All modes of transportation are gradually being converted to electric propulsion and this includes watercraft. Driven by ominous increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions the move to decarbonize transportation through electrification is growing and while land and air travel get a lot of well-warranted attention, we also need to decarbonize vehicles that travel on water. In recent years we have made major strides in electric cars, trucks, and buses as well as electric-powered aviation, but there are even greater opportunities to electrify watercraft because they are not as limited by space and weight as their air and land-based counterparts. Electrification is especially well suited for applications in cargo ships (container ships, tankers), ferries, and cruise liners.
However, just as there are challenges to electrifying aviation, there are unique policy and technology issues associated with electrifying watercraft. Electric-powered ships must overcome some of the same problems as other forms of electrified transportation including range limitations. This will require additional negotiations because neither aviation nor shipping are explicitly addressed in the Paris Climate Agreement. At present reductions in emissions from shipping fall under the jurisdiction of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The IMO acknowledges the need to reduce emissions, and they have put forth a strategy that advocates reducing emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. As indicated by increasing emissions from the shipping industry in recent years the IMO has not been able to augur meaningful progress towards this goal.
However, there are signs that the shipping industry is slowly coming to terms with the need for decarbonization through electrification. The 2018 IMO meeting in London put slashing emission at the top of the agenda. That same year shipping giant Maersk announced its plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc also announced they were offering battery-powered ship engines in 2018.
As a large and growing source of GHGs, we are unlikely to be able to meet the requirements laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement without decarbonizing the shipping industry. As reported by CNBC, the IMO, estimates that international shipping was responsible for 796 million tons of carbon dioxide (C02) emissions in 2012. Which was around 2.2 percent of the total global carbon emissions (CO2) that year. In 2018 CO2 emissions increased to almost 3 percent of total GHG emissions. International shipping now produces around one billion tons of CO2 emissions every year. To put this in perspective if the shipping industry were a country, it would be ranked the sixth-largest contributor to global CO2 emissions.
One giant container ship pollutes the air as much as 50 million cars. Fifteen of the largest cargo ships in the world create more emissions than all 750 million cars in the world. Kendra Ulrich, the Senior Shipping Campaigner at Standearth, put this into context when she said, “The global shipping industry is responsible for more GHG emissions than major industrial nations such as Germany and Canada”.
Efficiency is big in the aviation industry and while simple efforts like slowing down could reduce emissions from the shipping industry by up to 12 percent by 2030, it is nowhere near enough. While technological efforts like carbon capture and storage could reduce emissions by an additional 20-30 percent, the IMO realizes the need for GHG-free shipping which means we need to see an end to fossil fuel-powered shipping. Organizations like Smart Green Shipping Alliance and the Carbon War Room are advocates of renewable energy-powered electric ships.
While fully-electric ships have struggled to penetrate major markets, momentum is growing. Demand for electric-powered ships is increasing as it is becoming increasingly apparent that all diesel vessels will need to be replaced with EVs. Part of this growth is fueled by economic incentives as electric ships reduce costs. An all-electric Norwegian ferry called Ampere and its sister ship Elektra have been shown to slash emissions by 95 percent and cut costs by 80 percent resulting in 53 additional orders for these ferries. There is a tremendous market opportunity in the electrification of the shipping industry. As reported by Forbes the global marine hybrid propulsion market was valued at US$2.6bn in 2015. It is expected to reach US$5.2bn by 2024.
Electric power is being used in new container ships and other vessels used for short-haul coastal shipping. In Scandinavia alone, there is the potential to power 200 ferry routes with electricity within the next decade and across Europe, more than 1,000 ferries could be converted.
As reported by Bloomberg, four Japanese companies came together to build the world’s first zero-emission tanker which is scheduled to launch in 2022. It will be powered by large-capacity batteries and will operate in Tokyo Bay. Japanese efforts to develop and deploy green technologies in shipping are being driven by seven companies known as the e5 consortium which lists electrification at the top of their five goals.
New Zealand is implementing practical steps to meet its zero-emissions pledge starting with electric tugs. New Zealand’s Ports of Auckland Limited, which administers commercial freight and cruise ships, ordered the world’s first full-size electric tug from Dutch company Damen Shipyards in 2019. This electric tug known as the Damen RSD-E Tug 2513, will be delivered this year. It is twice the cost of diesel tugs but these costs will be recouped in the huge savings on operating costs (mainly fuel and maintenance). The costs of these tugs are also expected to decline as they are scaled.
Cargo and cruise ships
As the biggest source of carbon pollution in the transportation sector, cargo ships are the dirtiest machines on the planet. Decarbonizing waterborne transport is key and electrification is one of the primary ways this can be accomplished. In 2017 China launched the world’s first all-electric cargo ship. The vessel is equipped with a 2,400 kWh lithium-ion battery that stores enough electrical energy to transport 2200 tons of cargo a distance of 50 miles on a single charge at a top speed of about 8 miles per hour (12 km/h). The ship was built at Guangzhou Shipyard International in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province. This zero-emission vessel is also cheaper to run because electricity is less expensive than diesel fuel. However, it is no small irony that the Chinese cargo ship will be used to ferry coal, one of the biggest sources of GHGs.
