SilentYachts_VW_1100x400
Superyacht
Sustainability
Propulsion
Tuesday, 08 December 2020
Peter
Franklin

Is electrification of boats catching up with vehicles?

As an owner of a boat fitted with an internal combustion (diesel) engine, I’m wondering whether I should start to feel guilty about my leisure time on the water? Although in my mitigation, I have swapped my stinky petrol outboard motor on the tender for an electric one, and I have to say that I am happy with the decision. Those frustrating starting problems that seem to plague all petrol outboards are a thing of the past, and quieter cruising which doesn’t disturb the wildlife is a real pleasure. I just have to remember to keep the battery charged!

Here in the Netherlands the phase-out dates for IC means of propulsion are drawing ever nearer for vehicles, but also for boats in Amsterdam, where combustion engines will be totally banned in the city’s touristic network of canals by 2025, both for the commercial passenger vessels, and for privately owned boats.

According to a Reuters report published earlier this year, 75% of the 550 tour boats that carry 14 million tourists around the canals every year, are already able to be certified as emission free.  But, there are estimated to be 12,000 privately owned leisure boats being used by individuals within the city boundaries (I wouldn’t mind betting that the figure is higher in reality,) and only about 5% of them are considered to be emission free.

That leaves over 11,000 boats (or maybe more) that will either have to be converted to emission free propulsion, or sold / scrapped and replaced with electrically powered vessels within the next four years. Sadly, this kind of expenditure may well be beyond the reach of many, who will probably just have to give up boating, or move their boat to somewhere outside of the emission free zone.

Electrical marine propulsion, a rapidly growing concept

However, if you are a boater with an eye on the future, a concern for the environment, and some money in your bank account, then there is definitely an increasing number of options in electrically propelled boats coming to the market almost every day, in just about every size and type of vessel depending on your personal preference and/ or budget.

And judging by the amount of news about emerging concepts and technologies in this field just recently, it does look like the e-revolution in the automotive world started by the likes of Tesla, is rapidly spreading into the leisure marine space.

Game changing battery technology on the horizon

We have all become familiar with lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technology, which has revolutionised the electrification of vehicles and to some degree boats as well in recent years, and is certainly helping to drive the transition away from fossil fuels. But according to the Faraday Institution, a British based Think Tank that is committed to powering the battery revolution, there is a more sustainable future beyond the Li-ion concept, with the introduction of lithium-sulphur (Li-S) batteries that are now fully developed and ready to go.

The advantages of Li-S over Li-ion cell batteries are described as:1) higher energy density, 2) lower costs and less restrictive raw material availability, 3) improved safety with reduced risk of short circuit failures, 4) less damaging environmental impact.   

The raw material aspect of this, and its effect on the environment is particularly interesting, as Li-ion batteries typically contain both nickel and cobalt. These are materials which, at present, are obtained through intensive mining efforts concentrated in one area of the world, on the African continent. The process is known to have a significant contaminating effect on water supplies, and subsequently wildlife and food supplies.

Sulphur by contrast is much more widely available material, apparently almost limitless, with a good level of production capacity across all continents, and with a less harmful effect on the environment. It is also said to pose much lower health risks in its production than nickel and cobalt raw materials do.    

Li-S batteries coming to marine applications

Within the last few weeks it has been announced, that lithium-sulphur battery technology developed by Oxis Energy will be installed in a newly designed 40 ft (12m) luxury day boat, as part of a joint venture project with the boat builder, Yachts de Luxe (YdL) based in Singapore. 

Having pioneered the commercialisation of the Li-S cell concept, Oxis have quite a track record. Earlier this year, they provided the power for the first ever electric aircraft built in the US, which undertook a two-hour flight under approval of NASA and the Federal Aviation Authority.   So, from planes to leisure boats in one step, that seems to be quite a revolutionary progression to keep an eye on!

The project has been adventurously named as ‘Galaxy of Happiness’ with the boat being designed by renowned French naval architect Jean Jacques Coste, and slated for showing at the 2021 Monaco Yacht Show next September.  

Volkswagen technology to power new Silent Yachts electric catamaran

In another very recent announcement there is further encouraging evidence of automotive and marine technologies in electric propulsion blending together.

Silent Yachts, have been building boats for over 10 years now, and they have already produced the first fully solar-sustainable oceangoing production catamaran yachts in the world. 

For their next project, they have joined forces with Volkswagen, and the Barcelona based progressive automotive design company CUPRA. The resulting concept will be a futuristic looking solar electric catamaran, powered by Volkswagen´s modular electric drive matrix (MEB.) The yacht will offer noiseless navigation and unlimited cruising range with alternative propulsion systems according to the information from Silent Yachts. 

This kind of cross-industry collaboration will surely drive developments in the leisure boating industry even faster, by piggy backing on the economies of scale that the massive global motor car industry offers.   

One way you can find out more, is to register for the METSTRADE Connect show on 10th December, and listen in to the Sustainability Panel Discussion entitled, ‘The Future of Greener Boating’ being broadcast at 13.45, where you will hear even more talk than in previous years, about the electrification of boating.

All professionals in the leisure marine industry are welcome to register free of charge for the event HERE.

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