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Electrifying news in boating’s future

I was fascinated this week by an article in Flying magazine announcing that Siemens unveiled a 260-kW electric aircraft motor. It got me thinking about electric boats.

If it hasn’t been before, it appears now that electric-powered flight is a serious consideration. Siemens researchers in Germany claim they have achieved a technological breakthrough with a new type of electric motor for airplanes. It is five times more powerful than previous generation motors, Siemens says.

Specifically, the new motor delivers a continuous output of 260 kilowatts. That’s said to be the equivalent of a 350-hp gas engine. Further, when you factor its weight of a little more than 100 pounds, it’s got to be raising eyebrows in fields well beyond aviation.

Last year, Siemens, Airbus and Diamond Aircraft were test-flying 60-kW electric motors. This new engine with its much-improved power-to-weight ratio opens the door for bigger planes with maximum takeoff weights of up to 4,000 pounds to use electric drives for the first time, Siemens researchers say.

In developing the motor, company researchers say they studied every component of previous motors and optimized each to their technological limits. New simulation techniques and lightweight construction enabled the drive system to achieve a unique weight-to-performance ratio of 5 kilowatts per kilogram. Comparable motors used in electric cars, for example, offer about 2 kW per kilogram, while motors in industrial applications deliver less than 1 kW per kilogram.

It’s also notable that the new motor delivers its performance at rotational speeds of just 2,500 rpm. It means it can drive propellers directly without requiring energy-sapping reduction gears.

"This innovation will make it possible to build series hybrid-electric aircraft with four or more seats," said Frank Anton, head of eAircraft, Siemens’ central research unit. The motor is slated to start flight tests later this year. Moreover, researchers say their next step will be to boost output further. As for endurance, Siemens isn’t discussing it, but it’s known that Airbus researchers have a four-hour target with reserves. "We're convinced that the use of hybrid-electric drives in regional airliners with 50 to 100 passengers is a real medium-term possibility," Anton said.

In boating, we’re all familiar with names like Duffy, Elco, Torqeedo, ElectraCraft and Nautique’s prototype electric ski boat, to name a few. My only experience with electric boating was at a National Marine Trades Council meeting in Newport (Calif.) when host Southern California Marine Association (now NMMA West) put attendees in a half-dozen Duffy boats for an on-water scavenger hunt. I still remember how enjoyable it was to be quietly, peacefully cruising the harbor, albeit it we could only squeeze 6 mph out of her. More time to enjoy the wine and cheese. Ah, but I digress.

With today’s battery and electric motor technologies apparently moving ahead even faster than I play my geezer card for discounts, it seems time for serious electric propulsion for boats of all sizes, with greatly increased speeds, is here.

Elco Motor Yachts (originally the Electric Launch Company) showed off an inboard hybrid diesel/electric system in a Beneteau Swift Trawler at IBEX in Tampa last fall. technology. It featured a 20-hp Elco electric motor and a 425-hp Cummins diesel. Top speed was said to be 20 knots with the diesel and 6 knots under just electric power. The electric engine can run for up to three hours.

Torqeedo’s Deep Blue 40- and 80-hp electric outboards are setting a new pace. Kinda makes me wonder if electric replacements for my twin 250 Yamahas aren’t near, if for no other reason than in light of the breakthrough announced by Siemens. One could finally fish those “no combustion engines” waters. Fuel bills would disappear. People living on electric-motors-only lakes would go nuts when some boater was pulling a water skier around.

While electric cars haven’t lived up to their promise with America’s drivers, electric-powered pleasure boats very well could. I’m thinking a Duffy on steroids. Seriously, if batteries and electric motors can actually be made to deliver the same performance and reliability as our combustion engines, there could be a large future market for electric power and forward-thinking boat dealers might well consider making an early claim in their market.

All that said, I’m not yet thinking about flying at 35,000 feet in an electric plane.



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