Electric and hybrid-electric drive systems are powering cleaner vehicles on land and, with the steady guidance of BAE Systems, helping to make future waterways cleaner. The company’s emissions-reducing HybriGen power and propulsion system is replacing internal combustion engines in maritime vessels just as the firm’s technology has been replacing older engine technologies in land vehicles for more than two decades. The technology includes hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries for drive power. Although initial investments in the electric-hybrid drive technology have been for commercial applications of maritime vessels, military/defense applications are expected to follow.
One of the first adopters of the electric-hybrid technology for maritime use was the Red and White Fleet based in San Francisco, CA (see the figure). The firm’s newest sea-going vessel, the 128-ft.-long Enhydra, has been operating with the electric-hybrid technology since 2018, using an internal-combustion engine only when needed. The changeover in technologies results in a smoother ride for passengers and a savings of about 35% in fuel consumption because of only partial use of the internal combustion engine. Also in San Francisco, the Call of the Sea is a 132-ft.-long wooden tall ship powered by the electric-hybrid technology.
The electric-hybrid technology has been a major contributor to emissions reduction in buses and commercial land vehicles across the globe, installed in nearly 10,000 transit buses and saving an estimated 22 million gallons of fuel and 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year from those same vehicles running on internal combustion engines. Installing the same propulsion technology in maritime vessels will provide the necessary drive power but with cleaner seas ahead and behind.