ABB Azipod D — New Marine Electric Propulsion System Uses 25% Less Installed Power

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An impressive new offering for the good of marine electric propulsion systems was recently unveiled by ABB — one that requires, quite impressively, up to 25% less installed power than earlier models.

ABBThis new model, known as the Azipod D, also allows for greater design flexibility, as compared to other systems — as the design precludes the need for rudders, stern transversal thrusters, and/or long shaft lines.

“We’re excited to expand the Azipod propulsion family and make the benefits of electric propulsion available to a wider range of ships. Shipowners and operators demand solutions that are reliable and improve their competitiveness in a volatile market — the Azipod D is our answer to these demands,” stated Peter Terwiesch, President of ABB’s Process Automation division.

Given the ABB Azipod D’s improved energy efficiency, use of the system will allow ship owners and operators to lower operation costs — via lower fuel use. Lower fuel use also, of course, means lower carbon emissions — which are worth making note of and taking into account when considering what system to use.

Here are a couple of more details, via a recent ABB press release:

ABB’s Azipod D propulsion power ranges from 1.6 megawatts to 7 megawatts per unit.

The characteristics of Azipod propulsion make it particularly appealing to the offshore shipping segments where most vessels operate in dynamic positioning mode and require highest reliability. In conjunction with electric propulsion, Azipod propulsion system is the ideal solution to meet varying power demand, high propulsion efficiency and flexibility, all of which are typical requirements of the of the offshore industry.

According to Clarkson’s Research, the leading shipbroker and research firm, the number of vessels with electric propulsion has been growing at a pace of 12% per year over the last decade, 3 times faster than the world’s fleet.

Sounds like good news to me. Given the enormous quantities of goods shipped across the world’s oceans in modern times, improvements to efficiency are always to be commended, and this is a big one.

Image Credit: ABB

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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35 thoughts on “ABB Azipod D — New Marine Electric Propulsion System Uses 25% Less Installed Power

  • So, can freighters cross the ocean on electric engines? Often the knee jerk response is “of course not”. But my knees are not so twitchy. I don’t see why solar refueling islands cannot be spread across the pacific with liquid battery storage as big as utilities use. Or deep ocean wind farms, or battery barges etc. What say the ingenious readers of Clean technica?

    • Can you do it? Yes. Just like we can also build a large city at the bottom of the Pacific if we are so inclined.

      But look at the energy use of even a medium sized freighter. Then look at the output per square meter of even a perfectly efficient solar cell. Knowing that, think about the sheer size and cost of such islands. Weep and move on to another idea.

      RE powered ships are possible, but I don’t see refuelling at sea happening. What is perfectly possible, however, is to power ships using biofuels (either liquid or CNG made through anaerobic digestion); that’s already being done. Alternatively, one could use pricey but technically perfectly viable PowerToX (methane, hydrogen, methanol,…) technology to power ships by excess (land-generated) renewable electricity.

      • I foresee using a few dozen container-sized flow batteries to move these ships.

        • Not the flow batteries currently making headlines like vanadium-redox ones. Unless your dozen is significantly larger than 12 😉

          Of course, we can’t rule out unforeseen breakthroughs. But you have to make assumptions based on the best (nearly) available technology, and that suggests a battery powered cargo ship is impractical.

          • I could see a ship having some battery capability for manevering, and for (short term) backup in vcase the main engine must be shut down.

          • And sails, and excellent knowledge of ocean current conditions as we have today.

      • Maybe I could find something that I have read 30 + years ago, in a publication called Bild Der Wissenschaft, German publication, about
        modern wind (sail) powered freighters.

        The technologie is there, it just will have to be used.

        Also using hybrid systems for ocean going ships is just as easy as using hybrid drives for huge ore trucks.

        • Look up Skysails: a Hamburg startup that makes shipboard power kites as secondary propulsion. The stuff works, but it’s quite expensive, and the conservative shipping industry has not risen to the bait.

          I tend to agree with Larmion. The core propulsion of large ships will stay with liquid fuels, barring an unforeseen breakthrough in large batteries. Solar and wind systems may be adopted as auxiliaries.

          Navies may be looking at these, as they are very interested in survivability, redundancy and (for ASW) silence. On paper you could use nuclear aircraft carriers as charging stations for part-electric destroyers and minesweepers.

      • More likely, cities/countries will enforce emission limits on ships operating near their shores. This might mean that limited battery-electric capacity will be desired for operations getting into/out of port. Of course if unused deck space was covered with PV panels, then some fraction of operating power could come from the sun.

        • Ships often plug in to the port’s power grid while docked. That, combined with the fact that even a straightforward washing process for reducing fuel sulphur content allows a modern engine to stay within legal limits, means that added costs are marginal.

