Washington State project aims to speed up development of fast foil ferry

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Progress with the foil Ferry designed by Bieker Boats and Glosten will be among the topics on the FERRIES 2020 agenda.

A consortium of Washington State players in the blue economy has launched a Joint Innovation Project to speed the design of a fast foil ferry, an innovation that promises a leap forward in zero-emissions, high-speed passenger ferry service.

The public-private partnership includes three ports that have joined forces to support the effort: Port of Anacortes, Port of Bellingham, and Port of Skagit.

The vessel is under design by naval architecture and marine engineering firm Glosten and a performance marine craft designer Bieker Boats.

Kitsap Transit has identified a potential route for the vessel in its ferry operations and sponsored the team in applying for additional funding to advance the concept.

Leading this collaborative joint innovation project effort is Washington Maritime Blue, a strategic alliance formed to foster maritime innovation and sustainability in support of an inclusive blue economy, and class society DNV GL.

Project partners also include Skagit County and EDASC (Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County) who share the maritime focus and joint goals of lower emissions, less road congestion, and opportunities for innovative designers and manufacturers in the county such as Bieker Boats and many others.

The idea first began when Paul Bieker returned to Seattle after his work designing the first hydrofoil vessel for the Americas Cup-winning Team Oracle and was stunned by the traffic. He realized that applying hydrofoil innovations to ferry vessels would improve speed, efficiency, and access. Working with Glosten, a preliminary design was created that would enable Washington State to recreate the “Mosquito Fleet.” Aptly named because of the numerous ferries traveling from port to port like a “swarm of mosquitoes,” it had its heyday from 1850s through the 1930s, but ended as road and rail transportation began to dominate.

The project will advance an innovative, replicable business model for an extremely efficient electric transit concept: a high-speed hydrofoil passenger ferry. The Foil Ferry is designed by Bieker Boats and Glosten, and leverages private sector innovations including hydrofoil design, lightweight carbon fiber construction and battery technology.

It supports transit options by connecting urban, suburban, and rural communities with green transit alternatives that can take cars off the roads.

“Our three local ports see this innovation as an opportunity to spur economic recovery in the boat-building world, a critically important industry in our region,” said Patsy Martin, Executive Director of the Port of Skagit. “There are strong maritime industry clusters in each of our districts that could benefit from the design and construction of these vessels in our communities, resulting in a direct economic impact.”

Because of the nature of joint innovation projects, the expected time it will take to complete the entire project, from business model to the first demonstration project, is compressed.

Several streams of work will occur either in parallel or in succession, as appropriate, creating efficiencies and avenues to take advantage of the collective strengths of each of the organizations involved. This will include design, an exploration of required infrastructure, a review of environmental benefits and impacts, regulatory and permitting needs, and determining possible routes and operators.

“An ambitious but needed project like the relaunch of this type of ferry service would be exponentially more difficult if each individual stakeholder acted alone,” said Joshua Berger, Founder and Board Chair of Washington Maritime Blue. “A cluster organization like ours can bring together the technologies, required local knowledge, and resources that will ensure that this joint innovation project will be successful.”

The intent of the project is to bring to market a zero-emission high-speed waterborne transportation alternative in Puget Sound. The design includes the options of fully electric propulsion or diesel-electric propulsion for extended range.

Owing to its extreme efficiency, the diesel electric option is said to be two to three times more fuel efficient than conventional fast ferries and has the potential to save 1,500 tons of CO2 emissions a year, while the fully electric version offers even greater improvements.

“Developing the Foil Ferry in collaboration with the Washington Maritime Blue Joint Innovation Project exemplifies the very best of our Pacific Northwest values and capabilities. This partnership of ports, designers, builders, and operators is a catalyst that is propelling our design into a reality, to the benefit of our economy, the environment, and the passenger vessel community at large,” says Glosten Project Manager Matthew Lankowski.

Washington Maritime Blue is a non-profit, strategic alliance formed to accelerate innovation and sustainability in support of an inclusive blue economy. With a mission to implement Washington State’s Strategy for the Blue Economy delivered by Governor Jay Inslee’s Maritime Innovation Advisory Council, it is a partnership between industry, public sector, research & training institutions, and community organizations.

Design includes the options of fully electric propulsion or diesel-electric propulsion for extended rang
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