BC ferry sailing into the horizon

The coming wave of electric ferries

Jun. 30 2020 - 4 min

Battery-powered and hybrid-electric ferries are an increasingly popular option for passenger ship owners looking to meet upcoming IMO sustainability targets.

The shipping industry is working harder than ever to limit its environmental footprint and reach IMO’s emission reduction targets for 2030 and 2050.

For passenger ships in particular, regulatory and social pressure have underscored the need to switch to green fuels and alternative propulsion as quickly as possible. Among other developing solutions, batteries and hybrid-electric power are a feasible option for short-sea and commuter ferries.

The challenges of electric vessels

Battery-powered vessels have already come a long way, with fully electric and electric-hybrid vessels operating in several countries, including Norway and Canada. Countries across Europe, North America and Asia are exploring battery power as a green solution for short-sea ferries, inland navigation vessels and small boats.

Still, battery-powered ships face several technical and practical hurdles. The first is the cost of energy storage (cost per kilowatt-hour), as current battery capacity is still low. This is compounded by challenges of weight and size: today’s energy storage systems (ESS) are large and heavy, taking up significant space on board and posing engineering challenges.

Electrically powered vessels also raise questions about battery recharging and disposal. Owners need to optimize the recharging process, while ensuring that batteries are powered solely by green energy. Another challenge is recycling, as batteries are typically removed once they reach 80% of their initial capacity, then turned over for use onshore or for scrap.

Advancing a developing green technology

Researchers, engineers, equipment suppliers and manufacturers worldwide are working on solutions for battery-powered vessels. New battery types, integration of supercapacitors, improved battery management systems, increased battery life solutions, new methods of battery recycling and more are under development. For ship owners looking towards the future, one thing is clear: technologies for electric power are improving by leaps and bounds.

To help ship owners move toward sustainably powered vessels, Bureau Veritas has created a comprehensive regulatory framework to help foster development of safe battery-powered and electric-hybrid ships. We currently offer three notations. BATTERY SYSTEM covers the safe installation and use of batteries for propulsion, and ELECTRIC HYBRID covers vessels using a combination of diesel engines and batteries. For ships designed to have batteries installed in the future – accounting for technological maturity and lower investment costs – we have developed the ELECTRIC HYBRID PREPARED notation.

Several vessels have already received our ELECTRIC HYBRID notation, including two RoRo cargo ships for Seaspan, scheduled for delivery in 2021. Two hybrid RoPax ferries with BATTERY SYSTEM notation have been delivered to BC Ferries, with another four ships on order for delivery end 2020. Furthermore, two all-electric ferries are under construction for the government of Ontario, and will be delivered later this year. A further all-electric ferry is under construction for Danish operator Molslinjen, and will be delivered in September 2021.