Tasmanian shipbuilder Incat is currently building the world’s largest lightweight battery electric ship for Uruguayan ferry operator Buquebús. The 130m long catamaran will have the largest battery installation on any ship to date with some 40MWh of capacity.
For comparison, P&O Ferries’ much larger ferry P&O PIONEER has 8.8MWh of battery capacity, and Brittany Ferries’ forthcoming SAINT-MALO will have around 11.5MWh of energy storage capacity onboard. Unlike these ships, which are hybrid, the forthcoming Buquebús catamaran will be fully electric. It will be powered solely by the batteries onboard which will be charged from shore power.
The new ship, which is Incat’s Hull 096, will have capacity for 2,100 passengers and crew and up to 225 cars. Among the facilities onboard will be a 2,000 square metre Duty Free shop. Once delivered in 2025, the new craft will sail between Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Montevideo (Uruguay).
Aluminium and electric
Like previous Incat catamarans, Hull 096 will be constructed in aluminium and powered by water jets. In a first for the company, however, water will be driven through the propulsion system by electric motors. Previously Incat vessels have used Diesel or dual-fuel engines. According to Incat, while aluminium is a third of the weight of steel, design factors mean that an aluminium Incat is around half the weight of an equivalent steel vessel.
Incat Founder Robert Clifford said,
“We are proud to be building in Tasmania this first in class ship for Buquebús who like us share a vision to be at the leading edge of low emission shipping in the world. Incat has always been an innovator and once again we are leading the world and the world is taking notice. This worldwide interest in Incat’s capabilities to deliver electric ships is a great opportunity for Tasmania and we expect this interest to magnify. We are already increasing our workforce and have just finalised plans for the recruitment of at least another 200 employees over the next 12 months with the expectation that our workforce will more than double in coming years”.Source: Incat press release.
Switch from gas
When Hull 098 was originally planned it was to be fuelled by LNG. The order was subsequently put on hold as a result of the Covid-19 crisis during which the ferry operator struggled to pay the wages of its staff. Earlier this year, Incat and Buquebús confirmed that they were exploring completing the catamaran as an all-electric vessel instead. Commenting on the plan at the start of 2023, Craig Clifford, managing director at Incat said:
“Whilst there are always challenges if you change any aspect of the design of a ship part way through a build, in simple terms, this is just swapping one method of propulsion for another. It will, however, have significant environmental benefits and open up a whole new market for these types of vessels.”Source: Incat press release.
Wärtsila will supply the energy management system, the power conversion system, DC shore charging system, and the DC hub. The Finnish company will also supply eight electric motors, eight axial flow WXJ1100 waterjets, and the ProTouch propulsion control system. Wärtsila has subcontracted the energy storage system to Corvus Energy. The Norwegian company will supply its lightweight Dolphin NextGen energy storage system for the new vessel.
In order to make the project viable Buquebús will require sufficient power supply at the ports the vessel will call at. This has proven problematic with large ferries in Northern Europe as huge amounts of electrical energy are required to even partially charge a large ferry during turnaround. Several ports, including Portsmouth and Saint Malo ahead of the arrival of Brittany Ferries’ SAINT-MALO, are currently working to provide shore charging facilities. A lack of electrical grid capacity means that others such as Dover have no firm timeline to provide such facilities at present.