How Marine Electrification is Making Waves in the Maritime Industry

The global shipping industry contributes some 2% of the planet’s GHG emissions (2020), but given it’s responsible for 90% of trade, it’s a critical industry that can ill-afford major disruptions. However, the process of decarbonizing operations is getting easier. With more efficient technology and better total cost of ownership, widespread marine electrification is on the horizon.

Battery electric power is seen as viable, whether through full electrification or hybridizing operations. The technology has yet to mature for full maritime electrification for ocean-going ships, but it certainly is for smaller vessels such as tugboats, towboats, and ferries. They’re the ideal starting point, considering how close to the shore they operate, and shore proximity represents the easiest way to charge or swap batteries.

It’s also worth noting that there’s added pressure to decarbonize operations in and around ports. Electrifying vessels close to the shore reduces emissions and causes less disturbance to local wildlife, presenting better working conditions for workers with less noise, vibrations, and emissions.

In this article, we’ll explore the factors behind the marine electrification push, real-use cases, and how electric batteries are an ideal replacement for combustion engines before a look at how the configurability of Xerotech’s Hibernium® platform makes integrating lithium-ion power nigh-on effortless.

The grounds for full electrification

Emission regulations and decarbonization policies are only part of why battery electric power is becoming more attractive. Greater efficiency, less heat loss, and the removal of exhaust in the case of full electrification are only some of the immediate benefits. With no need for exhaust systems, smokestacks can be removed, clearing the operator’s field of vision, giving them an unobstructed view of their surroundings.

Furthermore, there are far fewer moving parts when compared to an internal combustion engine. This simpler setup reduces the risk of malfunction, leading to less downtime and money spent on repair. Therefore, the return on investment quickly pays for itself with increased uptime, even if the initial outlay for an electric system is higher than for a diesel-powered one.

Other costs are immediately negated, such as oil and oil filter changes and the complex drive system that burns fuel to power the propellors. The latter, in particular, hovers at around 40% efficiency, losing energy through heat dissipation, vibrations, and propellor shaft friction. On the other hand, lithium-ion batteries can be around 95% efficient, ensuring that almost all the energy created goes directly into the propellors’ motors. Electricity prices also tend to be more stable, allowing companies to better predict their expenses.

If these motors are also electric, and hydraulic systems are replaced by electric ones, then the overall efficiency of the vessel vastly increases. It is worth noting, however, that diesel has far better energy density than electric batteries, so full electrification is ideal only for smaller ships and boats such as tugs, tows, and ferries.

These vessels spend, on average, three to four hours at sea at a time, operating in and around ports and close to shore. This means they only need short bursts of power when in heavy assist mode, which lithium-ion batteries are well equipped for, as there’s no idling and no needless fuel waste. Whenever the operator needs power, the battery will deliver the energy and power required for the task immediately.

Savings and efficiency also extend to other areas, such as when machines and vehicles switch to fully electric systems, including hydraulics. Hydraulic systems offer a 60% efficiency rate, owing to friction and flow losses across pumps, lines, manifolds, valves, and actuators. These systems also require that power be on standby before use, with all potential energy stored in the pipeline to operate.

An electric system only draws power when needed and can even hold position without further energy input. This results in better energy use as there are no losses when the operation is static. Think of a ferry loading vehicles. The engine must stay on to power the hydraulic system holding the doors open during loading and unloading. Electric systems can do this without engaging the battery, whereas hydraulic systems must always keep their oil pressurized.

Removing hydraulic, exhaust, and combustion engine systems reduces noise and vibration significantly. This improves working conditions for employees both on the vessel or shoreside, as it enables better communication and makes for a more enjoyable ride for passengers, especially in the case of ferries. Ports could become quieter, posing less disturbance to the locals, whether residents or wildlife.

From the operational side, the primary benefit is that fully electric vessels are instantly compliant with current and future emission policies. In an ideal world, the energy provided when docked would come from renewable sources, ensuring a circular, sustainable process.

Real-world examples of marine electrification

One of the best examples of marine electrification is the Yara Birkeland in Norway. Owned by fertilizer giant Yara, the vessel travels a 13km set route and can carry up to 100 containers, eliminating 40,000 truck journeys and the resultant 1,000 tons of CO2 per year. Furthermore, the batteries are charged via hydroenergy, so it’s an entirely green process.

One of the best examples of boat electrification is the Yara Birkeland in Norway. Owned by fertilizer giant Yara, the vessel travels a 13km set route and can carry up to 100 containers.
Yara Birkeland. Source: Yara’s Image library | Yara International, photo credits Knut Brevik Andersen, Wilhelmsen Ship Service

Three ElectRA 2800 models were purchased by Haisea for use in an LNG export facility in Kitimat, Canada. Built by Sanmar Shipyards, integrated and powered by Elkon and ABB respectively, the boats are equipped with 6,102 kWh batteries, each eliminating an estimated 1,700 tons of CO2 per year compared to similar diesel vessels.

Similarly, in the US, Crowley’s eWolf is an all-electric ship assist harbor tugboat that operates out of San Diego and will save 30,000 gallons of diesel annually. With a 6.2 MWh battery, the tugboat can go through a day of standard work and has a 70-ton bollard pull strength. The e-tug also has two small emergency generators to enable long-distance transits at low speeds if needed.

