TAMPA, Fla. — Alternative power systems have been one of the leading innovations in the marine industry in the last few years, with engines being powered by electricity, propane and even natural gas. As hybrid propulsion packages, they’re often teamed with diesel engines that run cleaner, quieter and with better performance.
Case in point is a new electric/diesel inboard system I had a chance to check out on Tuesday at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference. This particular hybrid technology comes from Elco Motor Yachts LLC, an upstate New York company that already offers 70- and 100-hp electric inboards and 5- and 7-hp outboards. (Look for a Q&A with Elco CEO Steve Lamando in the November issue of Soundings Trade Only.)
The new hybrid electric/diesel inboard propulsion system uses a 20-hp Elco electric motor and a 425-hp Cummins diesel inboard. The system was installed on a Beneteau Swift Trawler 34 and displayed at IBEX’s new in-water testing area outside the Tampa Convention Center.
“It’s an elegant, clean propulsion solution and many people in the industry are speaking very highly of it and are anxious for it to come on the market. This right here is the prototype,” Elco senior project manager of customer service Neil Satterly told me as he showed me the various components as he stood in the engine compartment in the saloon of the trawler.
The single-shaft, parallel system couples the Cummins 6.7-liter diesel to the Elco engine. The boat can reach a top speed of 20 knots under diesel power and can cruise at 5 to 6 knots under electric-only power.
A 12-unit AGM battery bank powers the electric engine, which can be operated for as long as two to three hours before it needs charging. The batteries weigh a total of 1,500 pounds and were placed strategically in the boat to maintain stability and performance, Satterly said.
“One of the nice features while underway with the Cummins diesel is that we can actually use our motor as a generator to recharge the batteries so we don’t have to use the genset to charge the batteries,” Satterly said. “For instance, we might be able to go out on a two-hour cruise [and return] with fully charged batteries.”
The boat already made an appearance at a special press event in Annapolis in early September, Beneteau marketing director Maryline O’Shea said.
“The boat presented at IBEX — and tested earlier this month during sea trial events in Annapolis — is a prototype,” she said. “We have been positively impressed by the encouraging performance of the boat and we are now studying the possibilities of industrialization of this option at our factories in France.”
The boat also will be at the Oct. 30-Nov. 3 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
Elco approached Beneteau with the idea, said Ted Norris, Elco senior sales manager. “We pitched it to them, saying we’re going to prove it works,” he said. “And in return you could offer the system as an option on your boat.”
I had a chance to drive the boat under both electric and diesel power. As I cruised along under electric power at 5 knots, the only mechanical sound I heard was the Elco motor’s engine belt turning. And of course there were no fumes. To shift from one engine to another, you must shut off the motor that is running, press a control button on the helm and start the other motor. It takes only a few seconds.
This hybrid power package is attractive to boaters because it allows them to not only cruise in low-speed areas under electric power, it also provides secondary backup propulsion, Norris added.