The Whole World is Going Electric – Electric Ferries Launch at the Port of Kingston, ON
YVERDON-LES-BAINS, Switzerland and SUMAR, The Netherlands, September 16, 2021 – Expanding its portfolio of solutions for the marine electrification industry, Leclanché (SIX: LECN) is introducing a new “ports and harbor” infrastructure solution enabling hybrid and fully electric vessels to fast charge when returning to port. Its first customer for the innovative turnkey solution is Damen Shipyards Group, a globally operating company with more than 50 shipyards and related facilities, which has selected Leclanché to construct and provide two fast charge electric ferry stations, and supporting electrical storage systems, on Canada’s Lake Ontario.
WT Interview Guillaume Clement, Vice-president,Energy Storage Solution, e-Marine, Leclanché
WT: Good morning, Guillaume, thanks for being here. Can you tell me how long it has taken your company to develop battery systems for these ferries, and give us a sense of the timeline around this?
Clement: It’s a very good question and one of the big ways we are different, we literally have been doing batteries for 112 years. It was Mr. Leclanché who created the company. So of course, the technology has evolved a lot, and the latest one, we are selling to warships, started ten years ago. For sure we have embedded old experience, the experience of the ecosystem around us, in Germany, we have been working with partners for years.
What we are bringing to market is not a revolution, we invented overnight, it's something we have been building piece by piece, getting better and better, learning over time from our own experience. When we certify that our new product is ready for launch, we know it's going to work, because it’s a better product than what we were using through the years. This is very important, it's not a revolution, it's an evolution.
Those marine battery systems are about 10 years old, knowing the first large electric ferries we’ve done is about five years ago.
WT: One of the comments I get from viewers around batteries is, they are not truly recyclable. Can you speak to that, are your batteries recyclable? How do they work?
Clement: It’s a very good point. Yes, they are. Some would argue that some of the core material can be a bit hard to get, takes a lot of energy to extract. As a company policy, we try to use less. If we use less in the battery, that means we have less to recycle. So, if you look at our electrodes, for example, we are the only ones in the world that would use what we call a water-based slurry. We don’t use any solvent. So not only does it not eject gases, but it also drives better. So, it's better for the environment because it drives better, it has better electrical properties. So that’s some of the small things we do, the way we manufacture and design the batteries, we try to make them use less.
Now when you go to the actual recycling, some parts can be harder to extract. First, it's possible; secondly, it’s getting better and better because more people are investing in such technologies; third, the volume of the batteries to be recycled will increase significantly, which will generate more investment in recycling facilities. What we expect is that very rapidly, people will pay to recycle your batteries. It will be cheaper to buy a battery and recycle it than using brand new raw materials. That will be better, both for the economics and for the environment.
Is it better today, is it perfect today? If you ask me, it's probably not perfect. Is it going to be the solution in 50 years? No.
But you have two choices: either you wait for the 2050/2030 IMO regulation, or you can start the energy transition, the climate transition right now. Batteries are probably the best solution there is right now. You might talk about hydrogen, you might talk about LNG ammonia, you know what? Batteries are the enabler for all, if not most of them. That’s the reality today. We have the proof that battery and energy storage solutions, as we do them at Leclanché are a proven solution both technically and commercially. We think that today, starting the energy transition is best, if not the only way to do it. It is getting better as we speak; it will continue getting better, and it is the best solution there is.
WT: When I look at a port, I see cargo ships as far as the eye can see. These are mostly diesel or terrible oil (bunker fuel) engines. Are you doing ferries because batteries just can’t go the distance? For instance, if I have a container ship and I sail it to Norway, no battery-powered ship can do that, as of this point, with that much freight. Is that why you are so prominent in the ferry market?
Clement: I’m asking myself the same question, and I am asking my customer the same. To answer to your question is yes. Today, for long, deep-sea travel, container ships traveling from China to the U.S. for example, it would take too much battery, it would be too large, too heavy, too expensive to have, but it the situation keeps improving as we speak. Our competitiveness has improved by 40%, 50% over the last four years and we expect the next five years to bring as much. So, it is getting better. As we speak, we can deploy batteries to many more ships, many more applications. I think we will get to the point where even long, deep-sea travel can be envisaged with batteries, not shortly, but soon. The second thing is, even if you can’t get it all in batteries, and electric, and fully renewable, you can still do a lot better than what is done today. So maybe you can’t be “full battery” when you go to the U.S. from China, or the other way around, but when you get to the port, at least you could be a lot more friendly than you are today. This is where you would find all those different ships: hybrid with diesel, hybrid with LNG, hybrid with hydrogen. I think this is probably the best way to go. We have the experience, and we’ve demonstrated that this works. Definitely.
