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Electric and Hybrid Marine Expo, a perspective.

In June, Naut Product Manager, Cees van Egmond, embarked on a journey to Amsterdam to represent our company at the Electric and Hybrid Marine Expo. Now that he's back on New Zealand soil, Cees reflects on his time at the expo and shares with us the experiences, innovative solutions, and inspiring conversations that took place during the event. So, let's dive in and discover the Electric and Hybrid Marine Expo through Cees' perspective!

I was fortunate enough to visit the Electric and Hybrid Marine Expo (HME). The expo was hosted in one of the halls of the RAI convention centre in Amsterdam where, in contrast, METS Trade in November will fill 11 halls. Electric and hybrid marine technology is clearly still a niche and fledgling industry, and the show felt like a cosy global village of like-minded companies in a market that is (still) big enough for all of us.

The exhibitors covered everything from hybrid solutions for large cargo vessels to electric outboards for recreational craft, and from battery testing services to cooling plates. My focus was on the recreational sector, but it’s good to see what’s going on in big boats as that may eventually become relevant for smaller ones. If you’re more interested in electric ferries and the like, have a look at this excellent blog from McKay’s Ben Haselden.

The show drew exhibitors and visitors from all wind directions, though some regions seemed to dominate. There was of course a focus on European companies, followed by Chinese and only a few companies from the United States, as the Americans will have their own version of this show in March next year.

What is interesting, for the recreational market at least, is how boat usage differs and how that is reflected in the solutions on show. European companies typically seem to serve slower boats, probably a reflection of how Europeans spend time on the water: in rivers, lakes, canals, going short distances at a leisurely rate in displacement mode. Not the high-power, offshore boating ‘on the plane’ that you mostly see here in New Zealand and Australia.

Borrowing from the car industry

The success of electric cars means that some of the exhibitors’ main market is actually land-based mobility and they’re now giving boats a try. A trend in the other direction is e-boat manufacturers relying on car manufacturers for their batteries. Torqeedo were the first by using BMW batteries, and in the same way Mercedes’ and Volkswagen more recently have lent their batteries to starting marine companies. Meanwhile, traditional suppliers like Borg Warner are gobbling up smaller companies in order to offer an end-to-end portfolio of e-propulsion components.

But where’s the boat?

At its core, the exhibition is ‘solutions’ focused. I was surprised nonetheless that there was only one (1) boat on display. E-boat manufacturers are clearly ignoring this show and focusing their efforts on Cannes, Venice or Monaco instead.

Most of the HME exhibitors seem to look at e-propulsion as something separate from the boat, bolting on their various bits and pieces. But with the hull determining so much of the success of the overall solution (through its resistance and its volume constraints) — and the battery being several times larger and heavier than a fuel cell — can we afford this bolt-on / drop-in approach?

Asking new old questions

With the proliferation halfway the previous century of cheap and plentiful petrol-power, hull and propeller efficiency ceased to be a topic as you could just ‘throw more petrol’ at the problem. In this brave new world of electric propulsion, energy is the elephant in the room. To make it work, we have to take a fresh look at the system as a whole. The hunt is on for energy density and efficiency across the board, while finding a balance between system integration and installation flexibility. As such, it was good to see not just established, global brands but also local startups proudly showcasing interesting innovations: in battery technology but also in components like compact, lightweight motors, carbon fibre propellers, rim drives, reimagined stern drives, two-way chargers, ultra-capacitors and so on.

Like our brothers and sisters in the industry, at Naut we find ourselves asking new (but actually old) questions: how does this design affect the overall efficiency, how much energy does this feature cost, or save?

Follow us on social media to see how we manage to find the answers.


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