Increased electric mobility on urban waterways

Torqeedo is supplying the electric integrated propulsion system for a new aluminum solar-electric passenger ferry, which will enter service on Spain’s
Torqeedo is supplying the electric integrated propulsion system for a new aluminum solar-electric passenger ferry, which will enter service on Spain’s
The City of Suzhou in eastern China has completed deployment of a fleet of electric workboats powered by Torqeedo
The City of Suzhou in eastern China has completed deployment of a fleet of electric workboats powered by Torqeedo
The city of San Antonio in Texas put into service a fleet of 43 electric passenger boats for its iconic River Walk downtown canal system
The city of San Antonio in Texas put into service a fleet of 43 electric passenger boats for its iconic River Walk downtown canal system

Electric powered vessels – once a novelty – are now becoming a common sight on waterways in cities around the world, says Dr Christoph Ballin, CEO of Torqeedo.

“Electric mobility, which has already swept through the land transportation market, is now gathering momentum in the marine marketplace as well,” Dr Ballinsays. “The sustainability revolution is here and now and it’s time for everyone in the industry to embrace it.”

Torqeedo has been in business for 13 years, originally primarily focused on the leisure marine segment. In recent years, the company has increasingly moved into the commercial marine segment and now is a leading supplier of electric and hybrid systems for ferries, excursion vessels, water taxis, harbour working craft and other light commercial vessels. Torqeedo has more than 70,000 electric motors in service. The product range runs from 0.5 to 100kW.

Dr Ballin explained to Greenport that the drivers for waterway electrification are regulatory, technology and market forces.

Clean air and a healthy climate

Countries around the world are adopting aggressive timelines to phase out the sale of internal combustion engines. For instance, the United Kingdom and Germany are moving to require all new vehicles to be emission-free by 2030. France will ban sales of new diesel and gasoline vehicles by 2040, but the city of Paris is moving the compliance deadline ahead to 2030.

India is also said to be planning to require all new vehicles sold in the country to be emission-free by 2030, and China will require automakers building over 30,000 vehicles to meet a quota of at least 10% of them electric, or buy credits to offset the difference. In the United States, state governments are taking the lead and California is expected to adopt steep hikes in the registration price for non-electric vehicles and may embrace measures similar to those being adopted in China.

Regulators are now also turning their attention to reducing emissions on their urban waterways, as well as their roadways. The city of Amsterdam, for instance, has implemented a phased schedule to make its canals and waterways totally emission-free over the next few years. Most tourist boats less than ten metres are already required to be all electric and two-stroke outboard motors older than 2007 are not permitted for use in the city’s waters. All skippered, large, canal cruise boats must be emission-free by 2025. Amsterdam is also taking steps to create a public charging infrastructure for electric vessels.

The Paris Agreement will have a major impact in the commercial marine marketplace over the next few years. One of the key Paris goals is to peak global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as soon as possible, paving the way toward climate neutrality.  Some countries have already achieved peak GHG and are on the way toward lowering emissions, but even they must do more to counteract the global trend.

Though the maritime industry is not under the direct purview of the Paris Agreement, there are concurrent movements to ensure compliance. In April, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set concrete goals to peak GHG emissions from international shipping as soon as possible and to reduce total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 – consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals. While the decarbonisation of the oceangoing fleet presents many technological challenges, the IMO is clear in its ambition to reduce GHG emissions on a pathway to full decarbonisation.

Quickly achievable steps to reduce industry-wide GHG emissions by decarbonising the light commercial fleet, such as port security, support vessels and other workboats, could present significant opportunities over the near term.

Automotive technology transfer

Dr Ballin observes that the automotive industry, with its impressive economies of scale, is pushing the technical boundaries for batteries – the primary barrier to widespread acceptance of electric mobility. Torqeedo believes that energy density in batteries will continue to advance over the next few years.

He saysthat Torqeedo is leveraging automotive battery advances, having signed an agreement with BMW to marinise and integrate i3 and i8 automotive lithium batteries with its Deep Blue systems. He also pointed out that recharging is less of a barrier for marine watercraft than for land vehicles since most docks and terminals already have shore power hookups.

Similarly, marine electrification is benefiting from advances in sustainable energy, especially solar energy. As photovoltaic cells rapidly become more efficient, the feasibility of putting solar arrays on boats increases and, when coupled with the new generation of high-capacity batteries and more efficient charging systems, solar-electric propulsion becomes an attractive option for certain types of vessels.

