The Junlyu, China’s first electric ferry, was launched in mid-November and is now carrying passengers and running sightseeing trips on the Yangtze River in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people about 800 kms inland from Shanghai.
In June and July the city was the scene of protests over its poor air quality.
The ferry was made by the Wuhan Institute of Marine Electric Propulsion, which is a subsidiary of the state-owned China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), that claims to be the largest shipbuilding conglomerate in the world.
China’s fIrst fully battery-powered passenger ship
In an announcement at Shanhai’s Marintec China 2019 marine industry exhibition last week, the CSSC said that the Junlyu (which seems to translate as ‘makes good use of everything’) is the first fully battery-powered passenger ship in China.
It’s always a bit of a task trying to get full details on projects like this in China, but the statement says the Junlyu is 53m / 175ft long with a beam of 13m / 49ft, carries up to 300 passengers and can sail at speeds of up to 19 kmh / 10kts. At speeds below 13 kmh / 7kts, it can travel for eight hours.
There is no indication about motor size or power, just that the ship’s technologies and capabilities are ‘all world-class’ and were developed in China.
Gui Wenbin, the head of the Institute of Marine Electric Propulsion, said Junlyu features “a series of technological advances, including high-efficiency, variable-frequency drive technology”.
The institute was established in 1963 and is the only developer of hydrogen and electric power systems in China’s shipbuilding industry. Again, it is difficult to retrieve a lot of information about what they do, but in 2013 they said they had developed an ‘integrated electric propulsion system to resolve engine problems that have long haunted the nation and its navy’.
China’s other electric ship carries coal
The big problem to overcome was that the Chinese navy didn’t have enough domestic suppliers who could make make gas turbine engines for long distance voyages and was forced to buy them from other countries.
Outside a few small electric boats used by visitors in parks, the only other Chinese electric vessel we know of is a cargo ship built in 2017. Ironically, the role of that ship is to transport coal to a generator.
Judging by the air quality in the background of the photo of the Junlyu in action, more work needs to be done to wean the country off coal and fossil fuels, but this is a step in the right direction. Gui Wenbin said at the Marintec convention that “Eco-friendly propulsion is a direction of development for the shipbuilding industry and has become the institute’s major research subject.”