At a glance
With its expansive harbour and the numerous islands of the Hauraki Gulf on its doorstep, it's no wonder that Auckland’s ferry service provides over 6 million passenger journeys every year.
Despite being a relatively small city, Auckland’s ferry network is already quite respectably-sized by world standards. But Michael Eaglen, chief executive and co-founder of Auckland-based EV Maritime, believes we’ve barely scratched the surface of what ferries could offer.
“Ferries are fast, convenient and fun. If we can make ferries more reliable, more frequent and better integrated with other transport modes like cycling, then I believe we’ll see huge growth in ferry uptake,” he says.
“But we can’t keep doing that with diesel boats. Diesel is driving climate change, it’s dirty, smelly and actually very expensive to run over the lifetime of a ferry. There is a better way”.
Eaglen, a 25-year veteran of the marine industry and former engineer for the America’s Cup campaign, believes electric boats are that better way. They’re zero emission, clean, quiet, reliable and substantially cheaper to operate. Eaglen has been focused on developing electric boats with all the capability needed for a serious urban rapid transit network since he stood down as CEO of the market-leading boatbuilding business, McMullen & Wing, to start EV Maritime in 2019.
Since then, an intensive R&D project has seen EV Maritime come up with the designs and technology for the EVM200, a 24-metre fast ferry that can carry up to 200 passengers and is fully powered by electric batteries.
Support in many forms
A Callaghan Innovation R&D Project Grant helped fund EV Maritime’s work, and the business also drew on the agency’s R&D Loan Scheme – introduced to help businesses maintain R&D operations amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19. EV Maritime took on an engineering student intern over the summer, funded by a Callaghan Innovation Experience Grant.
“I can’t overstate the value of Callaghan Innovation’s support to a small business like ours,” says Eaglen.
“We‘re a pre-revenue, R&D-focused startup. The financial assistance is huge, as are the great introductions to others in the industry that we’ve had through Callaghan Innovation.”
“Because of its unique role in the innovation ecosystem in New Zealand, Callaghan Innovation has its finger on the pulse of new technology. It’s been able to make introductions for potential collaborations which we might never have even thought of.”
Such collaborations include Christchurch-based research-led business, HamiltonJet. Its support enabled EV Maritime to offer a vessel with levels of efficiency, control and maneuverability most ferry captains dare not even dream of.
The R&D process grappled with some quite specific design requirements for an electric ferry, including: having power, speed and range, being lightweight, and the major engineering challenge of creating a ferry that dispenses with diesel motors for electric replacements and fast-charging batteries.
”Fast ferries for commuting haven’t yet been mastered anywhere in the world. Scandinavia has led the way with the development of mainly large, steel, electric vehicle ferries. They often operate over short distances, where a few kilometers across a Fjord can save people a 100-kilometre car journey,” Eaglen says.
“But they’re not what you need in an urban commuter network.”
The global market for fast commuter ferries is huge and there’s great enthusiasm to electrify. So NZ-designed, electric-powered fast ferries could have significant export potential.
Carbon composite to go carbon-free
EV Maritime developed an extremely strong, carbon-composite, corrosion-free hull design that reduces the weight of the boat to accommodate the large banks of batteries, while being sturdy enough to meet the needs of busy ferry fleet operators – and satisfy tough international standards for commercial vessels.
“We need our structures to have the toughness required for a commercial operation. This is not Formula One or the America’s Cup, this is a ferry. Composites are being used in industrial applications everywhere: in cars, aircraft, wind turbines, bridges, buildings, the list goes on. It’s not about the material, it’s about how you use it.”
Two versions of the EVM200 have been designed, one for commuting, the other for scenic trips. Both have a top speed of 25 knots, making them as fast as the diesel ferries currently in use, and benefit from quiet electric operation and a highly-optimised low wash, low drag hull design.
EV Maritime partnered with major battery and motor manufacturers as well as HamiltonJet to secure the right power system for the ferries.
Next step – a pilot project
EV Maritime is currently focused on getting a pilot project underway in Auckland to demonstrate the vessels and systems the business has developed, and validate the boats’ operational and financial performance.
“We think these boats have the potential to bring major benefits to reduce the cost of public ferry services. That would enable cheaper fares, more services and better convenience, which in turn will help us with the real challenge of getting us to leave our cars at home.”
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Updated: 30 September 2021