Ulf Kanne: Charged with our future

Ulf Kanne: “Marine engines are so dirty that even running a small 5hp petrol four-stroke outboard produces as much NOx and hydrocarbon pollution as running 38.5 cars – this is really dramatic.” Ulf Kanne: “Marine engines are so dirty that even running a small 5hp petrol four-stroke outboard produces as much NOx and hydrocarbon pollution as running 38.5 cars – this is really dramatic.”

For Ulf Kanne, Green propulsion and investment expert, we may be closer to the end for internal combustion marine propulsion than many think.  

“Many big cities want to use their waterways to help reduce traffic congestion, and there are quite a number of countries – France, Norway, Britain, China, India and the Netherlands - looking at banning combustion engines on the roads.”

“But there’s a complication. Marine engines are so dirty that even running a small 5hp petrol marine four-stroke outboard produces as much NOx and hydrocarbon pollution as running 38.5 cars – this is really dramatic.”

There’s also the big IMO carbon reduction target, so now there’s CO2 to think about too.

Diesel hybrids, while reducing NOx emissions, just won’t cut it for carbon “saving maybe 20% to 30% on that emitted by a traditional diesel vessel”. It’s something, he says, “but it’s not huge”.

However, “when it comes to fully electric vessels, you have a greater impact: the local emissions are zero... and depending on the local grid’s energy mix and renewables supply, CO2 can be reduced or even eliminated.

Timing helps: “Battery energy density is going up, and battery costs per kWh are going down,” he said. On the road, the “total cost of ownership of a small electric van is already starting to be a cheaper option than a diesel version”. And the new battery technology is filtering through to the marine industry.

While working for Torqeedo, Kanne saw the company win the Seawork Innovation Award and explained that the 120-passenger ferry Ecocat normally runs just using photovoltaic panels on the roof that pick up the strong Spanish sun, with an auxiliary feed from the shore if needed: “There is no auxiliary internal combustion engine,” he pointed out.

But, what if there’s no sun?

Then, he explained, it’s down to getting a fast DC charge, bigger batteries (which entails pushing around more weight) or possibly more vessels on the route to take over while they are being recharged, although he added: “This is not usually something that the operators want to hear as it holds implications for harbour space.”

However, “the hydrodynamics of the hull is another factor”, he explained. “If you have a more efficient hull, you need less energy, you have a longer battery range, there’s less charging needed during the day so you have a higher productivity level, and this means a lower cost per trip.”

In fact, he underlined that it’s worthwhile thinking in terms of the overall fleet – and its power: “There are times it really makes sense to build new, efficient vessels, even taking advantage of locally produced, clean energy: in the end, it could be a cheaper solution.”

Despite a lifecycle ‘win’, the upfront costs can be steep and banks aren’t always interested in new technologies. Therefore, the indefatigable Mr Kanne has recently set up a business which unlocks funding from impact investors “to bridge the gap and make capital available for those that want – or need - to transition to more future-oriented transport”.

By Stevie Knight

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