Electric powered transportation takes many forms. The race among auto makers to produce a high volume, cost effective consumer vehicle is one of the hottest topics in the tech world. Among the more novel applications is water based transportation, boats, ferries, small and large boats of all kinds are being demonstrated using electric and hybrid electric drive trains.
The merits of electric motor drives on boats have been demonstrated for years in main propulsion and stabilizing applications. In the past, steam and diesel direct drive to the propeller was the mainstay of the industry for decades. Recently, the industry has shifted to hybrid drive in which the main propulsion is a large electric motor driven from a diesel generator. Hybrid systems have been shown to increase range dramatically.
By combining electric propulsion with improved lithium battery technology, new possibilities become practical for the first time. Short haul ferries operated as pure electric boats provide super low noise and low vibration transportation for customers at the Maritime Aquariun at Norwalk, Connecticut.
In the Maritime industry, battery energy density is still a concern. Running out of power in an electric boat could have even more catastrophic results than in a car. On the other hand, boats can manage the weight and size more easily than passenger cars. Many battery companies such as Valence and Saft, have entered the marine market with products that are packaged and tested to survive the rigors of seagoing environments.
The series hybrid configuration is also being demonstrated in pilot craft. The series hybrid replaces a portion of the battery mass with an engine-generator which produces electricity to charge the battery. This arrangement gives significant range to the craft in exactly the same way as the Chevy Volt car. This arrangement of components offers great potential as battery technology micro turbine technology emerge to make these systems smaller and lighter.
Global positioning systems and improved communications technology make possible a further series of improvements in navigation and safety. The satellite communications network of recent years provides a platform for position monitoring and navigation with a precision never before available. In addition, the condition of all shipboard systems can be reported remotely to help with preventive maintenance, anticipating repairs before they are needed.
All of which has the potential to create a renaissance in the boat industry.