An all-electric inland cargo ship with a payload of 1,000 tonnes, was recently tested at the Yangtze section of the Changzhou River. It’s named Zhongtiandianyun 001 and its 1,458 kWh lithium-ion battery has a range of 31 miles (50 km).. Another Chinese vessel known as the Yangtze River Three Gorges maybe the world’s largest electric-powered cruise ship. This tour ship has the largest battery capacity (7.5 MWh) and is expected to enter service in November of 2021.
Germany’s AIDA Cruises made history in 2018 when they introduced the world’s first electrically powered cruise ship. Since then they announced that they will be electrifying their entire fleet of ships. In a deal with Corvus Energy, they are now installing lithium-ion battery storage systems in all their ships. However, some of these so-called “green ships” are also powered with LNG, and as explained by Standearth, “relying upon LNG for ship fuel results in significant unintentional methane releases throughout the supply chain.” Methane (the primary component of LNG) is a GHG that is approximately 86 times more potent than CO2 over a 20 year period and is 34 times more potent than CO2 over a 100-year period.
With the help of technical partner ABB, Niagra Falls Maid of the Mist boat tours went all-electric in 2020. The two ferries in the fleet are each equipped with 400 kW propulsion and 316 kWh of battery capacity. In Canada, the Provincial Government of Ontario announced that it has commissioned two new fully electric ferries connecting Kingston with nearby islands.
Scandinavia countries are at the forefront of ship electrification efforts. Large all-electric container barges known as Tesla Ships built for the Dutch company Port Liner will soon set sail in the Netherlands. The first 6 barges are expected to replace the 23,000 diesel-powered trucks currently being used for transportation.
Norway is a global leader in electrified shipping. As an ocean nation with a long maritime tradition, Norway sees electric ships as an ideal emissions-free solution for the nation’s large shipping network. The Norwegian Shipowners’ Association and government officials are urging the shipping industry to slash emissions. The country has embarked on a Green Shipping Program which is a public-private partnership whose mission is focused on implementing the Government’s national maritime and port strategies. It seeks to establish the world’s most efficient and environment-friendly shipping fleet, with vessels that run fully or partially on electricity, and other low emissions propulsion. Norway has already signed agreements for more than 40 battery-powered ferries and related charging networks.
In 2020 the world’s first electric autonomous commercial container ship known as the Yara Birkeland was launched in Norway and it replaced diesel-powered trucks used to ferry fertilizer. Norway’s Kongsberg Gruppen ASA is building the electric container vessel which is expected to cut operating costs by up to 90 percent.
Norway is also a leader in electrified ferries. The country is replacing all of its ferries with electric vessels. Last summer Helsinki based Wärtsilä announced a new contract to design and equip two new zero-emission ferries that will be built for Norwegian operator Boreal Sjö at Holland Shipyards in the Netherlands. Boreal Sjö intends to use those vessels on the Launes – Kvellandstrand – Launes and Abelnes – Andabeløy – Abelnes routes, commencing this Autumn. Wärtsilä is also engaged in one of the largest electric barge projects in the world. This project employs innovative replaceable battery containers called “ZESPacks”.
One of the world’s biggest electric ferries runs between Sweden and Denmark. This vessel is also the world’s biggest electric ship conversion. It’s equipped with a massive 4.1 MWh battery (640 packs) and 6 MW of power (four 1.5 MW propellers) It entered service in November 2018 and runs between Helsingborg in Sweden and Helsingor in Denmark.
The world’s largest all-electric ferry completed its maiden voyage in 2019. Known as the E-Ferry Ellen, this ship is capable of carrying 30 vehicles and 200 passengers, is powered by a battery system with an unprecedented capacity of 4.3MWh. This gives the ship the most battery power and the longest range of any vessel in its class. The ferry connects the Danish ports of Søby and Fynshav, was built at the shipyard on the island of Als. The project is part of Danish Natura, which aims to provide environmentally friendly transport for local residents. It was initiated in 2015 and was funded by the EU through the Horizon 2020 and Innovation Program.
Søby Vaerft (Shipyard) director Roar C. Falkenberg predicts ongoing electrification with the Netherlands leading the charge. “We believe electric ferries are the future and we now have a huge amount of knowledge. So we feel well equipped for the coming years and the development of battery power on ferries,” Falkenberg said. The Ellen’s unique integrated battery and transmission systems offer unparalleled operating efficiency helping to make it one of the most environmentally-friendly ships ever created (even the vessel’s furniture is made from recycled paper). Anil Srivastava, CEO of Leclanché believes that electrified shipping is a powerful tool to improve human health and combat climate change. “This project demonstrates that today we can replace fossil fuel thermal drives with clean energy, and thus contribute to the fight against global warming and pollution for the well-being of our communities.”
