An electric revolution is under way in the ferry sector. America’s largest ferry network, Washington State Ferries, has announced plans to deploy plug-in hybrid vessels on most of its routes. Norway’s leading ferry operators, Norled and Fjord1, are deploying multiple all-electric vessels for their shorter runs. In Canada, BC Ferries has just taken delivery of its first two hybrid-electric vessels.
Many other operators are considering diesel-electric power, which would give them the flexibility to add new energy sources later. If electrification is the future for ferries, then Niagara Falls is a good place to find a preview.
Maid of the Mist
The Maid of the Mist sightseeing tour at Niagara Falls has been running since the 1840s with a brief hiatus for the Civil War. Its operations have stayed essentially the same over the years except for the transition from steam to diesel.
The passenger dock sits on a narrow strip of land at the base of the Niagara Gorge, just below Horseshoe Falls and about a mile and a half above a set of powerful rapids. There’s no navigable waterway in or out, and no access road. Passengers arrive by elevator from a parking lot at the top of the gorge. For operational purposes, the site is isolated – so isolated that it requires its own “shipyard,” a $30 million maintenance pad complete with a 200-ton pedestal crane at the base of the gorge.
When it came time for Maid of the Mist to replace its two boats, the company decided to look at all available options. Its operating requirements lined up with something unexpected – the world’s first battery-electric car ferry, the Ampere. Not precisely, but close enough that it caught the attention of Maid of the Mist President Christopher Glynn.
“The Ampere was of interest for a lot of reasons,” said Glynn, speaking at an ABB-sponsored forum in New York, “one of which was it parallels our operation in time: 20 minutes on the water and then 10 minutes of charging at the dock. And we thought, if battery-electric can be done in a vessel that size, certainly it can be done in a smaller vessel like one of ours. And you know, we’re at Niagara Falls, one of the largest sources of hydroelectric power in the world.”
To build its new all-electric vessels, Maid of the Mist worked with ABB Marine and Ports, a leader in electric propulsion systems. The design team took a conservative approach to risk management and opted for full redundancy. The catamaran hull contains two of everything required to maneuver with a separate propulsion system, battery storage bank, electrical bus and steering system in each pontoon. The first of the two boats began trials in mid-December, and Maid of the Mist expects both to enter into operation in 2020.
It was an ambitious project, even for a passenger operator serving 1.6 million visitors a year. Public perception was a key motivating factor in green-lighting the extra investment, says Glynn: “This is a famous tourist attraction in a very special, environmentally sensitive place. The overall victory for us is not in incremental savings on operating cost.”
Passenger vessel operators like Maid of the Mist serve the public directly, and electrification seems to be happening first in their sector of the industry, notes Catherine Hale, East Coast representative for Elliott Bay Design Group: “The biggest thing with ferries moving forward with batteries and hybrid-electric is that the public is pushing them. And the public is their customer.”
Maid of the Mist’s boats demonstrate the potential of all-electric power but also its limitations. They operate on a short, fixed rotation with frequent calls at one site, ideal conditions for recharging. Longer, more complex routes require more shoreside infrastructure (and therefore more cost). In addition, Maid of the Mist is just a few miles from the fourth-biggest hydroelectric plant in the U.S., which means grid power is both green and plentiful.
Grid capacity is a critical factor for commercial-scale marine power, says Jennifer States, Senior Consultant for DNV GL and Project Director for the Washington Maritime Blue initiative: “That’s what I would say is the biggest challenge right now. The plug-in infrastructure, that’s solvable. It’s about the grid impact and working with your electric utility.”
These challenges make electrification difficult for more complex ferry systems, adds Ethan Wiseman, Associate Vice President & Fleet Manager for the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the force behind the NYC Ferry system. The NYC Ferry network runs small, passenger-only vessels on six routes with about 20 stops in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. The operating profile on these routes varies widely with compact circuits along the East River contrasting with longer runs to Soundview and Rockaway.
“We’re always looking at options to decarbonize our operation,” Wiseman says, “but we’re finding there’s no one solution that fits all. We have routes that operate at lower speeds and higher speeds, shorter and longer ranges, some with quite a few stops. This makes battery-charging technology challenging. We also commingle vessels across different routes. When you start going into bespoke solutions on a route-by-route basis, the operational advantage goes away.”
America’s largest ferry owner by tonnage, the State of Washington, is heavily in favor of electrification. Under the direction of Governor Jay Inslee, who has made climate action his defining issue, Washington State Ferries has adopted an ambitious plan: It wants to have 22 plug-in-capable hybrid vessels and 17 shore-charging stations by 2040.
