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It’s Electric! Should we expect major propulsion changes?

Electric propulsion has been around the marine industry for some years, but developments being announced these days raise the question: Will we see the slow pace of adoption in the United States pick up steam in the near future?

If you follow recent news, you could conclude that electric propulsion in recreational boats will likely be coming on much stronger, as technology is advancing quickly. Moreover, big names are committed to advancing it. So has the time come for dealers to study any opportunities to capitalize on it?

What raises the subject today is the fifth annual Electric & Hybrid Marine World Expo, which opened yesterday at the RAI in Amsterdam. It’s featuring more than 130 exhibitors displaying numerous state-of-the-art marine propulsion technologies.

Torqeedo, for example, is a brand we’re familiar with in the United States, and among the innovations grabbing attention is Torqeedo’s range of electric and hybrid drives from 0.5 to 100kW for recreational and commercial applications. The company is supplying an integrated electric propulsion system to a new aluminum solar-electric passenger ferry due to enter service on Spain’s Mediterranean coast later this summer.

The 59-foot vessel, dubbed the ECOCAT, will run purely on electricity generated by 120 photovoltaic solar panels on its roof. The Torqeedo-supplied propulsion system consists of two 50kW Deep Blue electric motors driven by eight 30.5kWh BMW high-voltage lithium-ion batteries, four installed in each hull.

To further advance technology, Torqeedo CEO Christoph Ballin said the BMW batteries are not water-cooled — as they normally would be in smaller applications — as cooling a bank of this size in a narrow hull and a hot climate would require eight through-hull systems. “Instead, our application engineers designed a ‘cool room’ in each hull, which allows the batteries to be stacked closely together, saving space and reducing maintenance,” Ballin explained.

“We also collaborated with Metaltec [the builder] to develop an innovative software model for management of the solar energy capture and storage process,” Ballin added. With a normal operating speed of 7 knots, the 120-passenger boat has a cruising range of eight hours.

Meanwhile, Yanmar has unveiled a working prototype of its new marine generator set, which is designed as a total electrical power and propulsion system for workboats, small ferries and other vessels up to about 79 feet. Although not noted, can possible recreational applications be far behind?

Specifically, a new 400-volt genset delivers 17kW at 1,500 rpm and is designed around the company’s 4-cylinder 4-stroke diesel. It’s water-cooled and coupled to a Stamford alternator.

Eric Tigelaar, manager of Yanmar Europe’s commercial marine department, said: “We recognized a need for a generator that would be compact and affordable, while delivering the reliability and quality of the Yanmar brand. We expect an attractive market to open up for fully solar-driven vessels, the batteries of which will need to be charged by such a generator.”

If you read Michael Verdon’s report in yesterday’s Trade Only Today, you know Volvo Penta is in the game announcing its plan to provide electrified power solutions for marine, including a hybrid concept for its IPS propulsion. The system includes Volvo diesels, electric motor drives and an energy storage system (lithium batteries) designed to produce zero-emission propulsion.

Moreover, Volvo raises a very notable, if not outright concerning, point about the expectation that low- and zero-emissions marine sanctuaries will be introduced around the world in coming years.

Finally, to meet increasing demand for lithium batteries, a major Dutch manufacturer, Super B, is expected to double in size every year in the foreseeable future. Super B and Lithium Werks, a provider of lithium iron phosphate cells, modules and scalable power systems, have entered into a multiyear agreement. According to the announcement, it secures worldwide supplies of lithium-ion batteries to both companies’ customers worldwide.

It’s all worth contemplating now.

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