-time data collection and system monitoring, the Robotic Operating System, and the test basin. Bart Boogmans from the RAS lab explains, “The goal of our framework for autonomous shipping is to simplify interactions with ships. We handle many things behind the scenes so that researchers and students can focus on the elements of their interest. In this case, it was the planning layer of shipping automation. This use case provides us with insights into areas we can improve, and we will incorporate the developed modules into our toolbox.”

The municipality of Rotterdam was also involved in providing input on the challenges the city faces. “There is still limited understanding of the measures a city can take to reduce emissions,” notes Fedor Baart. “For example, where should speed restrictions be implemented? And where should berths and shore power facilities be added? Models, such as those developed in DigiPACT, can provide policymakers with crucial information to make the best choices in complex settings like these.”

Open-source code available to everyone

To implement the insights achieved within DigiPACT on a practical scale in waterways, some further steps need to be taken. The NWO-NWA project PATH2ZERO, which involves DigiShape, Deltares, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and TU Delft, will incorporate the developed code into a comprehensive international initiative to build a digital twin for waterways. The final report and thesis by Max van Gijn are available for anyone who wishes to further analyze or develop them.
In the coming autumn, the partners will organize a hackathon to generate solutions for challenges faced by stakeholders such as the municipality, environmental agencies, and private entities. Fedor Baart remarks, “Ultimately, our goal is to move towards low-emission or even emission-free navigation. I hope that what we have developed will have a tangible impact on ships’ engines in a few years’ time!”

More information
– Dataset on Zenodo
– The final report with the developed code can be requested from Fedor Baart, data science specialist at Deltares and TU Delft
– Master thesis by Max van Gijn: “Bridging the gap between strategy and operations in autonomous maritime logistics.”
– The OpenCLSim code can be found here
– Resilient Delta: Marije Wassenaar

– DigiShape: Chris Karman
– TU Delft: Vittorio Garofano and Bart Boogman