Aug 22, 2022 | Ship design & naval architecture news

Western Baltic Engineering (WBE) of Lithuania is launching new designs for what it believes is the first ever electric pusher vessel for use on Europe’s inland waterways. known as the ‘Eelectric Eel’.

Klaipeda headquartered WBE said the first example is due to be built next year for the Lithuanian Inland Waterways Authority, a public body operating under Lithuanian Government Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The new vessel is designed to replace diesel pushers which presently dominate the market for ‘pushing’ non-propelled barges around Europe’s inland waterways. WBE is producing the concept just as the European Union is ramping up pressure to shift freight to Europe’s Inland Waterways via more green powered vessels. The  company believes that road freight presently accounts for 75% of EU inland freight while inland waterway transport (IWT) accounts for just 6%.

WBE Head of Sales and Marketing Eglė Mikalauskienė said: “We are so excited to unveil this electric pusher design. The Electric Eel has huge potential to help cut carbon emissions on inland waterways across Europe and worldwide. The idea came after we were approached by the Lithuanian Maritime Cluster to see if we could help the Lithuanian Inland Waterways authority create an eco-efficient pusher. The authority has big plans to ramp up use of the 450km stretch of waterway between Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea to Kaunas to switch cargo from the road network in line with EU policy. It is brilliant to be supporting this bold vision and work on a sustainable clean fuel solution right here on our own doorstep. As a measure of the impact the authority estimates the pusher can help remove 10,000 trucks a year from Lithuania’s roads.”

Mikalauskienė said: “The market is huge. According to figures there is a fleet of 332 diesel pushers on the Danube alone pushing more than 2000 non-propelled barges. We estimate each of these vessels is emitting 196,317kg Tank To Wheel (TTW) of CO2, per navigation, while our electric pusher design slashes this at a stroke as it emits zero CO2. The beauty of our design is also in its ease of use, it can be bought and then built at a local shipyard near the customer or we can built it in Lithuania. We believe our electric pusher is a first mover in the market and can play a critical role in the drive to transform the IWT of Lithuania as well as the Danube and Rhine.”

The pusher design is pending class Approval in Principle with Bureau Veritas and can operate at a range of 300km before needing to stop. The 26m long vessel is powered by three DNV approved batteries with a combined weight of 74t, two held in standard containers on deck which can be replaced via crane at harbour, and one permanent battery below deck which can be charged at quayside. The vessel has a pushing capacity of 2000t and a maximum speed of 22Km/h downstream at 85% engine load. The electric batteries create an engine power of 500hp/400kW compared to a diesel equivalent which has 1000hp/800kW. An onboard wind turbine can generate 5kW of additional electricity for lighting, galley and crew facilities.

Mikalauskienė concluded: “The biggest challenge we faced was weight and draught. The Lithuanian inland waterway is presently very shallow so we had to design a vessel that was as light as possible, no more than 195 dwt, with a draught not greater than 1.2m. So we have created a super-efficient hull design which will operate brilliantly on shallow waters in Europe and around the world. Through trial and error using rigorous CFD testing we have produced the smoothest possible hull resistance. We’re also using thin lighter steel, approved by class, to reduce weight while at the same time keeping safety of paramount importance. In addition, we have innovated the wheelhouse, using a jack up design made of aluminium, again to spread and reduce weight. All the WBE team are incredibly proud of the design and we would like to thank all the parties involved. Over time as green energy becomes cheaper the cost of charging the batteries will also significantly reduce giving big future savings over diesel.”  

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