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Fleet transformation: the electric threat to shipping’s decarbonisation inertia

Short sea ferries are not the only ones getting electrified. There are a lot of other transport methods that are getting the same treatment. This will only increase the pressure on the shipping industry to push on with their decarbonisation agenda.

Shipping pundits often sell the fact that while 90% of trade goes by sea, it is by far the most fuel efficient and clean form of transportation in terms of per cargo unit.

However, the picture per vessel or vehicle is not as complimentary. It is not just electric cars and trucks that are getting the electric makeover with start-ups and investors putting money into the future of electric transportation, the airline industry is too.

Electricity prices are rising, as is oil, but not at the same rate. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), crude oil prices are up 150% over the past 10 years, while electricity has only risen by 47%. Electric propulsion offers a new way to get from A to B without polluting the planet to the same extent as diesel engines. And as a bonus, it saves time and money.

Here’s a list of some of the inspiring electrification projects that are shaping the transport industries that show why doing nothing is not an option for shipping.

Electric Cars 

Everyone knows that Tesla is top of the game when it comes to electric cars, but Jaguar, Volvo, and even Dyson are now getting in on it and pushing the competition.

Dyson announced that £2bn would be spent building the electric car and its battery over the next few years. Start-ups Faraday Future, Fisker Automotive, Nio, and Lucid Motors, all have electric cars in the pipeline set to rival Tesla.

The electric car market is growing rapidly. Most cars can be charged to 80% in about 30 minutes and there is an increasing number of charging stations being placed around the world.

Electric Buses

Electric buses are being used increasingly in cities to cut emissions and make transport quieter.

London’s mayor recently announced that more electric bus routes are to open up in the country’s capital.

Electric buses are also becoming more able to transit for longer periods of time. Last year, the US company Proterra unveiled the Catalyst E2 transit bus that has a range of 350 miles. Not only is the bus able to travel double the distance of previous battery-powered buses, but the battery lasts the entire duration of bus’s transit for the day.

Electric Lorries

Scania electric truck. Courtesy of Scania.

While more challenging to create large and long-enough lasting batteries for trucks, it has been done.

In 2015, BMW and Scherm, deployed Europe’s first fully-electric 65 tonne truck. It can run for 100km and charged to 100% in no more than 4 hours.  It has been used in Munich, Germany, and since 2015 has made 3,00 trips, totalling 17,000km, saving Scherm 8,000 litres of diesel and 22 tonnes of CO2, according to Scherm.

Scania, Volvo, and Siemens are going head-to-head in the bid to develop a fleet of electric trucks and have already started field trials. In 2016, Sweden launched the first electric trucks on public roads on its E15 test highway, north of Stockholm.

Tesla also plans to unveil its electric truck in October in California.

Electric Trains

Electric trains have been around for a while now, they were one of the first transport methods to go electric. Their efficiency hasn’t stopped growing though.

The first electric train was built in 1837 by Robert Davidson and was powered by galvanic cells, which are batteries.  Since then, electric trains have made huge steps in efficiency. Brakes can now be triggered electronically, which improves efficiency.

In 2011, it was announced that electric services between Cardiff to London and Bristol to London would further reduce travel time because of the speed at which electric trains can travel, while contributing zero pollution.

Electric Ferries   

The electric ferry has become quite popular in recent years. Lots of companies are starting to develop them. Some examples include:

  • Ampere – Norwegian ferry company, Norled, shipyard Fjellstrand, and Siemens, developed the electric passenger and car ferry, MF Ampere. Operating between Lavik and Oppedal, Norway, around 6km, the ferry is powered by a Corvus Energy Storage System that can fully recharge itself in just 10 minutes.
  • Elektra – the hybrid battery-fed electric drive passenger and car carrying ferry operates in Finland. Charging time for the batteries is just 7 minutes. The ferry can also run off one of its three diesel engines when the batteries are not in use.
  • Aditya – this is actually a solar powered ferry that has operated for 150 days in India, totalling 3,058 trips.
  • The Vision of the Fjords – the Norwegian passenger ferry operates around the Norwegian fjords, using a hybrid electric propulsion system from ABB. Its unique design allows passengers to get a 360o view of their surroundings.
  • The Future of the Fjords – Announced in June this year, the Future of the Fjords will be ready for sailing in April 2018. The fully electric vessel will have no combustion engine. It will transport passengers around Norway.
Fully electric powered ferry, Future of the Fjords, scheduled for 2018 (left) and the interior of hybrid electric ferry, Vision of the Fjords. Courtesy of The Fjords.

Electric Airplanes

Even the aerospace industry is getting onboard with the move towards electric. US-based Wright Electric claims that electric planes will be 50% quieter, 10% cheaper for airlines to buy and operate, and will cut travel time significantly.

Wright Electric and Easyjet have planned an electric powered plane for the next 10-20 years. Courtesy of Wright Electric.

Easyjet has backed the development of electric planes, and believes that they could be a reality within 10-20 years. Wright Electric is developing the prototype for Easyjet, which is expected to have a flight length of 335 miles, allowing it to travel from London to Amsterdam, Paris, Cologne and other European cities within this range.

According to Wright Electric, the plane will feature quick-swap batteries with advanced cell chemistry to enable quick switching of battery packs.


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