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Electrifying news in boating’s future

I was fascinated this week by an article in Flying magazine announcing that Siemens unveiled a 260-kW electric aircraft motor. It got me thinking about electric boats.

If it hasn’t been before, it appears now that electric-powered flight is a serious consideration. Siemens researchers in Germany claim they have achieved a technological breakthrough with a new type of electric motor for airplanes. It is five times more powerful than previous generation motors, Siemens says.

Specifically, the new motor delivers a continuous output of 260 kilowatts. That’s said to be the equivalent of a 350-hp gas engine. Further, when you factor its weight of a little more than 100 pounds, it’s got to be raising eyebrows in fields well beyond aviation.

Last year, Siemens, Airbus and Diamond Aircraft were test-flying 60-kW electric motors. This new engine with its much-improved power-to-weight ratio opens the door for bigger planes with maximum takeoff weights of up to 4,000 pounds to use electric drives for the first time, Siemens researchers say.

In developing the motor, company researchers say they studied every component of previous motors and optimized each to their technological limits. New simulation techniques and lightweight construction enabled the drive system to achieve a unique weight-to-performance ratio of 5 kilowatts per kilogram. Comparable motors used in electric cars, for example, offer about 2 kW per kilogram, while motors in industrial applications deliver less than 1 kW per kilogram.

It’s also notable that the new motor delivers its performance at rotational speeds of just 2,500 rpm. It means it can drive propellers directly without requiring energy-sapping reduction gears.

“This innovation will make it possible to build series hybrid-electric aircraft with four or more seats,” said Frank Anton, head of eAircraft, Siemens’ central research unit. The motor is slated to start flight tests later this year. Moreover, researchers say their next step will be to boost output further. As for endurance, Siemens isn’t discussing it, but it’s known that Airbus researchers have a four-hour target with reserves. “We’re convinced that the use of hybrid-electric drives in regional airliners with 50 to 100 passengers is a real medium-term possibility,” Anton said.

In boating, we’re all familiar with names like Duffy, Elco, Torqeedo, ElectraCraft and Nautique’s prototype electric ski boat, to name a few. My only experience with electric boating was at a National Marine Trades Council meeting in Newport (Calif.) when host Southern California Marine Association (now NMMA West) put attendees in a half-dozen Duffy boats for an on-water scavenger hunt. I still remember how enjoyable it was to be quietly, peacefully cruising the harbor, albeit it we could only squeeze 6 mph out of her. More time to enjoy the wine and cheese. Ah, but I digress.

With today’s battery and electric motor technologies apparently moving ahead even faster than I play my geezer card for discounts, it seems time for serious electric propulsion for boats of all sizes, with greatly increased speeds, is here.

Elco Motor Yachts (originally the Electric Launch Company) showed off an inboard hybrid diesel/electric system in a Beneteau Swift Trawler at IBEX in Tampa last fall. technology. It featured a 20-hp Elco electric motor and a 425-hp Cummins diesel. Top speed was said to be 20 knots with the diesel and 6 knots under just electric power. The electric engine can run for up to three hours.

Torqeedo’s Deep Blue 40- and 80-hp electric outboards are setting a new pace. Kinda makes me wonder if electric replacements for my twin 250 Yamahas aren’t near, if for no other reason than in light of the breakthrough announced by Siemens. One could finally fish those “no combustion engines” waters. Fuel bills would disappear. People living on electric-motors-only lakes would go nuts when some boater was pulling a water skier around.

While electric cars haven’t lived up to their promise with America’s drivers, electric-powered pleasure boats very well could. I’m thinking a Duffy on steroids. Seriously, if batteries and electric motors can actually be made to deliver the same performance and reliability as our combustion engines, there could be a large future market for electric power and forward-thinking boat dealers might well consider making an early claim in their market.

All that said, I’m not yet thinking about flying at 35,000 feet in an electric plane.


5 comments on “Electrifying news in boating’s future

  1. Carl Moore

    Torqeedo found it’s customer base. Gunboat sail boats.
    Large Very high end sail boats that can regenerate power in battery bank when in sailing mod. Efficient Electric motors are here & have been here for some time!
    Energy storage isn’t…
    Torqeedos 40- 80 Hp motor (they are the same motor) systems are wholesale priced in the 50k range & up. Not including installation. Trip duration is very short. Until energy generation or storage improves it will be a very small niche….. For now the market wants 50plus ft. Center consoles with 1600- 2400 HP clamped on the transom…

  2. Sally Reuther

    Electric boats are here and they are only getting better. We have been the N.A. Distributor for a Danish company, Clean eMarine, that has been doing marine electric propulsion since 1998 and we now are the N.A. Distributor for Oceanvolt from Finland. Both companies are doing propulsion for sailboats and the Danish company does larger motors up to 100kW for tour boats, work boats and other commercial craft. The electric saildrives developed by Oceanvolt are now in Gunboat, a major U.S. manufacturer of catamarans, and J/Boats has just announced their J/88 will be offered with an electric saildrive. Both companies will premier their electric boats at the major fall boat shows in Newport, RI and Annapolis, MD.

    Electric for power boats is still behind what is being offered to sailboats because of the speed requirement. Still, smaller launches, water taxis and small trawlers all have the option now of using electric in place of gas or diesel. The larger power boats will see their options increase as battery technology improves allowing longer running times at higher speeds. Tugs and freighters are now changing over to diesel/electric which has been the norm for cruise ships and subs for a number of years.

    Electric power for marine craft has a place in the industry that will not only help owners with maintenance costs, but help our marine environment by cleaning up the water we boat on. Diesel and gas engines will continue to be necessary in many boats, but with the availability of well designed electric propulsion systems, those owners who want to convert their boats now have many options to choose from, as well as people looking at new boats which are beginning to offer electric propulsion as an option.

    We have truly gone “back to the future” when it comes to electric propulsion for marine. With electric boats at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, we are not only looking back but looking forward to how we can make our life on the water a better place to be for all of us.

  3. Nancy Frainetti

    Please do not forget to mention the new Island Packet L24e Family Launch series, an all-electric launch powered by Mastervolt Podmaster Professional along with Mastervolt AGM batteries and chargers. Comfortable wrap-around seating for 12, a private pop-up head and a remote control canopy that lowers to become a cockpit cover, all combined within its classic lines and Island Packet quality.

  4. Mike Gunning

    This is always good news about advances in electric motors. We see these advancements getting to the marine market a bit later but as the smaller player we avoid the development costs. Electric Yacht is by far the largest provider of electric propulsion here in NA – mostly focused on the recreational full displacement sailboat market. I am also familiar with both Elco and Torqeedo products being a dealer of both. We are seeing a constant request from a segment of the semi and non-displacement powerboat owners.
    If you are interested in speaking with or visiting one of our 300 plus conversions to hear from one of our clients, I would be happy to introduce you to them. Our boats range from 5000lbs to 350000lbs displacement with systems ranging from 5kW to 50kW. The largest system we have in operation today is a 68ft catamaran that will be in commercial charger service in Cabo Mexico.
    Thanks in advance,
    Mike Gunning
    Dir of Sales Electric Yacht
    Owner of Electric Yachts of Southern California

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