The commercial case

Dr Ballin says a compelling economic argument can be made for electric propulsion – for certain types of boats and usage patterns. While a pure electric drive system is not currently suitable for larger vessels that travel at high speeds for long periods of time, electric provides unique advantages over gas or diesel systems for vessels with shorter run times, and range can be extended with a hybrid electric approach.

The initial capital expense for electric or hybrid propulsion is at present slightly higher than a comparable engine running on fossil fuels, but this is offset by lower opex in terms of fuel savings, reduced maintenance costs and increased uptime. Torqeedo offers a long-term battery capacity warranty of up to nine years after commissioning, guaranteeing that the batteries will retain at least 80 percent of their original capacity, even if they’re being used every day. In addition, according to Dr Ballin, electricity prices are less expensive and much more stable than fuel prices, eliminating fuel cost volatility.

“We calculate that if a boat’s annual fuel costs exceed €4,600, electric propulsion can provide a return on investment in just a few years. After that, the savings really start to kick in,” he says.

He citesan all-electric passenger excursion commissioned in Canada. The initial investment for the Torqeedo electric power system was about US$ 90,000 more than comparable gas-powered outboards, but the higher original cost was offset by US$26,000 per year in reduced operating expenses, giving a break-even point in 3.5 years.

Of course, there are intangible benefits as well, such as improving the health of crew and the enjoyment of passengers, by reducing their exposure to noise, exhaust, vibration and fumes.

Projects proliferate

Dr Ballin points to a number of interesting electric projects recently completed by Torqeedo.

For instance, Torqeedo is supplying the electric integrated propulsion system for a new aluminum solar-electric passenger ferry, which will enter service on Spain’s Mediterranean coast later this summer. The 18-metre catamaran, built by the Metaltec Naval shipyard in Cantabria, runs on electricity generated by 120 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of the vessel.

To maximise solar panel area for energy collection, Metaltec designed a set of deployable and retractable pneumatic wings. The propulsion system consists of two 50kW Torqeedo Deep Blue electric motors, for a total of 100kW, driven by eight 30.5kWh BMW i3 high-voltage marinised lithium ion batteries, four in each hull. The 120-passenger boat runs 100% on the solar-battery system with no auxiliary internal combustion engine. Its cruising range is eight hours running on batteries without sunshine. The operators expect to average six 13km trips per day.

The City of Suzhou in eastern China has completed deployment of a fleet of electric workboats powered by Torqeedo as part of a programme to clean up its canals and waterways. The electric fleet includes 18 nine-metre steel catamarans with twin Cruise 4.0 outboards, 22 seven-metre steel catamarans with twin Cruise 2.0 outboards and 137 five/six-metre wooden boats with Cruise 2.0 outboards. The boats were designed and built by China Ship Scientific Research Center. They are owned by the Suzhou River Management Administration and operated by private contractors.

Late last year, the city of San Antonio in Texas put into service a fleet of 43 electric passenger boats for its iconic River Walk downtown canal system. The 27-ft 40-passenger vessels were designed by Metalab and built by Lake Assault Boats. Each is driven by a Torqeedo electric propulsion system, including a 10kW electric outboard and 16 lithium batteries, with a built-in shore power connection for fast recharging. They cruise at about four knots and operate up to 12 hours without recharging, according to the vessel operators.

Watertaxi Rotterdam is operating its first hybrid vessel, powered by a Torqeedo Deep Blue 50kW electric motor with an integrated energy management system. Two 20kW generators keep the batteries charged when operating at speeds up to 13.5 knots on the River Meuse in the center of the city. The operator claims that the new boat is 70% more fuel-efficient than the other 15 water taxis in the fleet.

Dr Ballin points out that vessel size and weight are not a challenge for electric propulsion because the high-torque electric motors provide enough power to drive a large propeller capable of moving extremely heavy loads. A case in point is a company operating dredging barges in inland gravel pits in Germany. The 44-metre barges, which haul loads up to 120 metric tonnes, are powered by Torqeedo Deep Blue high-voltage systems.

Dr Ballin predicts the adoption of electric propulsion will continue to accelerate and the growth curve will steepen over the next few years, “We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg now.”

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