Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have released a study which examines “the technical outlook, economic feasibility, and environmental impact of battery-electric containerships.”
Breaking from previous studies, the researchers have classified the volume of space housing the batteries as an opportunity cost, rather than a fixed technical constraint. After modeling a wide variety of containership sizes, as well as 13 major world trade routes, the research suggests that more than 40% of the world’s fleet of containerships could be electrified “cost-effectively and with current technology,” by the end of this decade.
TCP (total cost of propulsion) by ship type, route length, current (a) and future (b) battery pricing:
In graph ‘a’, (above left), the authors show the current viability of containership electrification, based on ship size and length of voyage. The gray and white areas of the graphs represent the shipping routes where the electrification of containerships would immediately lower shipping costs.
Using only technology available for purchase today, nearly all ships with routes shorter than 2,000 kilometers are economically advantageous, and ships with routes as long as 3,000km are economically viable.
Graph ‘b’, (above right), projects that price reductions to “near future“ battery technology are expected to roughly double the economic viability and range of electrified containerships.
Crucially, this research demonstrates that electrified containerships have an economic advantage over the internal combustion engine (ICE), even when the costs of environmental and health damages are excluded.
The differences in TCP are contrasted in graph ‘a’ (ICE) vs graph ‘b’ (electrified):
The authors present estimates of air pollution damages and the social cost of carbon for both ICE, (above left), versus electrified containerships, (above right). The gray bars in the chart above show that ICE containerships cause damages equal to or greater than three times the ship’s costs.
An electrified containership will also cause some environmental damage, however, the estimates of electrified ship’s air pollution, and the social cost of carbon, are only 1/12th that of an ICE ship.
In a future in which the costs of large ICE containerships will continue rising, as electrified containerships become increasingly cost effective, the authors posit that ICE ships (below, left) will be grossly more expensive than electrified containerships (below, right).
The authors show that at current battery prices, the electrification of trade routes less than 1,500 km is economical, and has minimal impact to ship carrying capacity. And when the authors include environmental costs, the economical range skyrockets to 5,000 km.
A 5,000 km containership would require approximately 6.5 GWh of LFP batteries.
The average cost of lithium-ion batteries has plummeted 89% since 2010, and is expected to reach $50 per kWh in the near future. Assuming a battery cost of $100 per kWh, the TCP for a battery-electric containership is already lower than that of an ICE equivalent, for routes less than 1,000km. And when battery prices reach $50 per kWh, which is predicted for the near future, electrified ships will be cost-effective on routes as long as 5,000km.
The key technical constraint for battery-electric container shipping is the volume of the battery system and electric motor relative to the volume occupied by a vessel’s existing engines, fuel storage and mechanical space. The extra weight of the BES system is, however, non-trivial in determining a vessel’s power requirements.
Battery chemistry is another key factor in configuring electric cargo ships. Vessels that take short, frequent trips have lower power requirements, but would need to recharge quickly. These vessels should benefit from the high charge rates and long life cycles of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. Long range ships already spend more time docked in each port – typically well over 24h – and could take advantage of the relatively low cycle life and high energy density of nickel manganese cobalt oxide batteries.
The Yara Birkeland is an 80m long, 7MWh electrified autonomous containership that can hold 120 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), which makes 12 nautical mile trips.
For ‘Neo-Panamax’ containerships, (sized to fit through the Panama canal), routes less than 3,000km actually require LESS space for batteries and motors than the volume currently occupied by combustion engines and fuel tanks.
If this class of ship were to travel 20,000km on a single charge, the batteries and motor would require 32% of the ship’s carrying capacity, or 2,500 TEU.
We find that as carrying capacity increases, the percentage of total carrying capacity volume occupied by batteries decreases because larger ships typically have lower energy requirements per unit of carrying capacity.
The charging infrastructure for a containership traveling less than 10,000km can be accomplished using less than 300 MW. Containerships holding 1,000-3,000 TEUs typically spend an average of 31 hours waiting in line and berthing. The largest ships, holding 10,000-20,000 TEUs, spend an average of 97 hours waiting and berthing.
The infrastructure required to support such massive charging capacities is surprisingly affordable, largely due to the efficient logistics of ports, since berths are typically occupied more than 50% of the time. At 50% utilization, the researchers modeled that the levelized cost of a 300MW charging station comes to mere $0.03 per kWh.