Sanmar's 1, electric tugboat manoeuvring in the ocean.
SANMAR Shipyards Electric Tugboat. Source: Sanmar

Plenty of fish in the sea

A common misconception is that battery electric power is an all-or-nothing scenario, but more options exist. Around 80% of ocean-going vessels already have diesel-electric transmission systems that can reduce fuel use by up to 20%. This option is not deemed hybrid, as diesel generators create the electricity that drives the electric engine and propellors.

A hybrid ship would require a system that can power it without any diesel engine input. This means a ship can tap into the full extent of benefits associated with battery electric power just as it enters port, or the power from the batteries can be used when peak power is required.

For example, Danfoss provided electric drivetrains for the Damen Fast Crew Supplier (FCS) 7011, a hybrid crew transfer vessel that can reach up to 40 knots as it ferries crews to oil rigs and wind turbines in the North Sea. Its purpose is to provide a cost-effective alternative to helicopter travel, capable of carrying up to 200 passengers, with a total power output between 8,000 bkW (brake kilowatt) and 14,400 bkW, and a 1,481km range.

Damen's Fast Crew Supplier 7011, an example of boat electrification in action
Fast Crew Supplier 7011, Source: Damen

The hybrid option is an ideal way to continue developing battery-electric technology without disrupting the shipping and maritime industry too much. Companies can still save costs, reduce emissions, and improve employees’ working conditions, especially since in-port adequate electrification infrastructure appears to be some way off.

Anna Ziou, from the UK Chamber of Shipping, explained how, in a survey to understand its members’ thoughts on shore power and decarbonization strategies, around 80% of respondents saw lack of port-side infrastructure as the main barrier for marine electrification. Such a process requires substantial investment, patience, and buy-in from all stakeholders to be a success.

The 2023 IMO Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships aims to reach net-zero emissions by around 2050. The build-up to this ambitious target would require the adoption of alternative zero and near-zero GHG fuels by 2030 to reduce emissions by a minimum of 20% and 70% by 2030 and 2040, respectively. The critical regulatory and support steps have already been outlined, which is where the policy pressure is coming from.

Implementing the power of choice

When it comes to electrification in the off-highway market, the issue of space claim is a common concern, alongside the costly initial investment as opposed to combustion engines. However, as the technology matures, energy density improves, and production costs decrease, lithium-ion batteries will likely become the go-to power source for several applications.

This is already the case in many industries, with lithium-ion solutions offering better total cost of ownership when compared to similarly sized diesel-powered vehicles. This is the case for the maritime sector, too, where companies such as Xerotech can offer a battery-electric solution to fit your size requirements.

Lithium-ion offers the best energy density compared to other batteries, and being one of the more mature technologies brings other advantages. It has advanced rapidly with more real-world use, and the variety of chemistries means users have various options that suit their application better.

Xerotech’s sheer scale of configurability places the power of choice firmly in the OEM’s or end user’s hands. Hundreds of pre-engineered sizes are ready to choose from, along with voltage, power, energy, and cell chemistry; there’s never any compromise on your journey toward electrification.

Our three different module cores highlight different characteristics and power six different module sizes. EnerCore is powered by NMC cells, and as the most energy-dense, it’s also one of the most popular solutions on the market. Capable of holding 30% more energy than LFP, EnerCore battery platforms can be smaller than other chemistries yet hold equal amounts of energy.

Our DuraCores are then primed for durability using the LFP configuration. Capable of withstanding several thousand charge cycles, this cell chemistry is ideal for applications engaging in repetitive cycles at low speeds, such as transport ferries and cargo ships.

PowerCore modules then house NCA cells, the chemistry capable of delivering high current for extended periods. This module type is ideal for applications that require intense bursts of power.

Each module type is secured by Xerotech’s industry-leading safety tech across cell, module, and platform levels. Performance is guaranteed in hot or cold temperatures, while thermal propagation prevention and fire-quenching mechanisms are applied as standard. You can see our approach to safety via our dedicated testing page, where we document the results of our tests.

Find the lithium-ion battery to power your application today by inputting the specs you’re looking for into our online catalog, and in seconds, you’ll be able to filter through thousands of options and find the ideal battery or batteries for what you need. For applications with massive power demands, our multipack capabilities allow us to stack up to 40 packs together for an impressive total of 12 MWh in a single system.

Reach out to a Xerotech representative today to find out how to electrify or hybridize your fleet or prototype today!

Xerotech's Battery Catalog. The only online battery catalog which allows you to filter and select by the requirements of your application.

About Xerotech

Xerotech is an award-winning battery technology company solving one of our generation’s most significant challenges: industrial electrification.

Driven by a shared vision of a fully electric future, our talented team is making an impact on a global scale as Xerotech provides the first truly credible path to zero emissions and enables the electrification of machines that were previously too low-volume to be economically electrified.

Our Hibernium® battery pack platform adapts to the bespoke needs of your vehicle or application. With Hibernium®, you can choose your desired or preferred energy content, operating voltage range, physical dimensions, and even battery cell chemistry.

There are no design or engineering costs, even for one-off prototyping projects, making this solution one of the only viable options for low-volume, high-diversity projects.

The electrification of heavy-duty machinery is now available to every OEM and Integrator.

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