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Hybrid Tech Gets A Jolt of Sea Air

Wireless power technology and vacuum docking are the latest buzzwords in coastal shipping lanes, and Wärtsilä is right in on the action.

Text: ALEXANDER FARNSWORTH Photo: MAGNE LANGÅKER

Wärtsilä Marine Solutions is currently prototyping the world’s first inductive power charging system (wireless), as opposed to conductive (a physical cable), to charge a hybrid-powered car ferry in Norway.

“During recent years, wireless inductive charging technology has been introduced for cars, buses and trains. Wärtsilä has now made this possible also for marine vessels, and we are ready to implement this on a real ship,” says Ingve Sørfonn, Chief Expert, Electrical & Automation, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions.

In the past four years, the company has developed and standardised the technology to charge ship batteries without connecting cables. In January 2016, Wärtsilä joined forces with engineering and automation firm Cavotec to offer a combined induction charging and automatic vacuum mooring solution for coastal ferries via Cavotec’s vacuum mooring pads that are recessed into the dock.

From a connection on the superstructure of a ship, to a power outlet on a dock, the new Wärtsilä inductive power system can transfer 1 MW of power within a range of 15-50 cm, which is 300 times more than that of current chargers used by electric cars.

“The system eliminates physical cable connections, thus reducing wear and tear caused by seawater, snow and ice, and enables charging to begin immediately when the vessel arrives in port. Renewable energy, battery solutions and performance are improving and getting cheaper all the time. There is no reason not to implement them in coastal shipping,” continues Sørfonn, adding that the company has several patents pending for its unique solutions.

The technology is currently in the prototyping phase in the Wärtsilä lab in Stord, Norway, and it is due for full-scale implementation in the first half of 2017. According to Sørfonn, the system could play a role in future autonomous coastal transportation systems, not unlike what Google is testing with self- driving cars.

Folgefonn was built as a diesel-powered ferry in 1998 and retrofitted into a hybrid diesel electric vessel in 2014.
[Above] Folgefonn was built as a diesel-powered ferry in 1998 and retrofitted into a hybrid diesel/electric vessel in 2014.

“Getting everything automated as much as possible is definitely the target,” says Sørfonn.

Fologefonn is a double-ended, 85-meter-long, ro-ro hybrid-powered passenger ferry servicing Jektevik-Hodnanes, Norway. It carries 76 cars and 300 passengers and is owned by Norled, which operates 45 car ferries across Norway. Folgefonn was built as a diesel powered ferry in 1998 and retrofitted into a hybrid diesel/electric vessel in 2014.

In technical terms, a hybrid power system such as this one combines conventional diesel motors with batteries. Its integration into a hybrid system offers significant overall energy efficiency by running the engines on optimal load and absorbing many of the load fluctuations through batteries.

“The vessel makes frequent and short stops along its route. With batteries being what they are today, the ferry cannot operate a whole day on just one charge. So the key is to get as much energy onshore as fast as possible, and traditional methods of connecting, charging and disconnecting cables is very time consuming. The Folgefonn’s docking times are no more than five minutes so saving a few minutes can be critical. A fast and wireless induction battery charging system is not just a time savings. The safety benefit of avoiding clumsy and heavy cable connections is obvious as well,” says Sørfonn.

Wärtsilä's contribution to the Folgefonn project is the concept development, including the inverter systems, the hybrid control, battery package and systems, power transfer and land-based energy storage system as well as the integration of the onboard systems. e partnership with Cavotec’s vacuum mooring system, thereby eliminating ship to shore lines, or ropes, will enable even more automation of the ship’s basic functions.

“The environmental challenge has been the starting point for Wärtsilä’s work in developing battery/hybrid technology for marine vessels. By making wireless charging of ship batteries possible, the electrification of coastal shipping is enhanced, resulting in major reductions in harmful exhaust emissions,” says Sørfonn.

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