Ever since I was a child, I have been very interested in shipping. I remember that I couldn’t understand why all boats weren’t powered like my toy…with batteries.
Firstly, two new ships will be joining the fleet, with a combined LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) and electric propulsion system. This “optimised hybrid” system should eventually enable a total reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of 10 and 20% to be achieved, according to the company, a performance that is “set to progress as and when shore power sockets are installed in the ports allowing batteries to be recharged by shore power”.
If LNG is considered very encouraging, with the energy giant Shell having recently placed an order for 40 tankers, the hybrid version is much more promising. Indeed, it is conceivable that with the expected performance of new types of batteries (Sodium-Ion, Lithium-Sulphur, solid state batteries), new fully electric ships will emerge.
Brittany Ferries, however, is looking one step further. In the 1970s, the Soviet army developed a type of aircraft called the Ekranoplan, which was designed primarily for military use. It was designed to take advantage of a well-known aerodynamic effect: the ground effect.
Without wishing to go into the physical and technical details here, which may bore my readers, it should simply be remembered that an aircraft flying very low on a flat surface (ideally water) uses much less energy. Man has taken the example of certain large birds that take advantage of this effect (swans, giant petrels, kori bustards, etc).
The next step for Brittany Ferries is therefore to bring the Soviet Ekranoplan up to date. This will be done by joining forces with the start-up Regent (Regional Electric Ground Effect Nautical Transport) based in Boston, USA.
Indeed, the French maritime operator aims to create a new mode of fast, sustainable and efficient maritime transport, the Seaglider.
A partnership agreement has been signed to participate in the design and development of Seagliders with a capacity of 50 to 150 passengers sailing between the UK and France by 2028. Regent expects the first commercial crossings to be on smaller electric boats from 2025.
A ferry… flying at 290km/h!
The Seaglider principle combines the manoeuvrability of ferries with the aerial efficiency of hovercraft and the speed of aircraft. These “gliders” on the sea, which could connect existing ports, should reach the impressive speed of 290 kilometres per hour.
After leaving the harbour, the Seaglider rises on its foils, and in the open sea it takes off on its air cushion, flying at a low altitude, which allows for comfortable sailing over the waves to the port of arrival, where it lands again on its foils, ensuring passenger comfort. In the open sea, it launches on a cushion of air to the port of arrival. Electric propeller motors on the wings provide sufficient thrust for take-off, and regulate the necessary airflow generating sufficient lift for take-off and flight.
Seagliders would therefore be a very efficient mode of transport, capable of moving relatively large loads over long distances and at high speeds. The energy required would be provided exclusively by electric batteries recharged at the dockside. Safety would be ensured by redundant propulsion systems, as well as by new generation radars that would automatically detect and bypass obstacles at sea.
I am excited about this type of technical innovation, especially since it’s associated with one of my great passions; the sea. I am looking forward to seeing a Seaglider in action!
by Doğan Erbek and STF Team