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More than 65% expect widespread hybrid and electric propulsion in medium-term

Industry attendees at a recent Riviera webinar on hybrid and electric propulsion uptake said they expect to see widespread adoption of hybrid electric power systems in shipping within the next five years

The poll result came from the ’Business Case for Hybrid and Electric Technology in Asia’ webinar, part of Riviera Maritime Media’s Maritime Hybrid, Electric and Fuel Cells Webinar Week. The webinar series was supported by Navtek Naval Technologies, maritime technology provider ABB Marine & Ports and class society ABS.

Panellists included ABB Marine & Ports research and development manager Ricky Chan, ABS senior principal engineer Lui Chih Wei, and Navtek Naval Technologies general manager Ferhat Acuner.

ABB Marine & Ports is at the forefront of developing this technology. In a statement of intent for the sector, Mr Chan said, “At ABB, we believe the next generation of vessels will be electric, digital and connected.”

He noted that the shortsea sector was particularly suited to using electric vessels powered via batteries, fuel cells or a combination of these technologies. The digital side of the technology uses sensors and cameras to update the digitalised information flow to the captain, crew and the operator ashore.

This near-term outlook of electric vessels includes a degree of automation. The connectivity will include the human element although the decision making will be supported by powerful computers running artificial intelligence and algorithms. “Humans will remain at the centre of the operations, to oversee and give commands when needed,” said Mr Chan.

A key point in the ABB Marine & Ports view of the near future is a dramatic reduction in emissions through using electric power via batteries storing electricity generated from renewable sources. Mr Chan noted, “A pure electric vessel is simpler compared to its diesel counterpart, it is more efficient, more flexible in terms of equipment layout and arrangements. For instance, electric ships do not need the lubrication and fuel tanks in the same magnitude as a diesel powered ship. Vessel designs will be more optimised towards the purpose they are serving.”

This was a point reflected in Mr Lui’s presentation. He illustrated the solutions available with two case studies: Seacor Maya and Harvey Energy. The retrofit installation of lithium batteries to the OSV Seacor Maya relied on ABS’ involvement. The conversion of Seacor Maya secured a nomination in the 2019 Hybrid Power & Propulsion Award. Dual-fuel engines and modular batteries are key features of Harvey Energy.

Mr Lui noted, “Using all-electric vessels for the shortsea sector is the ‘low-hanging fruit’. Firstly, it is technically feasible, secondly, being close to shore is close to its support network,” he said. The advantage of the switch to an all-electric vessel is immediately visible in a port in Asia from reduced pollution and better air quality.

Navtek Naval Technologies has developed a range of zero-emissions electric tugs, the Zeetug series. Mr Acuner said, “As far as I am aware, this is the most powerful all-electric tug boat with approximately 2,000 Kw of electric power with two electric motors on board.”

As a totally electric vessel, the Zeetug is estimated to save 210 tonnes of CO2 and 9 tonnes of NOx per year compared to the equivalent traditional tug boat, according to Navtek. The all-electric tug draws all its power from two 1,450-kW lithium-ion battery packs supplied by Corvus Energy. For safety, the tug has two redundant battery rooms, one fore and one aft, maintained at a constant temperature by a cooling system.

Navtek’s experience with all-electric tugs highlights one of the aspects touched on by Mr Chan: the all-electric vessel should be custom designed to optimise the operational benefit. “For this particular project, we (Navtek) studied five tugboats and their operations from five years of data to create an operational profile,” said Mr Acuner. The four key operational aspects were: How often does the tug operate? How long is each operational period? What is the typical distance sailed? What are the power requirements for each operational period?


Polls taken during the webinar clearly showed the high degree of interest among delegates in adopting hybrid or electric power. Some 65% of respondents said they agreed with the statement “the industry will see wide-spread adoption of hybrid electric power systems in the medium term (5 years from now).

But cost is the main issue. The main factor stopping embarking on hybrid-electric power systems was capital expenditure costs (75%) and doubts on the efficacy of the technology (18%) although crew training and safety concerns were also an issue. The drivers behind a move to adopting hybrid electric systems were a reduction in emissions (32%) and operational cost savings (25%). There was also some interest (10%) in government incentives with the remaining delegate votes focused on the new technology aspect.

Key takeaways

Mr Chan: “One of my key takeaway points from the presentation is that to realise this vision of zero-emissions shipping is that we need to work together. We need to look at the ecosystem in a holistic manner. That means from a technology provider, infrastructure, regulation and class. This includes government bodies as well as people from the operational perspective.”

Mr Lui: “We know that certain operational efficiencies and technologies will get shipping past IMO 2030. To meet IMO 2050 will require alternative fuel and some kind of decarbonisation technology which does not exist yet. However, going forward hybrid and electric power will have a big part to play, regardless of the direction the industry might take.

Mr Acuner: “The near future is very strong on electric power systems. Many ships will be of a rechargeable electric nature sooner than many people expect. Vessel and port operators should give priority to considering rechargeable electric facilities, energy storage facilities and so on. Engineering companies will play a vital role in this process.”

You can view the webinar, in full, in our webinar library.

And you can sign up to attend our upcoming webinars on our events page.




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