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Shift Clean Energy expanding global reach of marine battery solutions

Photo: Shift Clean Energy Paul Hughes, President and Co-founder, Shift Clean Energy
Paul Hughes, President and Co-founder, Shift Clean Energy
From full electrification to managing dynamic load a broad range of battery solutions exist today to suit all vessel types according to Shift Clean Energy.

In the 12th part of a series of interviews ahead of Seatrade Maritime Logistics Middle East next week, Paul Hughes, President and Co-founder, Shift Clean Energy, Vancouver, Canada, spoke to Seatrade Maritime News about developments in the technology.

“With projects this year announced in Japan, Singapore, India, Europe and the US, we are expanding our global reach. We’re going from demonstration projects to fleet-based schemes,” he said.

In April, Shift Clean Energy announced the delivery of what will be Singapore’s first hybrid bunker tanker, while, in September, it referenced its involvement in the first all-electric battery swapping vessel in the Port of Singapore.

“Another shift in 2023 is the transition from traditional fixed installations, which we have been installing since 2009, to swappable batteries in a pay-as-you-go service. We are demonstrating that now in Singapore. The work we are doing with our channel partners is really bearing fruit—we are currently active in 22 countries and are expanding fast.”

He said the idea that electrification through battery use could eventually remove the need for all conventional hydrocarbon—or even renewable fuels one day—was over-simplistic.

“The marine sector is very broad—it ranges from small ferries that go between local islands to ocean-going cargo vessels staying at sea for 50 days-plus at a time. Similarly, battery-powered vessels can be broad in application, ranging from 100%-electric vessels to hybrid electric propulsion systems, through to electric services for the ‘house load’ of a vessel,” he said.

How batteries are deployed within the marine sector depends on the operational parameters of the vessel. In broad terms, the nearer to shore a vessel operates, the more likely it can be fully electric.

“When we look at near-shore vessels—say, 400 nautical miles; for example, port vessels and ferries—we see batteries that completely remove the need for hydrocarbon fuels on board. This is happening today. The electricity used to charge the batteries will be a factor of what is available from grid and non-grid sources. As renewables become an ever-increasing part of the grid, more hydrocarbons are removed.”

For longer-range blue-water vessels, such as containerships, batteries would reduce hydrocarbons or alternative renewable fuels but would not fully replace them. As a broad principle, batteries were designed to manage dynamic load, complementing the design of engines or fuels cells intended to operate optimally when running at constant speed and power.

“The mathematics are compelling, as batteries work in combination with engines perfectly in a hybrid function to reduce fuel costs by more than 20%, operational costs by usually 50%, and emissions by 20-40%,” he said.

“Batteries are not a silver bullet for the entire marine sector. They will increasingly displace hydrocarbons and other renewable fuels for near-shore vessels but for larger blue-water vessels, they will play an important role in reducing emissions by operating alongside these fuels—whether methanol, ammonia or hydrocarbon fuels.”

Shift’s website says: “Shift’s flexible design provides a solution for every type of ship, and every type of customer,” raising the possibility of installing battery-based solutions on VLCCs or ULCSs.

“Let’s step back into the basics of batteries. Batteries are typically utilised very differently, depending on vessel class, due to duty cycles—a ferry operates differently than a VLCC. Some battery systems provide main propulsion, others house load, and other systems provide all operational load. The type of installation and the load requirements determine the nature of a battery-based solution,” he said.

Given that VLCCs or ULCSs operate very differently to near-shore vessels, with long interludes at sea, and enter port for very short periods of time for cargo handling, the idea of a 100% electric vessel simply was not practical or cost-effective. While electric power was therefore not an option, the possibility of a hybrid system was more feasible.

“VLCCs or ULCSs are designed and built with the two-stroke main engine directly coupled to the propeller. It is very expensive to retrofit these vessels to operate using batteries as a true hybrid. Ultimately, if we disregard storms and changes in energy demands during such storms, VLCC and ULCS two-stroke engines operate at constant speed and constant power for days and even weeks at a time. Hybrid propulsion retrofits are not cost effective in these vessels,” he said.

Such mega-vessels were normally designed with two electric grids—one for propulsion and one for ‘the house.’ By focusing on the house load and linking the energy storage system to the generators on board, significant savings could be achieved, often resulting in the removal of generators. It was not uncommon to see 20-35% fuel cost savings by hybridising hotel loads through battery use. If a common grid approach were designed into the vessel, savings would be significantly enhanced.

“In addition to the above approach of using batteries for the house load, there are also significant savings in using batteries for reefer containers, compressors on board, and when at port supplying cold ironing services,” he said.

“There are some very practical applications for utilising batteries within VLCC and ULCS fleets. These applications are generally restricted to non-propulsion loads; however the energy and emission benefits are significant and make a real and tangible improvement to vessels’ operational costs.”

Paul Hughes, President and Co-founder, Shift Clean Energy, Vancouver, Canada, is speaking at Seatrade Maritime Logistics Middle East, on May 16-18, 2023, in Dubai, UAE.