Port of the future – the Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA)

In Altenwerder, twenty years ago, colorful fishing boats lay comfortably at anchor in front of green dykes. Since 2002, the Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) of Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) has been shipping millions of containers every year. The highly automated terminal is one of the most modern terminals in the world.And the development of the site continues: In the future, the CTA will not only store global goods, but also energy: In early 2019, the CTA, together with partners, started a research project to further develop the CTA’s automated vehicles into mobile energy storage systems.

Automated junction between lake, road and rail 

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In contrast to organically grown freight ports, which have developed over years or centuries, the CTA has been clearly structured from start to finish, planned to save space and tested in computer simulations – even before the groundbreaking ceremony took place. The high-tech terminal is a hub of road, rail and water. It forms a bridge between huge international Post-Panamax cargo ships and the largest container terminal in Germany. The neighboring Kombi-Transeuropa Terminal Hamburg (KTH) manages freight trains on nine parallel tracks.

The container warehouse of the CTA consists of 26 storage blocks, each with two gantry cranes. Thanks to different sizes, the cranes can work in parallel. Software also takes over the order of the bearings. For example, it cleans up during rest periods in order to provide needed containers as quickly as possible.

Computer-controlled precision and automatic vehicles

Most of the terminal’s operations are controlled by software. Only the loading and unloading of trucks, chassis and ships is in the hands of human operators and crane operators. Automatic cats load the cargo on automatic transport vehicles, the so-called Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV). The degree of automation also creates a high degree of dependence on the computer systems used. For example, a computer failure in early March provoked a container jam in the Port of Hamburg. The disturbance could, however, be remedied after three hours.

The AGVs are also controlled by a software and represent an autonomous connection between the gantry cranes and the container storage. With the aid of 19,000 transponders, the computer-controlled vehicles find the fastest ways and independently search for charging stations and petrol stations. This 360 ° video provides a good overview on how the system works:

Mobile storage for the power grid – research project FRESH

The CTA’s AVG fleet is expected to consist of around 100 vehicles by 2022 and will be fully equipped with efficient and pollution-free lithium-ion batteries. A special feature of the CTA: Underutilized AGVs should then contribute to network stability as flexible power storage. The background: Renewable energy sources are often subject to weather-dependent fluctuations, the consequences of which can range from short delays of clocks to total power failure. One solution to this problem is virtual power plants: for example, they compensate for low production from one source to another, and surpluses are stored.

“The container terminal Altenwerder is one of the most modern transhipment points in the world. By 2022, the #AGV fleet is to be increased to 100 vehicles.“

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Together with Next Kraftwerke GmbH, HHLT is therefore testing the possibilities of using their AGVs as such mobile batteries. At the beginning of 2019, research and development work was started as part of the funding project FRESH. FRESH is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy within the Technology Program “ICT for Electromobility III”.

The CTA thus remains technologically trend-setting: highly automated, computer-coordinated and always in motion. In the near future, the premium port will also set ecological accents. With its soon up to 100 emission-free automatic vehicles, the CTA will become the powerful battery for renewable energy sources thanks to the FRESH project.