Electromobility in the industrial and marine sectors – challenges and benefits

Adopting electromobility is a big step for most professionals in the industrial and marine industries. The transition raises questions about charging, operating range and costs. However, after answering those questions, electromobility often comes out as a feasible option. Benefits include increased productivity, lower emissions and reduced noise levels, to name a few. This blog article introduces the topic of electromobility, and the ways to adapt to this cost-effective and sustainable new power solution. 

New battery technologies are the key to more electric-powered industrial and marine applications

Electromobility usually relates to vehicles, marine vessels, machinery and equipment powered entirely with an electric motor; a motor which is powerful enough to propel the vehicle, machine or vessel by itself. Vehicles with smaller electric motors, but which rely on a combustion engine, i.e. micro and mild hybrid vehicles, are generally not considered to be electromobility vehicles.

In the last decade alone, electromobility has come a very long way, not least in the automotive industry. Hybrid cars have been on the market for about twenty years, and there is now a wide and rapidly growing selection of electric and hybrid models to choose from. Passenger cars are often driven shorter distances, within urban areas where access to charging stations is more readily available. These cars also tend to carry comparatively light loads.

Electromobility developments within the industrial and marine sectors are generally less mature. However, in recent years, there have been some major developments in key areas like battery technology. This has made new electric and hybrid industrial and marine applications possible. Compared to passenger cars, professional vehicles, heavy machinery and marine vessels are usually driven or operated for long periods of time, and with heavy loads. Such energy-intensive, high utilization applications have much to gain by switching to electric propulsion.          

Electromobility offers lower emissions, reduced noise levels, and more optimized vehicles 

There are several benefits to using electric powertrains in the marine and industrial sectors. In addition to significantly higher energy efficiency, low or no local emissions, and reduced noise levels, productivity often improves, thanks to the much faster torque response.

Another benefit of electric powertrains is lower vibrations, which contributes to a better work environment for the operators. Compared to diesel-powered vehicles and equipment, which have more components requiring regular maintenance, one can also anticipate fewer service calls. In the industrial sector, machinery and equipment usually have a fairly predictable operational pattern, and within confined areas. This is the ideal scenario for really optimizing charging and battery configurations.

An electric motor is more compact than a combustion engine of the same power, thus offering more freedom in the layout of a machine or vessel. Using the extra freedom generally allows for more space and/or energy efficient designs. Even so, one must take great care when conducting a battery installation.

A development toward the use of more sustainable materials and energy sources 

Batteries hold much less energy per volume, compared to a diesel tank. As such, it is crucial that one understands the intended application and operation when selecting the best balance between installed battery capacity and charge power and frequency. Incorporating the charging process into the daily operation may require adjustments for the equipment operators and drivers. Predictable breaks could increase the number of charging opportunities during a day. This allows for using smaller batteries, and thus a lower total cost of ownership.

Another important factor to consider when comparing the carbon footprint of electric and diesel powertrains is the production mix of electricity in the region of use. For example, coal power plants have a greater impact on the environment than renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydro, etc.). All operators of electric vessels and machinery strive for renewable electricity contracts to maximize the emission benefits.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that the materials needed for innovative technologies are mined, refined, and eventually recycled, under safe and fair conditions, and with a limited impact on the environment. Given the rapid ramp-up of electromobility products globally, concerns have been raised about availability and sustainability; particularly with regard to some of the battery raw materials, e.g. lithium and cobalt. However, there is a high degree of awareness within the industrial sector and among decision makers, and solutions and policies are being put in place. 

Electromobility is a flexible and cost-effective alternative to diesel for the industrial and marine sectors

The initial cost of investing in an electromobility platform is significant, but the long-term savings compensate for these expenses. There is a high degree of flexibility in combining motors, batteries and other power electronics components into customized solutions for specific applications. In the case of fully electric powertrains, no emissions means not having to worry about increasingly stricter emissions legislations. This suggests that the cost of maintaining an electric powertrain platform will decrease over time.

Volvo Penta has already come a long way in the development of electromobility, connectivity and automation 

It is not just professionals in the industrial and marine sectors who are having to adapt to electromobility. All engine manufacturers are currently experiencing a major shift in terms of competence and technology. They are also having to develop new electric solutions, while simultaneously maintaining their existing diesel products. Over time, we expect to see changes in the relationship between powertrain manufacturers and their customers as a result of the changed needs for maintenance and spare parts.

We are also starting to see a new competitive landscape with not only the traditional engine manufacturers, but also major driveline suppliers, electric power component companies, as well as start-ups taking new electric solutions to the market.

The future looks bright for electromobility. Although the speed of adoption will vary between the different industries, we believe that electric power will be a standard solution offered by all engine and powertrain manufacturers within the next few years. At Volvo Penta, we have already come a long way in the development of our electromobility, connectivity and automation solutions.

What are your thoughts on electromobility in the industrial and marine sectors? Why not share your thoughts with us in the comment field below. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, or visit our website for more information. Also, do not forget to check out some of the other articles here on our Professional Power blog

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