None of this technical viability would exist if it were not for recent and ongoing improvements to batteries, inverters and electric motors. For instance, in their models, the researchers assumed ICE “tank-to-wake efficiency” of 50%, and electric motor and inverter efficiencies of 95% each. Electrified containerships are 80% more efficient than their ICE counterparts, and use 30% less energy overall.
For inquiring minds: one gallon of heavy fuel oil (HFO) contains approximately 150,000btu, equivalent to roughly 44kWh. But since even the most efficient internal combustion ship engines are no more than 50% efficient, a gallon of HFO produces no more than 22kWh of actual propulsion. Most modern electric motors are now over 90% efficient, and the most advanced prototypes are approaching 99% efficiency.
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This would be a deathblow for hydrogen. Hydrogen is pointless for urban transport as it ends up being half as efficient as a battery electric vehicle. Where I viewed there being any potential for hydrogen to stake a claim was in shipping, trains, and aircraft. If shipping goes battery-electric things do not look good for the hydrogen economy.
Reminds of something I heard on a news program about some battery-electric buses a city in
Michigan bought , they were supposed to have a range of 100 miles per charge , actual range
per charge was 30 miles , they had no power to navigate the slightest grade , and the brakes
barely worked .
and there were of course those BEV transit buses in germany which when they were connected to
the charger were going up like a roman candle and burning right down to the frame .
I’ve seen video of a electric car which when plugged into a public charger exploded into flames
and burnt up totally .
Now of course the contrast is we could fuel cars predominantly on fuel grade ethanol made from
co2 extracted from water like big rivers and the ocean , and from the atmosphere and have a
virtually unlimited supply . of course we ignore this and go for pie in the sky .
Numerous research institutes and companies worldwide are working on making the propulsion of cargo ships CO2-free. Every serious result I’ve seen until now uses some form of hydrogen to do this. Be it liquid hydrogen, compressed hydrogen, methanol (H2 + C) or ammonia (H2 + N).
As soon as it is more than a few hundred kilometers, an energy supply with hydrogen is definitely cheaper and easier than an energy supply with a battery. That’s clear to anyone who understands that you can’t scale performance and energy separately in the battery.
Ships are good at moving heavy weights around so the battery weight isn’t a big deal. If hydrogen still has a chance it’s in aircraft.
The way you wrote before considering environmental cost is very confusing. Does the environmental cost make the EV not worth it?
Great, now add solar panels to the equation and see what you get. Either a retractable awning or else put panels and connectors on top of the shipping containers. This would tie in nicely with the new electric trucks coming onto the market as well.
So, what companies are involved with EV shipping? Salt water safe batteries, large capacity batteries, building or converting compatible ships?
Some good info about the tech, but nothing about status. How many ships are there now? How many are in the pipeline? What are the biggest challenges? Impact of the rare Earth medals (mining, pollution)? Recyclability and reuse of the batteries? What happens if the batteries get wet from a storm or condensation?
Need a lot more info.
It would be interesting to see what a fully electric powered heavy industrial ship would work out paired with a viable sail tech. This would make recharge at sea while underway possible, possibly reducing battery bank sizing requirements and further increasing benefits.
We are evolving. Would have been nice if it had been before things got so damned bad and amny wouldn’t have been so worried that it is too little too late.
This article does not seem grounded in the reality of material constraints. Many articles are already predicting shortages of battery making materials for automobiles in less than 5 years without breaking ground on new mines. Each mine (whether lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, or copper) is a severe risk to water which is also becoming scarce and can take years to get permit approval. So we are saying one ship could have a 6.5 GWh battery pack? And 6.5 GWh is the equivalent of 81,250 long range Tesla Model 3s? And we already don’t have enough material to convert all cars to BEV with current material resources? It makes this article seem 100% based on theoretic thinking and out of touch with real world economics. If I had the time, I could run down 10 more fatal errors to the assumptions made here but one fatal error is enough to give this article no credibility.
Clearly battery supply is a current constraint for large containerships. But the focus of the article was on the technical feasibility, not material and supply chain constraints. The number of lithium and nickel mines across the world will increase drastically over the next decade, because the world is going electric. For the foreseeable future battery supply will indeed be the main constraint across all modes of transport, as it currently is for Tesla in bringing the Semi and Cybertruck to market. But eventually the supply will catch up and huge multi-GWh batteries will become realistic. Keep in mind also that unlike fossil fuels, batteries are highly renewable. Eventually a global saturation point will be reached where new batteries will mostly be built from recycled old batteries and the need for mining will decrease substantially.
