SHORT routes and regular port visits provide opportunities for shipboard stored energy technology, and it is the commercial case that is turning the tide for ferry owners towards zero emissions. A fully charged battery pack can be used to propel a ship over shorter distances along a predictable route at relatively low operating cost and with little wear and tear, with the clean and green vessel quietly recharged at the quayside. The appetite for ferry electrification has recently been captured by the Maritime Battery Forum, which counts 177 contracted ferries (car and/or passenger vessels) with batteries. Among these, 101 ferries are in operation today, and 76 are under construction. According to the data, the biggest adopters of the battery-powered ferry by region have so far been Europe and North America. However, the same environmental and economic drivers are in play the world over, including in Australasia.

Zero emissions for southern skies

Latest reports indicate that Energy Networks Australia, for example, sees significant potential for the electric commuter ferry in Australian waters. The industry association suggests e-ferries as an “obvious option” for Sydney harbor and the Parramatta River. Meanwhile, the high renewable energy source penetration in Tasmania’s energy market (some 95.9%) suggest it as a market likely to prove favourable for sustainable ferry technology, ENA says. The appetite for plug-in power is already more advanced elsewhere under southern skies. Wellington-based harbor ferry operator East by West is reported as due to take delivery of New Zealand’s first electric commuter ferry during mid-2020 – a 19m length vessel with capacity to carry 135 commuters.

Existing vessels, sustainable future

The moves put Australasia’s maritime industries in lockstep with wider developments in battery-powered marine transport. Indeed, whether small or large, it is increasingly being realized that most short distance ferry boats and routes can be electrified. In 2018, for example, two ForSea ferries operating between Denmark and Sweden became the largest battery powered ferries in operation, following an ABB-led conversion. Another notable ABB project is the conversion of the 1965-built ferry San Cristoforo sailing in Lake Maggiore in Italy, which will see an installation of a complete power and propulsion system to enable the vessel’s operation in hybrid and zero-emission modes. The turnkey modernization utilizes ABB’s solutions including batteries and energy storage control system.

An American classic reenergised

The United States recently introduced the first US-built ‘all-electric’ vessels: two new Maid of the Mist tourist ferries featuring an ABB propulsion system. These Niagara Falls tour boats are powered by a pair of battery packs with a total capacity of 316 kWh, split evenly between two catamaran hulls and creating two independent power systems for full redundancy. The vessels charge between every trip while passengers disembark and board. Shoreside charging only takes seven minutes, allowing the batteries to power electric propulsion motors that are themselves capable of a total 400 kW (563 HP) output. This is all controlled by ABB’s integrated Power and Energy Management System (PEMS), which optimizes energy use on board.

Author Bruce Strupp. Credit: JLA

Beyond ferries

More broadly, it is fair to point out that most ‘alternative’ propulsion arrangements today are centered around an electrified system, whether they consist of diesel or LNG-electric hybrids, full battery power or fuel cell-based solutions. Across the board, their selection is based not only on lower emissions but on improved safety and reliability, and lower lifecycle costs.

When it comes to developing and implementing these systems, Australia has the opportunity to leverage the experience gained in this area by the likes of Norway and the United States, but with many of the country’s commuter ferries eligible for battery integration, the electric ship is surely fast coming over horizon in the southern hemisphere. ABB believes the future of vessels around the globe will be electric, digital and connected. Whether the power source is fuel cells, batteries, ammonia-fuelled generators or a wave energy harvesting system, electric powertrains will be able to integrate them. This means that an electric-based powertrain is truly futureproofed as new energy sources are developed.

* Bruce Strupp is the Senior Account Manager, New Build at ABB Marine & Ports