Finnish manufacturer Visedo OY has designed the ferry’s retrofitted powertrain
Asia’s first hybrid electric ferry has been launched in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, a move which could revolutionise marine transport in the region.
The vehicle in question is in fact one of the city’s incumbent tourist ferries, which carries passengers to and from Cijin Island, a popular tourist destination. Rather than purchasing an entirely new vehicle, the Kaohsiung government has chosen to retrofit an electric propulsion system in place of the original 300hp diesel engine.
The company behind the retrofit is Visedo OY, a market-leading Finnish manufacturer of electric powertrains for marine, commercial and heavy duty vehicles.
In Kaohsiung, as in many East Asian harbour cities, ferries represent a huge portion of the public transport infrastructure, playing as important a role as buses do in other regions. The problem is that they are also some of the dirtiest and most inefficient vehicles in operation today.
This is a point not lost on Visedo CEO Kimmo Rauma:
“Given the geography, ferries are a vital mode of public transport across East and Southeast Asia but they are also the most energy intensive per kilometer travelled. Until now, diesel ferries have been a dirty but necessary part of life around harbours like Kaohsiung. In Hong Kong for example, passenger ferries make up the majority of licensed vessels in Victoria Harbour, where it’s estimated air pollution kills about 3,200 people every year”.
Rauma believes that his company’s collaboration with the Kaohsiung government provides a cost-efficient answer to this problem. By retrofitting an electric powertrain, cities can simply reupholster existing vehicles rather than replacing entire fleets. This way, vessels with several years of service left in them wont be put to waste, and their overall fuel consumption will be halved.
The ferry, weighing 100 tonnes and measuring 23m, launches from berth every 15 minutes and travels at a speed of 9 knots. For the moment it is a hybrid, designed to cruise on pure electric for half of its 650m journey, switching back to diesel for the remainder. If fast charging were to be installed at the harbour, however, this percentage could be significantly increased.
The arrival of a cleaner ferry is timely for the inhabitants of the city; just a few years ago, the average person in Kaohsiung was consuming twice the national average of carbon dioxide according to ChihHung Lin.
Lin, head of system development for Taiwan’s Ship and Ocean Industries R&D Centre, is optimistic about the future of the vehicles:
“The Kaohsiung City Government is committed to cleaning up its fleet and is currently considering the possibility of replacing all 11 of its vessels with this new type of e-ferry. This also includes embarking on a hybrid tug-boat project.”
These developments will no doubt rely on the success of the single e-ferry just launched, but should they go ahead, they will certainly represent an important sea-change for clean marine transport.