So, the answer to your question is yes, this is why it started with ferries, and soon many more ships to come, the likes of the fishing boats, short-haul trawlers. Even for the long haul, it's better being hybrid than one hundred percent diesel. Would you tell me it's perfect? No, it’s not perfect. Even when you burn LNG you generate gases, but we have the experience showing that being hybrid LNG and batteries reduces C02 by 50% and nitrogen and sulfur oxides by 90 and 99 percent. This is what we demonstrated with a project here in Finland. Perfect, no. Significant massive improvement, yes definitely.
WT: For any of our viewers who have plugged in an iPhone and a Samsung and watched them catch fire while they are either being used or charging, is there a much more significant risk of fire on board one of these ferries because of the battery set-up? It seems pretty clear that a lot of rechargeable batteries are not as safe as perhaps the manufacturers portray. Can you speak to that?
Clement: Very interesting question. When you talk about batteries, as any equipment in the marine industry, you must comply with very strict rules. I have been working in several industries in the past, including Oil and Gas, I have never seen as stringent rules as marine rules. You have to pass what we call “Marine Certification”, a very stringent regulation, that’s the first thing. We do think we can go beyond what the regulation requires. What we do at Leclanché is we go beyond by embedding within our system the fire-fighting solution. You make a very good point. Whatever a manufacturer says, the reality is, all batteries can catch fire. Even if they don’t catch fire by themselves, the fire could come from the outside. The way we treat it at Leclanché is by incorporating an extinguishment system within our batteries. We are not saying our system won’t catch fire and won’t spread the fire. We are saying, whatever happens, we can stop a fire in a few minutes. Today, we have, and we are the only ones having this: a foam system, with a small tube to inject foam in every section of batteries, to stop a fire in five or ten minutes, and we continue ejecting foam to make sure the fire is totally extinguished. We do this on a portion of the batteries, meaning only the portion of the batteries where we detected a run-away or where we detect gases or smoke, that is where we do it, the rest continues to sail your ship.
Other than that, it's an environmentally friendly foam that turns to water. After, we can collect the batteries, clean them and dry them, and then reuse them.
WT: There are two Canadian ferries you are working with. How much power do they use and what is the range? What should Canadians that use these ferries expect?
Clement: There are two ships, quite different one from the other. In our business, we talk in megawatt-hours. To give you an idea, the largest electric ferry in the world is in Damen and it's about 4-megawatt hours.
The biggest ships today use 6.7 MWh; the two Damen ferries are 1.9 MWh, and 4.6 MWh, it’s still a significant amount. You are talking about 70 and 100 m long batteries on each of the ships.
What the people should expect, it's an interesting question because I have myself sailed on electric ferries. It's surprising, it’s a wake-up call. I didn’t know what to expect.
Its extremely silent, there is no smell, there is no smoke even, when you walk into the engine room there is no smell of oil, the captain himself will say it's very smooth to ride. In the same way, you have people driving electric cars telling you they would not go back. Same here, these would never go back to a traditional ship. The feedback we get from our direct customers, not just those owning, but those operating, and from the customers, is just incredible. The reliability of the system we are delivering has increased the complexity and the largeness of electrical devices on board, and still, what we have found out is that people have less need for electrical engineers on board, less need for electrical competencies because it’s been more reliable than a traditional ship. So, from all the aspects including the cost of maintenance, the reliability, the smoothness of the ride, ´ the feedback that we get is mind-blowing.
WT: For the last question, I am looking at the future, from what I can see around the world, talking to shipbuilders, I think it’s your company that is developing the floating battery-charging barge idea, where you can float a barge up beside a ferry or a ship and charge the ship?
We are indeed working on several projects. Our strength at Leclanché is that we don't work just on the ship, but on the complete ship electrification operation. Meaning that beyond the ship, there is the charging, the port infrastructure, what about the total cost. We can provide energy storage at the port, with batteries charging at night when the rates are low, to avoid capital expenditure at the port, and the complex long process of upgrading the grid. Why not also bring the power to ships that are offshore, out of port? You have a lot of ships waiting outside the port, in many circumstances the ships are a very short time at the port, they don’t have time to be charged, so why not have a barge that would transport the power to them, a complete zero port emissions solution?
WT: Mr. Clement, I have really enjoyed this interview, thanks for doing this.
Clement: I’m thankful, it’s been, inspiring to answer your questions. I hope I provided some insight. Thank you.