Volvo Penta has partnered with Gothenburg ferry operator, Styrsöbolaget, to introduce electric propulsion to an existing ferry. Before this can become a reality, the company has fitted the electric technology into its own test boat and now begins a period of evaluation.
This plan is part of the ElectriCity project – a collaboration between industry, academia and local government. From my brief time there, Gothenburg came across as Volvo's testing ground, with buses, self-driving cars and industrial haulers on show or being tested across the city, and ferries soon to come. The ElectriCity project is also a somewhat holistic concept, with dual ferry/bus charging station concepts shown, and connected transport routes between modes for consumer and industrial users.
Aimed to be the model of future clean urban development, the electric-powered ferry, Älvsnabben 4, will link both sides of the Göta Älv River. She will be converted into an electric propulsion vessel in collaboration with its operator, Styrsöbolaget and the Volvo Group. This refit is scheduled to begin in early 2020, but before then the electric propulsion system that will be used to replace the ferry’s diesel engine-powered marine driveline is being thoroughly evaluated in one of Volvo Penta’s own test boats.
The test vessel – known as PTA81 – may be slightly smaller than the ferry, but it has the same batteries, controllers and electric motors that will be used on the Älvsnabben 4. The technology being tested is not just applicable for ferry operations, it will be relevant for most marine electromobility applications, and has been proven elsewhere in the Volvo Group.
PTA81 is one of a fleet of vessels berthed at Volvo Penta’s own testing marina – Krossholmen – giving the company a unique advantage when it comes to real-world development. The conversion of PTA81 has just been completed and took under four months, and now a period of on-the-water tests begins.
“The conversion itself went smoothly,” said Niklas Thulin, Director Electromobility, Volvo Penta, adding: “We are learning valuable lessons about designing battery rooms and new opportunities with weight distribution, which will give us the ability to better optimise the balance and ride quality of vessels.”
The ferry re-build
The plan is to start the conversion of the Älvsnabben 4 early next year, with the ambition of the ferry entering traffic at the end of 2020. While this is underway PTA81 will continue to be tested so that the technology is thoroughly understood and robust before the ferry goes into operation on a public route.
“This gives us time to validate the installation’s performance, noise and vibration levels, as well as its drivability,” explained Thulin. “For sure, the electric driveline will have different dynamics compared to a combustion engine. Our objective is to fine tune these to improve the experience, but not make it so different that the vessel’s crew need to be re-trained.”
The development of the PTA81 prototype has been a collaborative effort between Volvo Penta and the Volvo Group, with considerable sharing of technology. The Volvo Penta electromobility team is growing rapidly. “By working across the Volvo Group we can maximise learning and deliver electromobility to our customers quickly and efficiently,” Thulin said.
According to CTO Peter Granqvist, electric solutions already make financial sense on certain limited routes with charging availability in place, but electric propulsion is very much still in its learning phase. President Johan Inden added that the company believes there will be a transition period of decades before an all-electric future, but even then the technology would not be usable for all applications.
Baird Maritime Managing Director Alex Baird was a guest of Volvo Penta in Gothenburg, Sweden, for a day of presentations, product unveilings and test drives.