It’s already ordered a series of up to five new hybrid ferries from Vigor Industrial, and it’s working with Siemens on a battery-hybrid retrofit for its largest diesel-electric vessels, the Tacoma, Puyallup and Wenatchee. The first conversion is slated for completion in 2021-22 at an overall cost of about $40 million. That expense may seem high, but it’s buying reliability.
“When you start to get into the numbers and looking at how they’re going electric, there’s a lot of redundancy and risk aversion built into that price,” says Jennifer States, Washington Maritime Blue Project Director.
Some public operators aren’t sure that ferries are the right vessels to use with new technology since they are obligated to provide a regular service.
“You cannot use passenger ferries as experimental platforms,” says Captain James C. DeSimone, COO of the Staten Island Ferry. “People are relying on this thing going back and forth to work, school, doctor’s appointments. The vessel has to be very, very reliable, and any technology you’re going to step into has to be proven technology.”
All-electric power has fewer moving parts than diesel, and proponents argue that it has inherently lower maintenance requirements and higher uptime. However, battery-equipped vessels come with a major liability: Lithium-ion batteries have the potential for fire and toxic gas production if overcharged, shorted out or damaged. Additionally, the gas created by a failing cell can accumulate within an enclosed compartment, creating an explosion hazard.
Engine room fires are an age-old problem, but battery accidents are a bit different as witnessed by the fire and subsequent explosion aboard the Norwegian electric ferry Ytterøyningen last October. Investigators believe a gasket failed on a water-based cooling system for a battery pack, causing a cell to catch fire. It was brought under control, but an adjacent compartment exploded 12 hours later. The activation of a saltwater sprinkler system likely “contributed to escalating the incident” rather than controlling it, the battery’s manufacturer said.
According to a study released in January by DNV GL, these new risks will have to be addressed with new engineering decisions – that is, the right combination of compartmentalization, battery management technology, fire detection and firefighting systems. The study determined that in the event of a battery failure, powerful ventilation is needed to remove explosive gases from the compartment – the opposite of the fire damper-plus-CO2 procedure for an engine room fire.
In addition, the study showed that conventional sprinklers actually increased the risk of an explosion by displacing flammable gas into concentrated pockets. DNV GL also identified many effective ways to manage battery fire risks – too many to list here – but some of these new methods will require adjustment in an industry with hard-earned firefighting instincts.
Ferry of the Future
Once these technical questions are resolved, the ferry of the future might be quite futuristic indeed.
One company is working to combine battery-electric propulsion and vessel autonomy, removing both the diesel engine and the crew. Zeabuz, a new startup founded at the Norwegian research university NTNU, plans to develop and commercialize small, electric, service-on-demand passenger ferries for short routes.
“Autonomy fits like a glove with electric ferries,” says Asgeir J. Sørensen, Director of NTNU’s Center for Autonomous Marine Operations & Systems. “This enables better control, optimal operation, safety and maintenance.”
Electrification is advancing fast with the help of digital, connected technology, but this leap into the future is also a return to the past. The all-electric passenger ferry predates the advent of the diesel engine. In the 1890s, while Rudolph Diesel was perfecting his invention at engine builder Maschinenfabrik-Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN), for-hire electric launches were already shuttling passengers back and forth along the Thames. One of these fashionable vessels, the Mary Gordon, later fitted an aircraft engine on deck in what may have been a rudimentary “hybrid-electric” trial.
In some ways, the future looks very familiar. – MarEx
Paul Benecki is the magazine’s Americas/Europe Editor.
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The naval forces of the US and Bahrain recently staged a joint force training exercise which showcased the interoperability between coalition warships operating I the Arabian Gulf. Coalition Task Force Sentinel executed combined exercise Sentinel Shield supporting Sentry and Sentinel patrols in the coalition’s area of operations. The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones and […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
Global commercial aviation charter company Albion Aviation Group is reporting that it is seeing a considerable uptake in its professional cargo broker training courses from the current global pandemic crisis and surge in charter demand. “We have completed a number webinar courses for a whole of host of companies, looking to manage their own cargo […]
The First DP2, Twin-Hulled SOV in the World, NB72 Groene Wind met the Sea on September 29. 2020 in Yalova, Turkey. The Groene Wind will be directly chartered to Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy for the maintenance of the Rentel and Mermaid & Seastar (known as SeaMade) offshore wind farms in Belgium. This is the first DP2, […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Network Airline Management and TAAG Angola Airlines are pleased to announce the renewal of their long-term freighter aircraft contract by an additional 12 months, sealing an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future. Operating a regular weekly scheduled service from Liege, Belgium, to the capital of Angola, Luanda, Network Airline Management provides a Boeing 747-400F aircraft […]