Erno Tenhunen, marine director at Danfoss Editron, offers his perspective on the impact of autonomous vessels and full-electric vessels on the short-sea market, and identified the offshore sector as a new market for Danfoss Editron’s solutions.
While autonomous vessels are coming, a number of non-technical obstacles need to be resolved before autonomous ships can be introduced more widely. The near-term growth opportunities are likely to be concentrated among smaller short-sea or short-hop vessels.
“We expect autonomy to eventually affect short-sea or short-hop routes. From our point of view, this will drive electrification in short-hop ferries, for example,” Tenhunen said. “We expect all smart vessels will be full-electric vessels or battery hybrid vessels.”
Tenhunen has a particular interest in autonomous and full-electric vessels, as they represent key market opportunities for Danfoss Editron’s EDITRON decentralised DC system.
While the solution offers weight and space reductions of between 30-40% compared with conventional diesel-electric propulsion and power plant systems, Tenhunen noted that the DC system’s redundancy and safety was also likely to be attractive to the autonomous vessel segment.
Danfoss Editron recently supplied a full-electric workboat for operation in China, which utilised synchronous reluctance assisted permanent magnet propulsion motors and inverters, with bidirectional high-power DC/DC converters and microgrid controllers.
One of the drivers of the shift towards the electrification of passenger vessels was regulation. “China is promoting demand for emission-free ships via regulation, such as its Green River Way and there is a lot of early stage investment interest there at the moment.”
The economics of full-electric solutions in the short-sea ferry market were supportive, but upfront CAPEX costs remained higher. The 4.3MWh full-electric ferry Ellen, which was launched in 2019, was up to 20% more efficient than the diesel-electric vessel she replaced.
Tenhunen was upbeat about the outlook for shipping in Asia, expecting demand in the Asian market to take off in the near future.
Danfoss Editron is active in the Chinese market: in July, the China Classification Society awarded type approval to Danfoss Editron for its synchronous reluctance assisted permanent magnet motors and frequency converters.
Danfoss targeting larger (and smaller) vessels
Other areas of interest for Danfoss Editron are the workboat and 2 litre vessel segments, as well as small high-speed vessels and crew transfer vessels where no suitable solution had previously been available to ship designers.
“We are seeing the rapid growth of interest in electrification among smaller vessels: more and more 20m+ vessels and smaller vessels will be electrified.”
Turning to the opportunities among larger vessels, Tenhunen noted that the business case for moving to battery-hybridisation for diesel-electric vessels with variable power consumption profiles, such as tugs, dredgers, or offshore service vessels, was relatively straightforward.
“One of the key questions” was when these vessel types would move to full-electric propulsion. “Sustainability is a key concern for wind farms and for the offshore sector: we see investors who are willing to invest before the economics are supportive.”
The size and weight savings offered by the company’s DC solution were likely to be attractive for many larger vessels.
At present, the EDITRON solution was only available up to a maximum propulsion power of 2MW per shaft. The company was interested in extending its dynamic positioning capabilities from DP2 vessels to DP3 vessels.
“We are expanding our portfolio for larger vessels,” Tenhunen admitted, adding that many shipyards and ship designers would be familiar with Danfoss products, such as its electrical motors.
In addition to his commercial responsibilities, Tenhunen is also responsible for developing new systems technology at Danfoss Editron.
The Motorship notes the company recently invested in in-house testing facilities at its headquarters in Lappeenranta, Finland. The facility represents a substantial multi-million US dollar investment as a number of product developments are in product prototype phase, and are expected to reach the market in under three years. The facility will conduct electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and environmental tests on the EDITRON system.
When asked about the company’s upcoming product initiatives, Tenhunen noted that the company was focused on developing solutions to meet the opportunities in the market.
“We focus on developing safe and highly efficient products, and we know how to make a compact design,” Tenhunen said. He concluded by adding that despite Danfoss’ expertise across different segments of transportation, the company didn’t “marinise” existing products.
“Our small vessel solutions exceed class society requirements: we offer the ability to isolate individual producers or consumers for smaller vessels, just as we are required to for larger vessels.”