          Even very strict emission limits on ships would do little more than force the oldest vessels out of business. And that was happening without government intervention already due to the record glut of new ships that were under construction during the crisis and have now turned out to be unnecessary.

      • Battery required 1.5 gwh for 24 hour sailing. Cost 230 million dollars. Lifespan liquid battery 30 years. Yearly cost 20 million dollars. Bunker fuel cost for 3600 gal hour x 24hours x 300 days year= $51 million dollars ( at $2 gallon) So lets say battery is half the cost of fuel without the cost of electricity. The cost then, is not a problem. Just how big is a 1.5 gwh battery? and how much does it weigh? Can you put it in a ship? Or is it better on a barge that you swap? Check my math and carry out the guessing.

        • If the battery was lifepo4 at 300 watts kg. It would weigh 2250 tons. The vessel is 170,000 tons. So not bad. Could be my math is out but remember we are talking about a 700 mile battery. All we really should know is the friction difference between a boat and land vehicle at 30 mph. Then we can extrapolate. Is a ship more efficient than a train? A train is 6-8 times the efficiency of a truck. Rubber on highway vs steel on steel.

        • – $2/gallon is a very high cost estimate. Bunker oil has been floating around $300/megaton for weeks.
          – 30 years seems generous, given the capacity factor of a ship is much higher than that of a backup/frequency regulation power plant or an EV.
          – Neglecting the cost of electricity sort of throws your calculation.

          Your starting assumptions are tilted heavily in favor of batteries.

          As for weight: that’d be manageable I guess, but not the volume. See the Imergy example above. Lithium based batteries are denser, but not by an order of magnitude.

          All in all, it’s just guesswork. However, the fact that large shipping companies like Maersk haven’t been trying out battery power despite operating in a cutthroat market environment where every penny matters and despite having a world class engineering department, should tell you all you need to know.

          • Yep guesswork, but freighters this size won’t just retrofit overnight. Just like cars don’t change overnight but not because they can’t. It is just that until sometime about a year ago it was impractical but now its thinkable with busses, semi trailers, cars, buildings, factories, utilities, etc. I am not used to thinking at the scale of a 1300 ft long ship…yet. But it seems that the cost of shipping vs land transport tells us something about energy requirements. Sea shipping is the cheapest therefore the most energy efficient by weight, therefore the problem is logistics of how to electrify a ship. Perhaps 7 days of batteries is completely senseless. But how about 1 day or half a day, etc. Liquid fuels such as hydrogen will definitely work but we will have to pay 25 cents more for our pants, what a tradgedy!

          • That seems to makes sense, but it has not 🙂 Look at GM, Toyota, VW. They all are operating in very competitive market and have a world class engineering department and woud do nothing if not Tesla.

          • They don’t do anything because at the moment, there’s no reason for them to. EV’s have a tiny share of the market and since there is nothing complicated about them, they could release one on short notice if that were to change. At that point, they still have their brand name and marketing prowess to help them.

            Also, Tesla isn’t the one putting pressure on them. It’s the likes of Renault-Nissan, which are selling EV’s that compete head on with the cars Toyota and others make.

            Oh, btw: the VW eGolf is an excellent EV and the Chevy Bolt looks promising.

          • Just like Apple wasn’t putting preasure on Nokia 🙂 And there is nothing complicated? Smarthones were also tiny share of the mobiles market until it was little too late to join the game. And even assuming EVs aren’t complicated they will take batteries from? Scaling up whole industry doesn’t take months.

          • A smartphone enjoys very strong network effects: they’re only interesting with a bazillion apps and accesories. That allows for the first mover to build up a huge lead: it attracts developers by virtue of being on the market before its competitors and thus attracts customers. Any new entrants at that point can’t just release a superior product; they also need to draw away all those developers that have done well out of the initial player.

            Nokia’s smartphones were sometimes ahead and always on par with what Apple had to offer from a purely technological point of view. Compare the N900 with early iPhone models or the higher end Lumias with contemporary iPhones both on the hard- and software side.

            All that didn’t matter though: since few apps were ported and even fewer were written natively for Symbian or WP, the phones never competed directly with an iPhone on user experience.

            Such network effects don’t apply to a car. A good car built by a relative newcomer to the market can sell well, as Tesla has shown. Cars are standalone products: they’re finished products that don’t require any accesories from third parties to be useful or attractive.

            As such, your comparison with the smartphone market is off. In the car market, the likes of Toyota only have to design a good EV to compete on equal terms with earlier entrants. In the smartphone market, the likes of Nokia had to design a good smartphone AND attract a huge number of third party developers.

            As for batteries: very few car companies build their batteries in house. Tesla still doesn’t. Any car maker can place an order with a company like Panasonic or LG Chem; production can ramp up quickly if demand is there (and most analysts even predict significant overcapacity if all proposed battery plants are actually built).

