New partnership formed to electrify inland shipping

Lithuanian ship designer Western Baltic Engineering (WBE), a subsidiary of Western Shipyard in Klaipeda, is accelerating the development of its recently unveiled electric pusher vessel with the signing of a new partnership with rapidly expanding Andorra-based battery maker AYK Energy.

WBE said the deal with AYK Energy will see the companies collaborate on building the first electric pusher vessel, named the Electric Eel, for the Lithuanian Inland Waterways Authority before expanding to the wider EU market.

The vessel design is pending class approval in principle with Bureau Veritas and can operate at a range of 300 km before needing to stop. The 26m long vessel is powered by three DNV-approved AYK made batteries totaling 74 tonnes; two are held in TEU containers on deck and can be replaced via crane at harbour, and one is permanently below deck and can be charged at quayside.

It has a pushing capacity of 2000 tonnes and a top speed of 22 km/h downstream at 85% engine load. The electric batteries create an engine power of 500 HP/400 KW compared to a diesel equivalent, which has 1000 HP/800 KW. Another innovation on board is the use of a wind turbine to generate 5 KW of additional electricity for lighting, the galley and crew facilities.  

WBE’s head of sales and marketing, Eglė Mikalauskienė, said the partnership with AYK Energy, which has pioneered ten different series of marine batteries that have been tested by leading integrators such as Wartsila and certified by DNV, “will supercharge its drive to roll out different models of the ground-breaking vessel for use on Europe’s inland waterways and other major markets like the US.” 

“Our initial design is for a low draft pusher but we are receiving lots of interest for deeper draft models as well as for vessels which can pull as well as push,” she said. “It is brilliant to see our concept capture the imagination and working with AYK we can now design alternative models, with different shape batteries and power voltage, to meet owners’ requirements,” she remarked.

The design partnership comes as the EU is looking to shift cargo from the road to eco-friendly vessels on Europe’s inland waterways network with plans to increase inland shipping and short-sea shipping by 25% by 2030 and by 50% by 2050. There are 41,000 km of inland waterways flowing through 25 EU member states, transporting 150bn tonne kilometres of cargo every year. According to Eurostat, Rhine countries account for around 84% of EU inland waterway shipping, mainly split between the Netherlands and Germany, while Danube countries have more than a 10% share.

Mikalauskienė said the potential for this type of vessel is very attractive as there is a fleet of 332 diesel pushers on the Danube alone pushing more than 2000 non-propelled barges.

“We estimate each of these vessels is emitting 196,317 KGs tank to wheel  of CO2, per navigation, while our electric pusher design slashes this at a stroke as it emits zero CO2,” she said, adding: “The beauty of our design is also in its ease of use. It can be bought and then built at a local shipyard near the customer or we can build it in Lithuania. We believe our electric pusher can play a critical role in the drive to transform the IWT of Lithuania as well as the Danube and Rhine.”

Adis Ajdin

Adis is an experienced news reporter with a background in finance, media and education. He has written across the spectrum of offshore energy and ocean industries for many years and is a member of International Federation of Journalists. Previously he had written for Navingo media group titles including Offshore Energy, Subsea World News and Marine Energy.
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