The trial operation of the shiplift at China’s Three Gorges Dam began on Sunday.
The Three Gorges Dam project started construction 22 years ago, and the shiplift, designed by a Chinese and German team, is the largest and most sophisticated in the world, according to the China Three Gorges Corp., the state-owned company responsible for its construction.
The water level behind the dam is up to 113 meters (370 feet) higher than the downstream river, and the elevator is designed to handle ships with a maximum displacement of about 3,000 tonnes.
It is equipped with a water chamber 120 meters (394 feet) long, 18 meters (59 feet) wide and 3.5 meters (11 feet) deep. The chamber, its mechanical systems and the water weigh 15,500 tons altogether. The ship lift's design uses a helical gear system to climb or descend a toothed rack, and lift time is around eight minutes.
The shiplift complements the five-tier ship lock next to it, which is also the world's largest and has allowed ships to pass through since 2003. The ship lock is running at full capacity, with its cargo throughput standing at 119.6 million tons in 2015.
It takes ships up to four hours to use the lock, and the lift will cut this time to less than an hour.
The Three Gorges project is designed to achieve flood control, transportation and power generation.