№5 (2020)   |   REVIEW

Battery powered ships — the future of shipping?

Global shipbuilding development is currently determined by economic efficiency of construction and operation as well as consistently toughening environmental requirements. Apart from LNG, the most promising segment is electric propulsion.

According to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972, amended in 1978, hazardous emissions from ships should steadily decrease from year to year. The highest impact on the range of marine fuels in use is made by MARPOL Annex I related to water pollution and Annex VI related to air pollution.

Amid this reality, the recent decades have seen both conventional shipbuilding and active designing/construction of ships running on alternative fuels.

In particular, among the trends of the Shipbuilding Development Strategy till 2035 approved by RF Government on 28 October 2019 (Decree No 2553-р) is the creation of ships and marine equipment complying with international environmental standards and regulations for water areas of seas and ports as well as protection of the Arctic nature.

In the industry, the work is underway on the following alternative energy sources: wind, hydrogen, natural gas (including LNG), electricity. The work on the latter two has proceeded most of all.

LNG is already widespread on ships of various types and purposes: icebreakers, dual-fuel Aframax tankers, tugboats.

Hydrogen engines and wind power engineering are less widespread due to their high cost and low output. The only ship powered by wind energy is the E-Ship 1 built by Cassens Werft (Gemany) in 2010. Apart from two diesel generators with a total output of 7 MW the ship is equipped with four rotorsails able to generate up to 1.5 MW depending on weather conditions. However, with the wind generators the ship features a higher wind resistance while their output does not allow for using this type of fuel as the main one.

We should mention the world’s only catamaran Energy Observer, powered by a unique combination of renewable energy – wind, solar and hydrogen. The ship built by Liten, a CEA Tech institute of France, is an oceangoing laboratory. The key sources of energy on the ship are solar panels and two wingsails combined with a battery-based energy-storage system and a complete hydrogen chain designed by Liten, as well as a comprehensive energy management system, also developed especially for the project by Liten. The hydrogen chain, which includes a fuel cell and electrolyzer, has proven to perform adequately even in the extreme operating conditions.

Along with LNG powered ships, the most promising are ships with electric propulsion. As of today, dozens of them are in operation and under construction worldwide. Table 1 provides information about some of them.

Table 1



Year of delivery

Area of operation


Key particulars

BB Green

Latitude yachts (Latvia)


Stokholm, Sweden

2х280 kW

LOA - 20 m

BOA - 6 m,

Depth - 3 m


Fjellstrand (Norway)


Between Lavik and Oppedal, Norway

1,000 kW

LOA - 80 m


BOA - 21 m

Capacity - 360 people and 120 vehicles

Tycho Brahe

STX Norway Offshore Langsten (Norway), modernization – Öresund (Sweden) together with ABB


(modernization - 2018)


Between Helsingør (Denmark) and Helsingborg (Sweden)

4.16 MW

LOA – 111 m

BOA – 28 m

Capacity - 240 vehicles and 1,000 passengers


STX Norway Offshore Langsten (Norway), modernization – Öresund (Sweden) together with ABB


(modernization - 2018)


Between Helsingør (Denmark) and Helsingborg (Sweden)

4.16 MW

LOA – 111 m

BOA – 28 m

Capacity - 240 vehicles and 1,000 passengers


Crist (Poland)


Turku archipelago (Finland)

2х530 kW

LOA – 97,87 m

BOA – 15,47 m

Capacity - 90 vehicles


Havyard Group (Norway)


Between Fynshav and Søby (Denmark)

4.3 MW/h

LOA – 60 m

BOA – 13 m

Designing of ships with electric propulsion is also underway in Finland, the Netherlands, the Great Britain, France, China, Japan, Republic of Korea and the USA.

As Table 1 shows, ships with electric propulsion are already not piece-goods for private customers. Electric propulsion is applied for progressively bigger ships including those for commercial shipping which speaks to economic efficiency of their operation. And it is critical for further implementation of similar projects. Opting for a conventional or alternative fuels as well as for a specific fuel should be based on the area of operation, type of ship, required endurance, journey time, number of crewmembers and passengers. According to the study conducted by Siemens (which developed an electric propulsion system for the Ampere), it is economically viable for e-ferries operating on short routes.

According to the Ampere operator, the operation data shows that the e-ferry cuts carbon emissions by 95 per cent and costs by 80 per cent compared to its fuel-powered counterparts. The ship is equipped with an 800 kW battery that weighs 11 tons and drives two screws. The ferry only uses 150 kWh per route (6 km across the fjord) with the cost of electricity for transportation of 360 passengers and 120 cars about 6$.

Russian shipbuilders do not stand aside. The federal targeted programme “Development of civil shipbuilding in 2009-2016” and state programme “Development of shipbuilding and equipment for shelf projects in 2009-2019” cover over 20 R&D projects in the field of electric propulsion systems and components.

However, ships equipped with electric propulsion units used to involve diesel and gas turbine generator or nuclear plants as main sources of energy with battaries primarily involved as auxiliary or emergency sources.

The turning point was the Neva-2019 exhibition where NPK Morsvyazavtomatica LLC presented 18-meter long catamaran for river cruises and passenger transportation named Ecovolt. The ship capable of carrying up to 86 passengers is powered by DC electric motors with high-energy batteries used as the source of energy. There is a plan to operate such ships in Saint-Petersburg.

Under the order of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, designing of electricity powered ferry intended for Baltijsk – Baltic Spit (Kaliningrad Region) began in 2019. The e-ferry will replace two diesel-powered ones built in 1974 and in 1960.

Accumulator batteries are to be installed on the ship as the main source of power with involvement of a shore based charging station foreseen as an alternative. The ship is to carry up to 100 passengers and 15 cars. According to general contractor, Kaliningrad State Technical University, and designer, Nordic Engineering, an e-ferry will let reduce operational costs by a half. The ferry is to be put into operation in 2021.

The experience of building and operating ships of this type will let estimate efficiency of e-ferries for regions where water transport has no alternatives. According to Russian River Register, the Russian Federation currently numbers 120 river-going ferries (not counting barges, tugboats and pusher tugs) with average age of 39 years. All decisions on replacement of existing ships with electric ferries should be made individually upon comprehensive estimation of alternatives and taking into account the opinion of regulators and controlling bodies.

It is also reasonable to look into a simplified certification based on minimal requirements to reduce construction costs and facilitate expansion of environmentally friendly fleet on Russia’s IWW.

Aleksey Timofeyev