Electric mobility is also taking a course at sea. Of course, it is still far from the large merchant ships, oil tankers and cruise ships of 3,000 passengers. However, the first boats powered by electric motors are already beginning to appear, sailing near the coast, or through European canals and lakes. They are pleasure boats or small passenger ferries, like those that cross the Norwegian fjords. They cover short distances, are lighter and require less autonomy. Incipient experiences that, if they continue to be developed, could be incorporated into a wide spectrum of ships, for example those that operate for auxiliary services in ports, or for offshore wind platforms, or in beach cleaning or in other services near
of the coastline. Its advantages: they are silent, more efficient and do not produce emissions.
Electric propulsion in boats is not a new technology, as explained Raphael Calderon, responsible for the Naval Engineering area of Ghenova. “Until now, on ships a generator powered by fossil fuel produced electrical energy. What is new is that the energy is not generated on board but is stored in batteries.” And this innovative solution is precisely also the brake for the electric motor to be scalable to large ships. “A large volume of batteries is needed to give autonomy to a 3,000-passenger cruise ship that sails for three days in the Mediterranean or for large merchant ships that make transatlantic crossings.. These batteries have a great impact in terms of weight, embarrassment and cost, at the moment it is an unfeasible solution for this size of ship and long autonomy”, explains the engineer, convinced that “electric boats are a niche with high added value, incipient but with future”.
In any case, some companies are already betting on incorporating batteries into large ships. For example, the Norwegian operator Hurtigruten has built the hybrid cruise ship MS Roald Amundsen. It is 140 meters long and has fuel engines in combination with batteries. The Japanese shipping company Koa Sangyou launched a 62-meter-long electric tanker (Asahi) last December to carry fuel to other ships within the port area. And also the Norwegian Yara International has ready the electric container ship Yara Birkeland.
They are the first pilots with this technology on large ships. According to the Association of Spanish Shipowners (Anave) of the more than 63,000 merchant ships that operate worldwide, only about 200 have on-board batteries (with data from the classification society DNV). “In most cases as an auxiliary power source, not for propulsion,” specifies Elena Dry, CEO of Anave. “The general opinion – he adds – is that electric ships will only be viable for short-distance services and larger ship auxiliary systems. What we will see more and more are ships that use electrical energy during their stay in port, connecting to the shore network, or during port maneuvers ».
For now, it is the recreational nautical sector that is experimenting and beginning to market small electric boats. «They are small-length pleasure boats (for excursions and one-day rentals) and displacement hulls that do not require high-power engines. Here the electric propulsion is easier to install and does not impact the price so much”, he considers Carlos Sanlorenzo, General Secretary of the National Association of Nautical Companies (ANEN). Even so, there are factors that slow down the takeoff of this technology, Sanlorenzo points out: «The price of electric motors that makes the final price of the boat more expensive; autonomy is less than that of diesel or gasoline engines and recharging points are not widespread in all nautical-sports facilities».
In Spain, there are business experiences that move in this direction. in the shipyards of
Magonis Electric Boats, a startup from Barcelona, small pleasure boats powered by electric motors and batteries are built. “We have developed this technology for small boats that can reach a top speed of 22 knots (40 km/h). They are ideal for spending a day at sea. They have an average autonomy of between two and three hours of continuous navigation, which can extend to 10 hours at low speed. The top of the range costs 68,000 euros and the smallest, for canals like those in Amsterdam, 34,000,” he says. Mathieu Quintart, CEO and co-founder of Magonis.
From Amsterdam, Venice, Copenhagen, Stockholm… they are receiving the first orders. “In these cities there is great interest in electrifying the boats in their canals, lakes, on routes between islands… They reduce emissions and do not emit noise,” explains Quintart. Six of these boats are already sailing through Ibiza, New York and Singapore. “We are seven years behind electric mobility in the automotive industry, but the market is going to open up to electric navigation in the coming years,” Quintart predicts.
Many others share this forecast, because electric propulsion has many possibilities “where the distance to the docking and loading point is short and the powers are not very large”, suggests Rafael Calderon. «It is very useful to go slowly, on the move, and for autonomy that is not too intense, of about four hours. Almost all sailboats can have an electric motor, it is a good complement to sailing. Medium-sized ferries, 10 meters long, for journeys that are not long. On 100-passenger ships, with two or three hours of sailing,” he says. Carlos Martinez, manager of Spain and Portugal of
Torqeedo, a German company that manufactures electric propulsion systems. One of its boats is Ecoboat, an electric ferry (with solar panels) for 120 passengers that sails through the Bay of Santander.
Another example is the consortium of companies, led by the Basque
Ingeteam, which converted the school ship of the Blas de Lezo Nautical Institute in Pasaia (Guipúzcoa) into a hybrid vessel. With two lithium-ion batteries, it can travel 22 kilometers at a speed of 9 km/hour. “It carries out operations close to the coast in electric mode, thus guaranteeing the entrances and exits to port and navigation in protected areas with zero emissions”, indicates John Jose Valera, former head of the Ortzen project (as this ship is called) and R&D engineer at Ingeteam. In more remote places, “a thermal generator engine that feeds on diesel and produces electricity so that the ship continues sailing” comes into operation, he explains. Ingeteam has developed this technology. «There are Spanish companies with sufficient technology and knowledge to promote the electrification of the naval fleet in Spain. But they need the impulse of the administrations”, proposes Valera.