The environmental and opex benefits of energy storage are driving more North American owners to opt for all-electric propulsion for their coastal passenger vessels
A workhorse in shipping for decades, the combustion engine is likely to be the prime mover of choice – when paired with carbon-neutral fuels – for the oceangoing fleet for decades to come. Developments in battery technologies, energy management systems and shore power charging, however, are making ‘ditch the diesel’ decisions a lot easier in certain harbour and coastal vessel applications.
That is the case for two new all-electric tour boats built for US-based Maid of the Mist, which sails scenic cruises to the base of Niagara Falls. “As well as allowing passengers to enjoy the spectacular experience of Niagara Falls and safeguarding the environment, the vessels confirm growing acceptance of all-electric vessel propulsion,” said ABB Marine & Ports Division president Juha Koskela. “We applaud Maid of the Mist’s decision to move to zero-emission operation and are honoured to have worked with this forward-thinking company on implementing the electric power and propulsion solution.”
Using the power of Niagara Falls itself to propel the vessels, the all-electric boats, James V. Glynn and Nikola Tesla, will recharge shoreside each time they dock to load and offload passengers. Recharging to 80% capacity takes about seven minutes, with all of the renewable electricity generated by the Falls – one of the largest sources of hydropower in North America. These true zero-emission passenger vessels – the first newbuilds of their kind in the US – are each powered by a pair of battery packs with a total of 316 kWh, split between two catamaran hulls. This creates two independent power systems providing full redundancy.
Once recharged, the high-capacity batteries are capable of powering the Ramme Electric Machines permanent magnet electric propulsion motors. This is controlled by ABB’s integrated Power and Energy Management System (PEMS), to optimise the energy use on board.
“Maid of the Mist has always evolved with the technology, and we are thrilled to open a new page in our company’s history, moving our fleet to zero-emission operation,” said Maid of the Mist president Christopher M Glynn. Investment in the two electric tourboats will allow Maid of the Mist to retire two diesel-powered vessels, allowing 1.6M tourists that visit the Falls annually on the company’s boats to enjoy a quiet, clean ride without engine noise, vibration and the fumes caused by diesel engines.
The tourboats were assembled on site, built from modules that were constructed at Burger Boat Company in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and transported by truck to Niagara Falls.
Maid of the Mist’s tourboats are not the first all-electric passenger vessels in the US. That distinction belongs to Gee’s Bend Ferry, which was converted in 2019 and is operated by HMS Ferries, in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, for the state’s department of transportation.
Speaking about the benefits of electric propulsion at a Riviera Maritime Media webinar, Business Case for Hybrid and Electric Technology in North America, HMS Ferries Inc technical director Daniel Frank said one of the drivers for the conversion of the car ferry was maintenance costs. Mr Frank anticipates less maintenance over the lifetime of a lithium-ion battery than there is for a diesel unit over the same period.
ABB vice president, Americas, new builds Ed Schwartz concurs, and he believes owners are becoming more aware of the benefits of electrification: “We knew the market was very interested in solutions to reduce emissions from all our conversations over the past year, but we are pleasantly surprised by all the requests for actual newbuild opportunities this year. Owners are understanding quickly that hybrid and all-electric solutions are the path to success for the future.”
Mr Schwartz continued: “The cost for low- and zero-emissions vessels is not much more, but the many benefits it creates will be appreciated over the life of the vessel. Owners are aware of the future requirements for operators with regards to emissions and safety and it means they must at least look at newer technologies. Once they review the options and understand the gains, they are quick to try to find opportunities in their fleet.”
ABB is also supplying hybrid-electric propulsion and energy storage systems for a 144-car, 1,500-passenger ferry for Washington State Ferries (WSF). The hybrid-electric Olympic-class vessel is part of Washington State’s plan to electrify its ferry fleet. As many as five of the Olympic-class vessels, capable of operating on all-electric propulsion, would be built under the state’s long-range plan to reduce emissions and cut fuel costs.
By 2040, the WSF plans to replace 13 existing diesel-powered ferries with new hybrid-electric ferries and convert six others to plug-in hybrid, with recharging infrastructure built at WSF terminals. Hybrid vessels would be capable of charging at the terminal, and some vessels will be able to operate in fully electric mode on shorter routes.
Low-emissions foil ferry
Kitsap Transit, a public transit agency in the Seattle metropolitan area, has secured US federal funding and public-private backing for the design of a high-speed, hydrofoil-assisted, battery-powered passenger ferry.
Based on a carbon-fibre hull, the hydrofoil ferry will use battery technology to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, while transporting passengers on Puget Sound.
Award recipient Kitsap Transit is part of a public-private partnership team led by Washington Maritime Blue to advance the fast foil ferry design and the business case for sustainable operations.
Others in partnership are designers Glosten and Bieker Boats, class society DNV GL, the Port of Anacortes, Port of Bellingham, Port of Skagit, Tacoma Power, Skagit County and the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County.
The project will deliver the design for a zero-emissions, high-speed ferry for operation in the Puget Sound, and a business model, with route viability, shoreside infrastructure needs, permitting and regulatory requirements, and economic and environmental impacts.
“We are thrilled to open a new page in our company’s history, moving our fleet to zero-emission operation”
The foil ferry will have an overall length of 30.3 m, beam of 6.8 m, with a non-foiling draught of 3.3 m and foiling draught of 1.6 m. With 1,030 kW of installed power, the carbon-fibre hull vessel will have a cruising speed of 35 knots, with a capacity of 150 passengers and crew.
Bieker Boats and Glosten will develop options for fully electric propulsion or diesel-electric propulsion for extended range.
Electric-ready ferry design
In Canada, Vancouver-based Western Pacific Marine Ltd has been awarded a C$62.9M (US$48M) contract to design and build an ‘electric-ready’ car ferry for Kootenay Lake in British Columbia.
Plans call for the new ferry to be built as a hybrid diesel-electric with all the systems, equipment and components for all-electric propulsion when it is delivered in 2023. It will be fully converted to electric propulsion by 2030, once shore power is installed.
As part of CleanBC, British Columbia is working to electrify the inland ferry fleet by 2040.
With a 55-car capacity, the new ferry will almost double the vehicle capacity of the existing 65-year-old vessel, Balfour, which will be retired from service.