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Future of vessel power starts at 100 percent with hybrid technology

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During last month’s Electric & Hybrid Marine World Expo, Derecktor Shipyards announced that after building a 65-foot research catamaran, the company had been contracted to build another hybrid-electric research vessel.

Its HybriDrive system will allow for silent operation, and the addition of keel coolers will minimize wastewater discharge from the vessel. This, according to Derecktor General Manager Micah Tucker, will make the vessel suitable for use in highly sensitive research applications and create “one of the most forward-thinking and environmentally friendly vessels in operation today.”

The challenge, Tucker said, is in training captains and engineers to adapt to a vessel with an automated variable speed generator.

“When the diesels shut down, you don’t actually lose power, but it takes a while for your mind to adjust to this and realize that everything is OK,” Tucker said. “It can be a little nerve wracking docking the vessel in 20 knots of breeze, when the generators shut down and that’s your only input and all of a sudden they’re not there. We found after a while, you have to pay attention more to the movement of the vessel and actually listen for the audible or vibration feedback.”

More than 2,000 people from 40 countries gathered in Ft. Lauderdale in mid-January to hear from all sectors of the marine industry as to how electric and hybrid technology is changing the game. And it starts with commercial boats such as that research vessel.

Electric & Hybrid Marine World Expo attendees ask questions after presentations from experts. PHOTO/SUZETTE COOK

Electric & Hybrid Marine World Expo attendees ask questions after presentations from experts. PHOTO/SUZETTE COOK

“Hybrid power is coming, and it’s not going away,” attendee Carl Verdonck said. “From a mechanical aspect it just makes sense. Having a diesel engine driving a transmission to a propeller has been around too long. There’s a better way to do it.”

Verdonck is a product specialist for GKN Land Systems in Dayton, Ohio. The global company supplies technology for differentiated power management solutions and services. The advances in electric and hybrid technology have changed how his company comes up with solutions to power supply.

“We were used to horsepower and torque, and now we’re going to have to get used to kilowatts and megawatts,” he said.

Up and coming marine engineers will need to understand this new technology, too.

“They’re going to have to concentrate more on basic electrical knowledge,” Verdonck said. “In mechanical engineering school, we had a class called motors and rotors, which is how the electric motors and the generators work and how the voltage and current applies. That’s an entirely different world than when we’re dealing with pure mechanical force.”

Verdonck said his training did require segments of instruction that is becoming more relevant today than when he first learned it.

“There’s basic curricula for understanding some parts of electrical engineering, but for people like myself, I wasn’t interested in it,” said Verdonck, who is a mechanical engineer. “I took the class and the second that it was over, it was erased from my memory. So, unfortunately, I’m going to have to go back and pull some dust off the books and relearn that stuff because it just became pertinent 20 years later.”

Training engineers and captains of vessels using battery power systems is a top priority for companies that make them, such as Nilar, said Richard Howlett, the Sweden-based company’s vice president of engineering.

“It doesn’t take long,” he said about getting a vessel under way. “There’s no ramping it up, ramping it down. You start at 100 percent.

“You have to get used to having all that power,” he said. “When slowing down, a captain has to not just pull back in reverse, he has to pull into it, or [he’ll] throw everybody out of their chairs.”

It seems that everyone is watching, and waiting for some signs of success.

“The future of what we’re doing with the U.S Navy is well-rooted in the commercial industry,” said Stephen Markle, acting director of the U.S. Navy’s Electric Ships Office. “You guys are showing us how to get there. We’re very interested in energy storage, whether or not it’s batteries or fly wheels or anything else. Very interested in how we move that energy around the ship where and when we need it.”

More than 30 electric and hybrid marine industry experts agreed that the higher profit margin is the incentive for the commercial marine industry to jump onboard with hybrid and electric technology.

But for the megayacht industry, the pressure to take on new technology falls behind, said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida and a former Westport executive.

“I’m a big fan of hybrid technology,” said Purcell, who said he owns a Tesla electric vehicle, an electric Duffy Boat and a Torqeedo electric outboard. “But nothing happens until somebody sells something. If we can’t create awareness, it’s really hard for you guys to sell it.”

Suzette Cook is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome at suzette@the-triton.com.

 

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