I could maybe see hydrogen or even ammonia but large electric ships , ok everyone reality time and
we can all get out of la la land there, really time for reality of what the supply chain for the raw
materials for these mega bateries will be, lithium , well aside from china rapidly locking up the
lithium supply for itself , its estimated theres just 81M metric tons of exttractable lithium ore out there, now maybe alot more will be found in the future and maybe not. and then there was mention
of a nickel-manganese-cobalt battery, yah sure guys , dream on , with china locking up the cobalt
supply in DRC which has 60% of known reserves , and Nickel, that means Norilsk Nickel in Russia
in Siberia as the big producer , sure theres others but china is locking up raw materials of all kinds ,
you see our mad scientist dr. frankenstein types can cook up whatever they like, they never
think about the source of the raw materials to make it all real, and these optimistic projections
about well, most of the raw materials will be recycled from old batteries and be reprocessed ,
sure bunky , sure , didn’t we project for nuclear waste to be made into nuclear fuel , how about
recycling of common plastics which is not really going on much , how about the fact that solar
panels are not currently recycleable and same for wind turbine blades and turbine blades have to
re replaced what , every five years and they are not currently recycleable .
everything which is easy to re cycle like glass, aluminum, steel, iron , coppter etc. is being recycled
but these other materials aren’t cause theres not really a good process to do it right now .
diesel engines in ships can be cleaned up with the SCR abatement systems and this is well proven
and the platinum group metals also from Norilsk and southern africa have long been recycled ,
so theres not really a emission issue right now .
Please can we grow up , before you wanna talk about some zingo new thing there, wheres the
raw material and mining base to supply and support it . europe doesn’t have any lithium or
much cobalt or nickel either .
Germany lost ww2 not because they lacked new ideas and technologies, they didn’t have the fuel , and other natural resources necessary to keep going , there was never a lack of ideas .
it was a lack of resources .
Cornish Lithium Ltd has a test facility at Upper Downs Cornwall UK geothermal power plant, the idea is in the future to use DLE ( Direct Lithium Extraction ) from geothermal power plants brine. Vulcan Energy Resources Ltd plans to install five geothermal power plants for DLE in the Upper Rhine Valley Germany which the firm claims is the largest lithium resource in Europe to supply 39,400 tonnes per year by 2025, for the German car industry and in July 2022 signed a deal with Enel Green Power for geothermal lithium at Cesano near Rome Italy.
Brain Paul Dumas wrote;
“everything which is easy to re cycle like glass, aluminum, steel, iron , coppter etc. is being recycled”
You are correct. And, those material, plus a sheet of highly recyclable plastic is just about everything that is in a solar panel, besides a little silicon which is the second most abundant material on the planet, only exceeded by oxygen. 25% of the Earth’s surface is silicon.. Photovoltaic panels generally have a 25 year warranty against losing more than about 20% of their original output, and solar farms are saying that they don’t expect to need to replace undamaged ones for as long as 80 years. Solar is already the least expensive electricity in history, and is getting cheaper fast. Meanwhile fossil fuels are a finite resource that we literally burn and then need to replace 100% of it, over and over and over. It is a practice and technology that plain and simply can not be sustained. This and similar discussions comes down to one simple fact, which is that if human society is to survive, we MUST learn to live sustainably, which means that we can not depend on the non-recyclable non-sustainable resources of fuels that we destroy in order to use them. This is the end of our Fossil Fuel Era. We are now entering the Solar Age. Our transition is, of course, not perfect in every way, and all of us can find fault in the details. But, it MUST HAPPEN and it IS HAPPENING, or the human race will fail, even if climate change and pollution were not factors.
Seems to me you’re overlooking something.
Granted most shipping uses ICE
for transport, but if you look at naval vessels, we see an obvious example of alternative propulsion… nuclear.
The largest warships, and especially submarines, almost exclusively use
I’m not saying it’s better than batteries, and possibly less safe, but the idea that it’s either batteries or ICE, simply isn’t accurate.
Notwithstanding, I still don’t think I’d fly in a battery powered plane.
Build this EV ships and put the batteries in standard containers.
So you will have the choice later on to charge them in port or to swap battery containers.
And finally the H2 fuel cell containers will replace the battery containers because several H2 fuel cell producers have already plans to build such ‘energy containers’ with more energy then batteries, cheaper and lighter. No problem – you can calculate that yourself.
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