Electric ships make Canada’s national news

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), which is Canada’s national broadcaster in both television and radio (similar to the BBC in Britain) and is the most visited news website in Canada, just did a web feature on electric shipping in ‘the great white north’.

While Norway and Sweden are definitely the world leaders in ferry and large ship electrification, Canada is slowly climbing on board.

The country is home to two of the world’s leading suppliers of products changing maritime propulsion: Corvus Energy (batteries) and Ballard Power Systems (fuel cells).

Battery installations add up to 200 MegaWatt Hours

The CBC article by Greg Rasmussen focuses on Corvus and the LNG/battery hybrid ship Reliant from SeaSpan Marine , noting that Corvus’s “battery system is now in use on 200 vessels around the world.”

The company itself says it is ‘the leading manufacturer of energy storage systems for maritime application and provides power to more hybrid and electric ferries than any other energy storage system providers.’

Presentation of the award for Supplier of The Year to Corvus Energy

Total Corvus installations add up to over 200MWh of storage and 2 million+ operating hours and the live updating counter on their home page says its products have saved 50 million litres of diesel and reduced CO2 by 135 thousand metric tons (as of July 8, 2019).

All of this is not going unnoticed. The 2019 Electric & Hybrid Marine Awards in Amsterdam in June recognized Corvus as ‘Supplier of the Year’, an award the company has taken home every year since 2014.

Plugboats can’t cover everything Corvus has done (they have divisions working in Cruise and Ferry, Fishing and Aquaculture, Tugs and Workboats and more), but here is a sampling of some their installations, including a ‘World’s First and a ‘World’s Largest’:

While the Corvus focus is on batteries, another Canadian company, Ballard Power Systems, is one of the world’s pioneers of hydrogen fuel cell technology and is also involved today in international projects big and small that reduce fossil fuel use.

World pioneer in fuel cell technology

Its roots go back 40 years ago to 1979 when  Geoffrey Ballard, Keith Prater and Paul Howard began research and development of high-energy lithium batteries. As the world evolved, they moved to fuel cells, developing a 5kW stack in 1990, a 90kW fuel cell engine for transit buses in continued to push the boundaries of the technology.

While much of their work is still in the land transportation area, their marine division started working with ABB a year ago.

One of their first projects was a pilot in November for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/royal-caribbean-to-test-fuel-cell-on-high-end-newbuild

They also worked with ABB on the world’s first hydrogen powered river pushboat (as opposed to tugboat) launched in France in May.

Not to say that the company hasn’t been involved in sailing before. In fact, they worked with Daimler-Benz in 2003 on the first standard yacht with a fuel cell propulsion system, a 40ft / 12m Beneteau yacht which took the name “No. 1”.

A long road to electrification

Both companies are based in Vancouver, which has numerous ferries connecting the British Columbia mainland with the 460km / 190m long Vancouver Island and smaller islands in the Georgia Strait. There are also hundreds of other large boats used for fishing, general transport and tourism.

Unfortunately, the big news is that electrification of large vessels is being brought to the attention of the general public through mainstream media, not that all of these boats are ‘going green’.

Despite the companies’ proximity to all these potential customers, it has been a struggle getting the major vessel owners – including the government operated ferries – to move to electric or hybrid propulsion.

On the pure electrification side, the CBC article points out that recharging huge battery packs would require expensive upgrades to the power grid at Canada’s ports.

A BC Ferries Vice President, Mark Wilson, said in May that the service is planning to build eight new smaller vessels with a hybrid diesel-battery power supply using batteries from Corvus, but that it isn’t yet feasible for their full range of routes.”We want to work with the technology that is best for the taxpayers,” he said “it still has to be economically viable.”

On the other hand, the province of Ontario has ordered electric ferries, and the legendary and historic Maid of the Mists tour boats in Niagara Falls will also be going all electric in September.


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