Battery supplier looks to future

Saft supplied two banks of batteries, each rated at 2,500kW/500kWh, to Sir David Attenborough, which is being built at Cammell Laird's Birkenhead yard.Saft supplied two banks of batteries, each rated at 2,500kW/500kWh, to Sir David Attenborough, which is being built at Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead yard.

Didier Jouffroy, the Marine System Technical Advisor at battery supplier Saft, discusses the market and advances in technology in an interview with The Motorship

While battery maker Saft has been in existence for over a century, its experience of developing Li-ion solutions for demanding safety-critical operations is a little newer, dating back to the 1990s. Back then, the new frontier for battery development was the spaceflight and satellite sector, where Saft has an established position. The company now has an extensive product portfolio, with a particular focus on the production of batteries for every form of transport.

“We called on the expertise gathered in over 20 years of experience in delivering safe and reliable Li-ion solutions in the exacting spaceflight and satellite sector to create our marine modules.” Jouffroy said.  

Saft’s Seanergy® modules are a fully integrated solution designed specifically for civil marine propulsion installations, based on Saft’s established Li-ion Super-Iron Phosphate (SLFP) battery technology. The SLFP is proven with a strong record of safety, performance and reliability.

“The key advantages of the technology are its increased safety, its light weight and compact size, high efficiency, long calendar and cycling life, fast-charging capability and high power output,” Jouffroy said.

Saft established its marine division in 2014. In that year, it supplied Seanergy modules to Ballerina, an electric ferry designed to operate in Stockholm harbour. Similar electric ferries in the River Garonne at Bordeaux followed, and a contract for the third hybrid ferry being built for the Scottish operator Calmac by Ferguson Shipyard.

In 2015 the company’s Seanergy® range of Li-ion Super-Iron Phosphate (SLFP) battery modules received type approval from Bureau Veritas. The approval for the modules, which had been developed for the requirements of civil marine propulsion applications, opened the door to quoting for marine applications.

“Safety is at the heart of all Saft’s marine activities. This certification was important to give our customers confidence that the Seanergy® modules comply with best practice,” said Jouffroy.

Following this BV approval Saft has supplied battery banks for a number of innovative ships, including a research vessel in Norway. A recent high-profile contract for UK-based readers was the supply of batteries for the research ship Sir David Attenborough, which is being built at Cammell Laird Shipyard.

In order to meet the polar research vessel’s battery system specifications, Saft developed a customised battery solution. This battery system is based on Saft’s proven Seanergy® 48P high-power module, with higher voltage, power capability and cooling efficiency to accommodate the unique needs of the vessel. 

Together, the battery systems will provide 1,450 kWh of capacity with a maximum voltage of 1,010 V and will be assembled into the vessel’s control and automation system. The power provided by the cutting-edge technology will assist the vessel with peak power, especially within dynamic positioning mode.

With battery systems moving into higher and higher voltages, Jouffroy is hesitant about the use of voltages above 1100 volts DC. “Whilst the higher voltages from some of our competitors allow smaller wiring and more effective motors, we are concerned about the safety aspects of using any voltage above 1100 volts.”

Looking ahead, Jouffroy noted that the accelerating use of batteries in larger vessels would inevitably lead customers to focus on the reliability of battery systems.  

Saft has a particular advantage over other battery system suppliers as it is an ‘end to end’ manufacturer of cells, modules and systems. “This complete overview enables Saft to take responsibility for the total quality control of every aspect of design, development, testing and delivery of the complete marine battery solution.”

This holistic perspective could also be seen in the company’s R&D work. “Currently, Saft is working on next-generation active materials for high-performance cathodes and lithium-alloy anodes”, said Jouffroy. “The goal with this undertaking is to elevate performance, safety and lifetime, all the while lowering costs.” 

Turning to digitalisation, Jouffroy noted Saft’s strong position as a supplier in other markets means the increasing demands for data in the marine market come as no surprise. The expansion of the IoT and interconnectivity enables more complex, data-heavy applications, including intricate battery systems.

“Saft’s e-Supervision tool is the answer to delivering data-heavy remote battery diagnostics.” says Jouffroy. “It provides customers with crucial data in real time from a remote location. The tool enables the battery system owners to secure alerts and investigate happenings without having to be in the presence of the system.”  

However, no one company can have all the answers given the speed with which markets are changing. Saft has entered into groundbreaking collaborations with key marine players, for example, to conduct research into science and technology. “With our environment and digital lifestyles in constant transformation, agility and adaptability are the key to protecting our precious environment and resources.”

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