To meet its decarbonization ambitions, the European Union is seeking to move more cargo from roads to inland waterways using greener vessels. Lithuanian ship designer Western Baltic Engineering (WBE), part of the Western Shipyard Group, has come up with a solution to the “greener vessels” part. It has unveiled plans for an electric push boat vessel it calls the Electric Eel.
The first of the electric pushers is due to be built next year for the Lithuanian Inland Waterways Authority. a public body operating under Lithuanian Government Ministry of Transport and Communications.
“We are so excited to unveil this electric pusher design,” said WBE’s head of sales & marketing Eglė Mikalauskienė, “The Electric Eel has huge potential to help cut carbon emissions on inland waterways across Europe and worldwide. The idea came after we were approached by the Lithuanian Maritime Cluster to see if we could help the Lithuanian Inland Waterways authority create an eco-efficient pusher. The authority has big plans to ramp up use of the 450 kilometer stretch of waterway between Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea to Kaunas to switch cargo from the road network in line with EU policy. It is brilliant to be supporting this bold vision and work on a sustainable clean fuel solution right here on our own doorstep. As a measure of the impact the authority estimates the pusher can help remove 10,000 trucks a year from Lithuania’s roads.”
“The market is huge,” Mikalauskienė added. “According to figures there is a fleet of 332 diesel pushers on the Danube alone pushing more than 2,000 non-propelled barges. We estimate each of these vessels is emitting 196,317 kg tank-to-wheel (TTW) of CO2, per voyage, while our electric pusher design slashes this at a stroke as it emits zero CO2. The beauty of our design is also in its ease of use, it can be bought and then built at a local shipyard near the customer or we can built it in Lithuania. We believe our electric pusher is a first mover in the market and can play a critical role in the drive to transform the inland waterways transportation of Lithuania as well as the Danube and Rhine.”
The freight transported on European waterways being very different from that transported on the U.S. inland waterways, the Electric Eel looks very different to any U.S. inland river push boat.
The Electric Eel design is pending class Approval in Principle with Bureau Veritas. Designed to have a range of 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) before needing to stop, the 26 meters long vessel is powered by three DNV approved batteries with a combined weight of 74 tonnes, two held in TEU containers on deck that can be replaced via crane at harbor, and one permanent battery below deck that can be charged at quayside.
The vessel has a pushing capacity of 2,000 tonnes and a top speed of 22 km/h downstream at 85 percent engine load. The electric batteries deliver an engine power of 500 hp/400 kW compared to an equivalent diesel pusher’s 1,000 hp/800 kW.
“The biggest challenge we faced was weight and draft,” Mikalauskienė said. “The Lithuanian inland waterway is presently very shallow so we had to design a vessel that was as light as possible, no more than 195 dwt, with a draft not greater than 1.2 meters. So we have created a super-efficient hull design that will operate brilliantly on shallow waters in Europe and around the world. Through trial and error using rigorous computerized fluid dynamic (CFD) testing we have produced the smoothest possible hull resistance. We’re also using thin lighter steel, approved by class, to reduce weight while at the same time keeping safety of paramount importance. In addition, we have innovated the wheelhouse, using a jack up design made of aluminum, again to spread and reduce weight.
Another innovation on board is the use of a wind turbine to generate 5 kW of additional electricity for lighting, the galley and crew facilities.