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Have batteries got the jump on future fuels? (part 1)

Part One

While shipping is faced with the challenge of which fuel to opt for to power future vessels, batteries are already emerging as a popular writes Samantha Fisk who looks at some of the latest developments in two articles (the second part follows next week) .

Short sea shipping has seen a flurry of orders for new hybrid battery systems being installed on vessels, either retrofitted or for new builds. With this and further battery developments the market is starting to see more growth due to the flexibility of battery system set-ups, which is allowing for vessels to slowly make the step change over to other technologies and fuel options.

IDTechEX Research recently carried out a report looking into the future market of batteries in the maritime industry. Luke Gear, Author of the report ‘Electric Leisure & Sea-Going Boats and Ships 2021-2040’ explains that: “In 2019, IDTechEx estimates the electric and hybrid boat industry was worth roughly US$3.9 billion, based on vessel prices, and the maritime battery industry US$152 million.”

He notes about the growth of battery technology being utilised in the near future that he expects there will be a rapid growth in 2021 due to COVID-19 that has seen a decline in the uptake on the technology.

He also opines that due to future shortages in other technologies such as scrubbers and fuels, batteries will also become more appealing for the market and will be able to meet requirements.

Getting the green light

“The maritime battery systems themselves are at a mature stage of development; most vendors now have class compliance, which was not the case at the start of 2019. The industry is well positioned to ramp-up to meet demand and help vessels meet new emissions regulations”, he adds.

One notable trend with battery use at sea is that most vessels operate on either ‘A-B’ routes or on coastal routes.

As Teemu Heikkilä, Head of Product Line, High-Power Converters, Yaskawa Environmental Energy / The Switch explains: “Fully electrical vessels are gaining popularity, especially when it comes to short-distance vessels. These kinds of vessels are not a big market yet, but we can see the global market moving in that direction.”

New markets new players

New player to the market, US-based Lavle, is also seeing further opportunities in the market for batteries, bringing its own Proteus system to the market. Ben Gully, CTO, Lavle explains that: “Mature battery technologies allow for the direct replacement of diesel engine power for short sea operations, while continuous progress in battery development will enable the technology to be feasible in deep sea operations.  The opportunities and business case for hybridisation will continue to bring this technology to the forefront as well.”

Kongsberg is also seeing an increase in interest for battery technology and predicts that the hybrid set up with a battery alongside an engine will be the ‘new normal’ for vessels soon, which will bring more efficiencies to how vessels will operate and will reduce CAPEX and OPEX for owners.

Jens Hjorteset, Manager – Energy Solutions, Kongsberg Maritime AS opines that it is the CAPEX and OPEX which is holding back the adoption of this technology in the market. “To break through the barrier of implementation of a larger amount of battery systems on ships, I believe the industry needs to change our mindset of how we do system design”, he adds.

He explains that when looking at battery technology it is viewed as needing to be smaller and lighter to be fitted in to vessels and that: “there is a tendency today to design the ESS technology as an addition to a full size scale of energy producers, which makes it hard to argue the financial efficiency for the vessel.” System designs need to become more sustainable both financially and environmentally, he adds.

Developments in battery technology are also starting to address the size and weight of systems in the future as suppliers start to look at solid-state batteries. French-based Saft has said that it’s main focus for the future will be its own solid-state battery technology.

The main concern surrounding current battery technology is the safety of the systems, Dr Joong Sun Park, Solid State Technical Manager, Saft Batteries highlights that solid-state batteries will be “inherently much safer” than todays’ batteries that use liquid electrolyte which is very flammable.

Dr Park notes that the development of this technology is not specific for the maritime industry as all industries such as aviation, automotive and military are looking at this technology, but what is different is the power demands for maritime will be different than other markets.

The solid-state battery will utilise lithium metals which will allow batteries to be built smaller and lighter than existing batteries. However, the main challenge for developing this technology will be finding the correct lithium metal that will be a good conductor and safe. Dr Park also adds that once this has been solved that it will also change the process of how the cells are manufactured.

Lavle is also looking at developing solid-state technology as it sees the demand for further power demand in the market and being able to increase energy density whilst still keeping the safety of the technology will be a “game changer”. However, Gully, notes that: “pushing the limits of energy density with existing technologies imposes serious compromises in safety.”

Lavle are working on developments of a large format lithium metal battery (LMB) and solid-electrolyte battery (SEB) ESS that currently in prototype testing. Gully comments that these developments will be: “opening the door for battery technology to a whole new range of vessels and capabilities with their drastic increases in energy density.”

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