Electric ferries and joint shipping to make the sea voyage greener Horizon: the EU Journal of Research and Innovation


The global shipping industry currently emits around 1 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, but according to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, it could be reduced to almost zero by 2035 through a combination of techniques, operations and policy measures.

In line with this ambition, an electric ferry, launched this summer, will travel through Danish waters powered only by electricity. The ship will carry passengers from Aeroe Island to cities on the mainland and will replace the diesel ship currently in use.

Dr. Trine Heinemann is the coordinator of the E-ferry project, based in Aeroe, whose municipality is one of the project partners. “We have a long tradition of being self-sufficient with sustainable energy,” he said. “But then our only connection to the mainland is the passenger ferry, so I think there’s a local interest in trying to reduce emissions.”

Passenger ferries, although they are even more environmentally friendly than air travel, run on diesel and it is therefore possible to reduce their pollution. Hybrid vehicles, which use electricity in the port and fossil fuels in the open sea, are becoming more widespread, but fully electric ferries are scarce, Drs. Heinemann.

As with electric cars, a short battery life hampered the evolution of electrically powered ferries, which could travel only two nautical miles until recently. But as the life of rechargeable batteries has grown, so has the potential of electric boats.

The E-ferry can travel 22 miles without recharging. The boat will make seven trips a day, charging after each trip for 15 or 20 minutes as the cars charge and stop. A long overnight charge increases the battery power of the boat.

“At the end of the day, we’re basically approaching the energy reserve level,” Dr. Heinemann said. “There comes a point where we really want to recharge our batteries. So that’s what we do at night with a slow charge so that the battery reaches full capacity in the morning when we sail again.

At the moment, the electricity comes from Denmark’s national grid, but Aeroe manufactures electricity from solar and wind energy. If the shuttle could take advantage of local electricity sources, it would be carbon neutral, Dr. Heinemann notes.


Safety is also a key concern for electrically powered boats. Batteries that run at sea need a special level of approval and therefore E-ferry engineers have developed a special type of foam that sailors could use to fight an electric fire in the event of a fire. The Swiss-German partner of the project, Leclanché, is the first company to obtain the approval of a marine battery system.

Meanwhile, potential operating costs are steadily declining because battery materials are becoming cheaper, dropping 40% since project launch.

In fact, with lower fuel and maintenance costs, the Ferry E will run cheaper than conventional diesel-based ships. A ferry can operate for 30 to 40 years before reaching the end of its useful life, and the E-ferry is expected to pay for itself much sooner.

“I’m pretty confident that this won’t show an imbalance of ten years (if not) maybe six or seven years apart just for this one,” Dr. Heinemann said.

Christopher Saarnak, of the Danish maritime authority, says shipping could also be made greener by making better use of digital communication.

Despite its use of state-of-the-art technology, the maritime industry is still stubbornly old-schooled in much of its activity. The crew relies on paper documentation when a ship docks at a port and sends information to the authorities by courier (about passengers and cargo).

A digital system would allow sailors to optimize their route and send and receive messages to and from port authorities.

“If you enable information exchange, you could tell the ship not to rush to the nearest port where they should wait,” he said. “Instead, they could save fuel consumption by sailing more slowly.

Saarnak coordinates a project called EfficienSea2, which develops a range of digital tools to improve connectivity between ships at sea and from the sea to the coast. An information exchange platform called ArcticWeb allows sailors and cruise ships sailing the Arctic Sea to communicate about navigation, icebergs and ice formations and coordinate search and rescue, improving safety and minimizing the risk of oil tankers or other ships that debut and damage the environment. .

“If you enable information exchange, you could tell the ship not to rush to the nearest port.”

Christopher Saarnak of the Danish Maritime Authority

Acid rain

The project also helps ships communicate about emissions, which extend beyond CO2. The maritime industry accounts for 13% of global emissions of sulfur oxide, a gas that causes acid rain and lung and respiratory diseases in humans.

In 2020, the International Maritime Organization will reduce sulfur-based fuels outside the emission-restricted areas, a move that experts describe as one of the most defining moments in maritime transport. The EU is already curbing emissions from ships calling at EU ports and has set up sulfur emission control zones, called SECAs, in the Baltic and the North Sea.

But reporting sulfur emissions is inconsistent, it depends on national policies and random controls. EfficienSea2 engineers have developed machine-to-machine technology that allows data to be collected and retransmitted automatically.

“What we have done is create an automatic transfer of sulfur emission data from the ship’s chimney,” Saarnak said.

“Exhaust data is transferred directly to the ship’s owner, but could also be transferred directly to the authorities to demonstrate that you are sailing in an environmentally friendly manner.”

The research in this article has been funded by the EU. If you liked this article, consider sharing it on social media.

TRA Conference

The Transport Research Arena (TRA) conference is the leading European transport research event and every two years brings together researchers, professionals and policy makers to discuss the latest innovations in transport.

On the discussion table in 2018 are topics such as automated driving, zero-emission ships and, for the first time, aviation.

The conference is co-organized by the European Commission and relevant European technology platforms, which are industry-led bodies working to promote innovation in sectors such as the automotive, railway, maritime transport and logistics.

It will be held from April 16 to 19, 2018 in Vienna, Austria, and more than 3,000 participants are expected. You can find more information at http://www.traconference.eu/