Damen sees hybrid-electric technology for ferries as a first step into all-electric propulsion for bigger ships when the time is ripe
When river cruise specialist A-Rosa’s new 135-m vessel is launched in 2021, it will incorporate builder Damen’s latest thinking on passenger ship propulsion and design. The vessel will feature zero-emissions battery power among other innovations that are rapidly turning the global shipyard into a specialist in ferries and other smaller passenger ships as well as its workboats and many other designs.
Along with the river cruiser to be known as E-Motion, Damen has a full orderbook for hybrid and electric-powered ferries. Its shipyard at Mangalia, Romania, is constructing two LNG-hybrid, 149-m ferries for Seaspan that will be able to carry more than 200 m3 of LNG and 2 MWh of battery capacity. Classed by Bureau Veritas, the ferries are due to go into operation in 2021.
Meanwhile Damen’s yard in Galati, also Romania, is finishing off the second of a two-ferry contract for the government of Ontario that will see operation in the Great Lakes. Both hybrid-ready, the first ferry, 68-m Amhurst Islander II, was launched in late 2019 while 98-m Wolf Islander IV will shortly undergo trials in the Black Sea. Inevitably, work on the second ferry has been delayed by Covid-19 which forced the shipyard to work in shifts. The Ontario commission for these ‘road ferries’ follows a rush of orders from Canada including two electric-hybrid ferries for British Columbia that went into operation during 2020. Both are equipped with Corvus Energy’s batteries and are ready for all-electric propulsion in the future.
And on Britain’s pristine Lake Windermere, a new Damen-designed and built diesel- electric ferry is due to start operations in 2020 for 175-year-old Windermere Lake Cruises. With a 300-passenger seating capacity, the ferry will be the largest vessel to be launched on the lake in more than 80 years. The design is the result of intensive computer-based modelling to minimise wash, resulting in a more environmentally friendly hull design. Propulsion is diesel-electric with azimuth pods. For good measure, Damen’s Yi Chang shipyard in China started work in May on a 67-m long, 16-m wide ferry that will operate off the Timor-Leste capital off Dili in the Banda Sea. This one will be powered by two Yanmar engines and is scheduled to begin operations in 2021.
Damen jumped early into the market for hybrid-electric ferries and has been fully stretched ever since. “There are no signs that this will slow down soon,” Damen product director for ferries Henk Grunstra tells Passenger Ship Technology. “Hybrid technology is often a step up towards full-electric sailing, but it largely depends on the availability of a suitable infrastructure on the shore side and this takes time. Hybrid technology bridges this period.
“Secondly, the technology for full-electric operation of a ferry is new and relies on innovative technology and battery systems. We expect this will change in the long run and there will be less demand for hybrid-electric solutions when shore-based infrastructure is available and confidence in fully electric systems is sufficiently established.”
Underlining his point about the importance of shoreside infrastructure and developing technology, in early July 2020 Dutch operator Rederij Doeksen’s new catamaran ferry Willem Barentsz went into service on the intracoastal Wadden Sea powered by two of MTU’s latest LNG-powered 16-cylinder, 1,492kw, IMO III-compliant engines after first considering the more radical alternative of an all-electric ferry.
“We thought about it and came to the conclusion it would not be feasible,” Rederij Doeksen managing director Paul Melles tells MTU magazine in July. “With its 1,100-tonne displacement and a 21-nautical mile route, the vessel would have needed a huge bank of batteries. And probably there would not have been enough time between sailings to allow the batteries to be recharged.” However, further emphasising the Damen viewpoint, he added that the company would be open to different technologies such as hybrid as it retrofits power units into existing propulsion systems in the future. “The next steps will come in the next few years [and] we are confident there will soon be new legislation to do even more for the environment.” That is one reason why Rederij Doeksen is examining the availability of biofuels.
As well as being under pressure from local authorities anxious to protect the environment, the banking industry is increasingly demanding to see firm evidence that projects are low-polluting before they are prepared to lend. As Mr Grunstra points out, “in some instances financing arrangements can be more attractive when ferry operators propose sustainable solutions.”
The use of hybrid-electric technology is much more complex than simply installing the propulsion – and all-electric technology is even more so. In this, power management is the unsung hero of environmentally responsible ferries. As Damen’s ferry boss explains, “Hybrid-electric propulsion brings the need for efficient and reliable management of electric power [in the form of] programming software for power management systems. It is very much information technology with the same characteristics as any kind of automation project. Purpose-designed software has to be written according to a comprehensive set of requirements. This is a team effort between operator, ship designer, software specialists and others. And it brings together the timetables for the ferry route, power needs, propeller design, climate control, crew behaviour and many other aspects.”
Combining all these elements, Damen’s E-Cross program is the foundation of its fast-developing expertise in constructing ferries of all sizes and functions. And it is evolving rapidly. “Electrification is a steep learning curve but with E-Cross we have made a good start,” says Mr Grunstra.
Meantime ferries are laying the foundation for the electrification of other, bigger ships. “They present a good starting point [because of] the predictable nature of their operations, working to a regular route and schedule. It allows a shipyard to tailor the propulsion exactly to the vessel’s operational profile. This predictability is critical for developing vessels with electrical propulsion.”
Damen has learned to be an integrator in this multi-faceted process. For instance, the shipyard typically has to take into account a host of sometimes conflicting elements such as civic regulations that differ from country to country and city to city, the volume and nature of power available from the grid, the selection of the most suitable equipment, and only then create the operational profile of the vessel to match. For all these variable reasons, it is difficult for shipyards to accurately cost the operation of an electric ferry, the company explains. The one thing that can be said with certainty is they cost more than conventional ferries, but operating expenses are much lower over the lifetime of a vessel.
With each vessel, Damen is developing the technology a step or two further. A product of Damen’s Concordia division, A-Rosa’s newbuild is scheduled to operate in the northern Rhine region from 2021. Although the propulsion system is advanced, so is the design. It incorporates four decks, 140 cabins, ample public spaces including a children’s eating area as well as an adult’s restaurant, a spa and wellness area, and – for the first time – dedicated rest areas for the crew.
A lot has happened in electrification in the past decade. “The electrification of ships is no longer just a prospect for the future,” emphasises Mr Grunstra. “Electrification is here, right now.”
But shoreside infrastructure has to catch up.
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