          • I see your point but I still disagree. In case of smartphone it’s not about network effect. It’s not facebook login, where you can’t move to other product and keep functionality. Smartphone is stil kind of standalone product. It’s not about network effect – it’s all about mark. The only newcomers in vehicle industry game are from asian countries where they received lot of support. So if this such standalone product and being first doesn’t matter why there wasn’t any new car company established successfully for such a long time? But we can discuss further this analogy but it won’t provide us any closer to topic 🙂 Other analogy is space market – rockets are for sure standalone products 🙂 And Lockheed Martin for sure has super top engineer department. They haven’t achieved anything in terms of advancing rockets compared to SpaceX which is much, much smaller. It was just: bigger and more established isn’t always right. Quite often he is so happy from status quo that he don’t give a damn about any progress.
            However I’m not saying batteries are the way to go for ships now. In future for sure. But ship engines are much more efficient than cars, Fuel is much cheaper. So probably we are quite far away from that point yet.

      • There was a piece on here a few months back on how more ships made over the past couple of decades are actually hybrids, diesel generators powering electric motors,which ends up reducing fuel usage. Especially those needing fine stability control installing off shore wind turbines. What is described here in the article sounds like a replacement for the long shaft drive propellers that can do away with a directional stabilizer. Fewer parts, lower cost, less maintenance.
        Seems as if it should be no problem to replace the diesel fuel with synthetic or bio fuel to turn shipping into a green transport industry.

        • Bio fuel doesn’t seem to be green. Or I have something wrong?

          • Name one thing not green about second generation biofuels?

          • When done right biofuels can be carbon neutral or even carbon negative as with the recent gasification project in Australia, without cutting into the food supply chain or taking any of the land used to grow crops. So why not classify them as a green alternative?

      • RE ships for commercial trade have been used before. The most impressive were called ‘Tall Ships’. Yep, sailing vessels can easily be categorized as RE. The main problems are much longer transits as well as clearances for bridges, etc. A hybrid system using sail assist, which has been advanced already using giant kites could be viable but is the fuel savings worth the trouble? If so, I think this would be more widespread. On the other hand, even good ideas are often met with considerable inertia.

    • Of course they can and do, these are electric propulsion systems. Meaning they run on electric. Now ask where that electric comes from. Could be batteries (not very often), nuke (only on large military), diesel generator.

  • “This new model, known as the Azipod D, also allows for greater design
    flexibility, as compared to other systems — as the design precludes the
    need for rudders, stern transversal thrusters, and/or long shaft lines.”

    Compared to which other systems exactly? The Azipod is ABB’s implementation of an azimuth truster, a design that is in use by all major players and absolutely dominates the market. Rudderless ships are the norm, not some genius invention of ABB – and they have been since the ’50s.

    • Actually, large vessels (oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers) still use rudders and this won’t change anytime soon, since you wouldn’t be able to efficiently/effectively connect a typical direct drive, very powerful and very efficient reciprocating engine to an azimuth thruster.

      Besides, ABB came up with the Azipod in the 1990s already. What is different to conventional azimuth thrusters (which have been around for 100 years), is the fact that the electric motor is mounted inside the propulsion unit.

      • Yes very large ships still use propellers and rudders.
        That is why some companies have increased the efficiency of propellers, and the reason for the increased efficiency is simple it does save them money!

  • 60*250kW = 15MW peak output.

    A large, efficient container ship like the Magleby Maersk or Madison Maersk has a 60MW diesel engine. That means you’d need at least 120 or so containers to generate the same peak output (assuming a diesel-electric hybrid is half as efficient as an electric motor, which is being generous in the case of ships).

    But now for the really important question: energy. 60 containers store 60MWh worth of electricity. For a vessel that size, that’s… peanuts.

    • Very good. Assuming it takes a week to cross an ocean, then we would need 60*24*7 = 10080 containers, which is not currently possible.

      it the power req

  • Are these electric in the same sense that a diesel electric locomotive is electric (or many large mining trucks are electric). A diesel generator generates power, but it makes engineering sense to transmit the power from motor to the traction axle via electricity rather than gears/shafts.
    Of course there is no reason one couldn’t supplement the generator with non-fossil sources of power.


      • Feel free to post that again, but without your caps locked.

  • The Maersk ships (the largest in the world) can hold 18,000 containers. Yep thats big. After reading a few articles on shipping, all I can say is they have been hiding off the green radar and the day of reckoning is coming. They are monstrously polluting of sulphur and carbon all because we want to save a nickel on a new pair of chinese made shoes. One big ship is equivalent to 50 million cars! Go figure then where the low hanging fruit is, in carbon reduction and sulphur emissions. Funny they’ve gotten away with it….

    • So maybe the greenest answer is to just buy local. Saving money on cheap imports may in fact be far more expensive than we assume on face value.

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