Hybrid sightseeing barge paves the way

The first Saga hybrid barge, Natalia The first Saga hybrid barge, 'Natalia' (Image: Pratt Naval Architecture Limited)
Industry Database

No less than a dozen 38m inland barges are being built for the niche sightseeing market, and Isle of Wight-based Hybrid Marine is scaling up to meet the demand for 12 complete battery-diesel hybrids.

Saga has had the idea to cater for the over 50s market with a large non-accommodation barge “that will carry a coach load of passengers – 56 in all – around the ring of canals near Auxerre and Nivernais, in complete peace and comfort for long afternoon trips.... using battery power alone”, explained Graeme Hawksley of Hybrid Marine. “It promises to be much more cost effective than the limited numbers that can travel on a hotel boat (typically restricted to 12 cabins). Given that the barge will be ‘resting’ overnight, it gives a chance for the battery banks to be fully recharged between trips.”

The first of these 100 tonne displacement barges, Natalia, is presently under build at Meuse & Sambre in Lierge, Belgium. The idea is that each will be fitted out with 300kWh of battery capacity, enough to drive the motors, air conditioning plus hotels loads for five hours at 5km per hour within the canal system. There’s also a small feed from a 6kW solar panel array on the roof.

Interestingly, these barges will be using wet lead acid cells rather than the new, lithium ion varieties. As Hawksley explained, while lithium ion might be useful where weight is a concern, in this case the 10 tonnes of batteries simply act as the ballast. “There’s no extra weight,” he said.

He has a further point to make: “These traditional traction batteries are also very cost effective in price compared to lithium ion – a similar li-ion installation would double the price of the total system.” He added: “These wet lead acid batteries are simple, very robust and reliable in operation – why add another layer of complication and cost when you really don’t need to?”

Despite the banks being sized for electric running on the immediate canal route, there are also a lot of locks just outside this area and the vessels also need to be able to deal with adverse conditions: this includes tidal river flows and manoeuvring under bridges with a particularly strong current. Even more pragmatically, it might take a short while for the recharging infrastructure to catch up, explained Hawksley.

Therefore the first few orders will also include two hybrid engines, Beta 105 twins each giving 20kW of electric drive and 15kW of generating ability, he said: “In total that yields 40kW, or about 50hp of propulsion, plus 30kw of generation capacity.” Interestingly, these innovative hybrid systems can operate in both serial and parallel modes; he added: “It’s also possible just to run the barge from a separate 49kVa generator, via the batteries.”

As Hawksley concluded: “[This design] paves the pathway for future zero-emission tour boats – especially as it can be scaled up or down for larger or smaller vessels, which could be of use in places like Amsterdam which are banning diesel engines.”

By Stevie Knight

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