In 2020 a ferry by the name of Rygerelektra became the fastest all-electric passenger catamaran in the world. Its 2MWh battery will ferry sightseers to take in Norway’s impressive vistas. The 297 seat ferry is capable of speeds exceeding 23 knots (26.5 mph or 42.6 km/h). Depending on the speed it has a range of more than 50 nautical miles (58 miles or 93 km). The carbon fiber ship was built by Brødrene Aa Shipyard which also built a ferry called the Future of the Fjords, in 2018.
The Rygerelektra may be fast but the fastest EV on the water is an electric boat made by Jaguar. The Jaguar Vector broke a speed record powered by its electric V20E engine surpassing speeds of more than 88 MPH (141 km/h). The V20E was designed and constructed in a joint partnership between Jaguar Vector and Jaguar Racing’s partner Williams Advanced Engineering.
Solar and wind powered vessels
Williams Advanced Engineering is also designing, manufacturing, and installing the cells modules, the battery management system on luxury yachts. OXIS Energy signed a $5 million contract with Yachts de Luxe (YdL) of Singapore, to build the world’s first-ever luxury boat powered by lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries. The ship is powered by a 400 kWh lithium-sulfur battery, has a range of up to 100 nautical miles (115 miles / 185 km). The electrified Luxury Day Boat will be on display at the Monaco Boat Show in September 2021.
Eco-luxury is rapidly gaining interest in high-end boating and two prominent examples are the Serenity line of yachts and the Silent line of yachts. The Serenity line includes two high-quality zero-impact luxury catamarans with electric propulsion. The Serenity 64 and the 74 do not provoke range anxiety because the electric engines are charged by solar panels that adorn the ship. The company that created the first solar yachts is behind the Silent line of solar-powered luxury vessels. There are currently 6 configurations of Silent vessels known as the 44, 55, 60, 64, 79, and 80. In addition to solar panels, some of these yachts are equipped with a kite to exploit wind energy and charge batteries, using propellers as hydro-generators.
For those with more modest budgets, solar-powered houseboats are also being designed. Amsterdam-based +31Architects specialize in floating constructions, and they have created the Nature Cruiser, which is a self-sufficient, waste minimizing motorized houseboat that is equipped with a hybrid-electric drive and solar panels. Its integrated water and sewer systems are aimed at using purified water from lakes and rivers it navigates.
World-renowned architect Koen Olthuis is the leading designer of floating structures and in an exclusive interview with Inhabitat Olthuis discussed Sustainaquality which he defines as sustainability on the water that applies the unique features and conditions of oceans, rivers, canals, and lakes. Olthuis said. He expects the demand for floating structures to increase due to urbanization because 90 percent of metropolises will be impacted by rising sea levels.
Solar powered vessels are also being used to clean waterways. A Dutch inventor along with a nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup has created solar-powered barges that are capable of collecting up to 100 tons of plastic waste from the water each day. The watercraft known as the Interceptor collects plastic waste from rivers before they enter the ocean and then sends the collected plastic to recycling facilities.
One of the more interesting shipping trends is based on wind, a technology that has been in place for millennia. Wind propulsion can help the shipping industry meet ambitious carbon reduction targets, As Sarah Carter wrote in a blog post for ShipInsight. “There is a wide range of wind-assist and primary wind propulsion technology solutions that offer between 10 – 30% savings for retrofits, and up to 50% on smaller new built fully optimized vessels”.
There are several interesting modern-day applications of wind power in shipping. A new partnership between Eco Marine Power (EMP) and the Japanese ship owner Hisafuku Kisen K.K. of Onomichi will test the world’s first integrated rigid sail and solar power system for ships. A British company has unveiled a commercial ship concept that is being called the Tesla of the Seas. This vessel uses a combination of wind-assist, solar, and carbon capture to achieve zero emissions. The hope is that this design could find its way onto bulk carriers and tankers and help transform the entire shipping industry. It was developed by Windship Technologiend and the company’s Technical Director, Simon Rogers thinks it could help to address the urgent need to decarbonize shipping
“The industry cannot sit back any longer. The clock is ticking and regulation will force a new approach for an industry that is traditionally hesitant to change. Shipping is not fit for purpose in the future. Shipping and oil companies are the only major industries still increasing their emissions and must change and think differently if it is to have any hope of reaching the emissions targets set out in law,” Rogers said.
In 2018, Finnish shipping company Viking Line added wind power in the form of a rotor sail developed by Norsepower, to a passenger ship named Viking Grace. The sail cuts LNG consumption and reduces CO2 emissions by as much as 900 metric tons annually. The company also built other new wind-powered vessels that went into operation in 2020.
A Swiss-built wind-powered transatlantic car carrier known as the Oceanbird cuts carbon emissions by 90 percent compared to conventional ships. The ship was designed by Wallenius Marine, which is working with the Swedish government and several research institutions on the project, which is set to be launched in 2024. Five telescopic wing-shaped elements stand 260 feet above the deck. They can rotate 360 degrees without touching each other, or retract to 195 feet in rough weather, and allow the ship to pass under bridges. Made from steel and composite materials, they will be the tallest sails ever constructed.
There’s still plenty of room for improvement in the realm of electric mobility in water transportation, however, we are beginning to see some pioneering efforts that are destined to lead to the decarbonization of watercraft.
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