Peter Allen’s song from “All That Jazz” in 1979 makes us think of all the things we discarded from an earlier time and how they resurface and are seen as useful again. Going back to the 1800s, the world’s first fleet of electric launches for hire was established on the River Thames in England by Moritz Immisch and William Keppel. In the US when bids were requested in a small ad in Rudder, Sail and Paddle (later known as Rudder Magazine) to supply 50 34’ boats in 1892, several boat builders responded, among them the Elco company. Only incorporated a month after bids were requested, the new company won the contract over three competitors to supply 50 36’ launches for the Chicago World’s Fair. The boats were built on time and in the six months the Fair was open, transported 1,026,346 passengers safely and established Elco’s reputation for quality workmanship.
At the time in the late 1800s that these English and American electric powered launches were in use, they served their purpose and enjoyed a long period of acceptance and popularity. The Elco Company changed its name several times but kept on building quality boats – cabin cruisers and military vessels. Today Elco still sells electric motors. For a 36’ sailboat, the company compares online how long the sailboat can go on 50 gallons of fuel with their electric hybrid engine (221 hours) to a typical diesel engine (76 hours), how far it could go on the electric engine (1108 miles) to the diesel (382 miles) and the cost per nautical mile for the electric engine (7 cents) to the diesel (59 cents).
Early electric cars had a range of about 100 miles on a single charge when driven no more than 20 miles an hour. Later models boosted the range to 200 miles and in 2007 Tesla’s Roadster went 311 miles on a single charge at highway speeds. Today Jaguar Land Rover’s new vehicles will all be partially electrified by 2020. Mercedes-Benz plans to set up production of electric SUVs and a separate factory to produce batteries in Alabama. The batteries BMW developed for its compact electric vehicle are also being supplied by BMW to Torqeedo, the German boat company, and provide up to 160 HP for motorboats.
Why did they stop building electric cars and boats in the 1920s and 1930s? Like the electric cars, the electric boats had a low top speed, a short range and depended on the availability of charging stations. The combustion engine gave drivers of cars and boats greater speed, a longer distance between refueling stops and no time spent recharging batteries. Mass production brought the cost of gas powered cars down to $650 in 1912, while an electric car cost $1750. When the need to hand crank to start gas powered cars was eliminated by the invention of the electric starter, the end for the electric cars was in sight.
Now that we’re looking at the effect on the environment of using our combustion engines, we’re seeing the need to use electric or hybrid power on the road and in the water. As China, the UK and France have moved toward banning internal combustion engines to cut the CO2 emissions, newer battery technology will offer a solution.
Boats of every description have been developed, from the fun toy jet skis to good size cabin cruisers, that use electric or hybrid technology. The company that builds the industry’s first electric jet ski calls it the Gratis X1. It’s a stand-up PWC sold by the Free Form Factory. Made in California, the Gratis X1’s components are 100% recyclable. It will go 45 minutes on its standard power and an additional hour with a 3.3kw power pack. It does about 46 miles an hour and costs $17,990. The Gratis X1 can be charged in three to four hours by a standard electrical outlet.
At the University of Western Australia under the direction of Prof. Thomas Braune, his stu
dents have been working on an electric jet ski for several years. It will not be going into production – so far it has cost $15,000 to make it. The batteries recharge in about three hours on household current but in less than ten minutes using a DC fast charger.
When Marshall Duffield complained to his father about the unreliability of the power in his father’s boat and the negative effect this had on dates that Marshall took out on it, Marshall’s father gave him $200 to buy the electrical system from a golf cart and install it in the boat. A battery company owner saw what Marshall had done using batteries bought from his company, and provided some start-up funding. Marshall’s Duffy Boats now use a GE electric motor and a dozen batteries. It’s not a fast boat but he sold enough of them to make improvements in the manufacturing process. He now makes several models that have gas grills, TV sets, refrigerators and microwave ovens. The batteries last five to eight years and need to be charged for twelve hours to run sixteen hours. The Duffy Electric Boat Company is run by Marshall Duffield and his business partner, Gary Crane at a 30,000 square foot factory with its own metal and wood shops, providing marine quality teakwood. Duffy Boats are now sold by forty dealers.
If you’re looking to go green and want a cabin cruiser, Greenline has been making boats for a few years. They are set up to collect, store and deploy electrical energy through the use of solar, shore power and a generator. Their lithium batteries are powered either by the rooftop solar array over the cabin with an inverter/charger or while under way, using the diesel engine. While the Greenline 40’s 13’ 11” beam has been more generously applied to the interior space than the side decks, the boat is nicely laid out with enough windows for a lot of natural light down below and an open, airy feeling.
The all-electric Norwegian car ferry developed by Siemens won the “Ship of the Year” award in 2014 from the Norwegian trade journal “SKIPSREVYEN.” The conventional diesel ferries need about one million liters of diesel fuel annually and produce 2680 tons of carbon dioxide. The aluminum Norled Ampere is lighter weight, emission-free and very quiet. For optimal energy efficiency, keeping the weight of the batteries down was important, but they didn’t want to overload the local grid with their charging needs either. Their solution – the Norled Ampere tops off the ferry’s battery power during the ten minutes the vessel is loading and unloading. The boat makes 34 crossings in 17 hours every day. They designed the boat with smaller batteries and shore power stations at either end that store energy from the grid. The shore power stations can recharge from the grid through the day. The double ender ferry stays on a tight schedule by not turning around. The crossing takes 20 minutes at ten knots.
The linchpin in the changeover seems to be the lithium battery that has undergone a lot of change and improvement and is destined for more as it becomes denser and provides safe power. These are the batteries that heated up the Samsung Galaxy smartphones that were recalled, caused the fires in the three Tesla Model S cars and grounded the Boeing 787 Dreamline aircraft until they improved the batteries. A battery factory in Norway making high tech batteries, monitors the batteries they sell and from the factory, they can dial into customers’ batteries to fix something, to reprogram them or to update software.
If there was any question in your mind whether electric and hybrid are coming to your local marina, the most recent Long Island Boating World has four Greenline boats advertised for sale, a 33’, a 39’, a 48’ and a 65’. You might expect these boats to have minimal extras, but they come with bow thrusters, TVs, full size fridges, electric sunroofs, teak decks, hydraulic swim platforms, multiple heads and electric sunshades. These are hybrids that will go fast when you need them to and can use their electric power for slow cruising. Greenline uses the Deep Blue Electric engines from Torqeedo and a hydraulic clutch joins the diesel engine with the electric motor.
The shift to electric powered cars and boats has started. Government support has caught the attention of commercial ship and truck owners. The big push will come from improvement in lithium battery technology when these batteries become dense enough to store energy that will exceed the output of the combustion engines.