Werkina believes the future is electric – entirely electric. A few dozen years from now, you won’t find any fossil fuels on board ships anymore. This forecast isn’t just based on developments in technology. It’s also confirmed by the growing number of major clients that set ‘100% green’ as a condition for their new build projects. And the transition is also supported by the general public, while governments stimulate it by adapting strict regulations on the one hand and interesting subsidy schemes on the other.
On-board technology is ready for the transition.
Propulsion, power management, all on-board components are completely ready for this electric future. There aren’t many options left to improve things at the efficiency end, with engines transferring 97% of their power to the propshaft. Nowadays, the focus is entirely on storing and charging electricity. While this is a massive challenge, new developments in this area follow each other in rapid succession. More and more major parties in other industries – like Mercedes and Siemens, for example – are investing in the development of large batteries. Indeed, in the past three years, capacity doubled in relation to volume – and this development shows no signs of winding down. It’s fairly safe to assume that in three years’ time, capacity will have doubled once again – or maybe even increased even further.
Right now, the time needed to recharge a battery doesn’t fit in most sailing schedules. While the cargo is already loaded for transport, the battery is still a long way from a full charge. The solution lies in supplying the batteries in exchangeable, 20-foot ISO containers rather than installing them as a permanent on-board fixture. These power units, called ‘e-Powerboxes’, are easy to install and link together by means of a cradle.
These containers will also come in a number of other variants, like gas, diesel and – a bit further down the road – even hydrogen generators. A 110-metre ship could load four battery containers on board, allowing it to travel 35 hours at cruising speed. A large number of routes can be completed in this time period. When a route includes a variety of power requirements, the vessel can also load a container that houses a power generator. In these cases, the container with batteries will be used for so-called ‘peak shaving’.
When a ship is assigned to an entirely different route, it can also be fitted with a full complement of generator containers. In other words, every imaginable power requirement can be met with a suitable source. Future technological developments will mainly be occurring in these containers. Which means that a fully electric vessel is also a future-proof vessel.
Artist’s impression of an e-Powerbox
This is a specially developed jerk and vibration-free container for power storage. An e-Powerbox can be used for both electric batteries and diesel or gas generators. In due time, this will also be expanded to include hydrogen generators.
Pay to use rather than own
Since the containers are interchangeable, ship’s captains no longer have to restrict themselves to a specific power source. Depending on the route, they can opt for a container with a gas or diesel generator or one with a bank of batteries. At the end of the itinerary – while the cargo is being loaded or unloaded – they can either recharge the unit or exchange it in its entirety. The ship’s captains don’t actually own the containers, which means they don’t have to invest in maintenance etc. They merely pay a fee for their use.
Tomorrow’s technology for the ships of today
Work is already underway on the first fully electric inland vessels. In view of the capacity offered by existing batteries, these vessels will be operating along fixed, limited-length routes.
In a few years’ time – once battery capacity has doubled or quadrupled – the range covered by these ships will increase proportionately. The vessels won’t have to be adapted any further for this. However, these vessels will be able to take advantage of current subsidy policies – and the strong wish of both governments and clients to promote ‘green’ shipping.