Fans of fictional anthropomorphic watercraft are in for a treat, as the leading US maritime firm Crowley has just announced it will build a tugboat named eWolf, which will be the first all-electric, zero-emission tugboat to ply the waters of the US. The news practically begs for a picture book, doesn’t it? Or it could be a rather interesting reference to Seawolf. Either way, eWolf ought to make oil industry stakeholders mighty nervous, because it is just one of three new diesel-reducing moves introduced by Crowley this year.
A New Zero-Emission, All-Electric Tugboat For The Port Of San Diego
Tugboats are tailor-made for the zero-emission revolution because they don’t need a lot of cargo space or living quarters. They just need power, and plenty of it, which means plenty of big, powerful batteries.
The new eWolf electric tugboat will get the job done with a 6.2 MWh main propulsion battery provided by the firm Corvus Energy, which is already carving out a name for itself in the zero-emission tugboat area, among other specialty watercraft.
Crowley estimates that the battery will provide enough juice for two fully zero-emission trips without recharging. Just in case, eWolf will be equipped with two emergency generators.
“The eWolf represents everything Crowley stands for: innovation, sustainability and performance,” enthused Crowley CEO and Chairman Tom Crowley. “With this groundbreaking tug design, our team continues to embrace our role as leaders in the maritime industry while providing our customers with innovative and sustainable solutions done right.”
That begins with Crowley itself. The company anticipates that eWolf’s zero-emission electric drive will replace 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel every year, beginning in 2023 which is when they expect delivery.
Zero-Emission Is Best, But Biofuel Ain’t So Bad
The biofuel area is still tussling with long term sustainability issues, but assuming those can get sorted in the sparkling green future, maritime firms like Crowley are already prepping to ditch diesel. Earlier this year Crowley let word slip that its tugboat Veteran in the Bay of San Francisco is switching to biofuel supplied by Shell Trading Company.
That makes the second existing tug to go from diesel to biofuel in the Crowley stable. The other one is the Vision/650-10, an articulated tug-barge flagged in the US that travels up the Canadian West Coast.
In addition, Crowley is gilding the biofuel lily with improved energy efficiency. The firm’s third diesel-reducing announcement came last month, with the introduction of a new, compact, energy efficient tugboat under the rather ambitious nameplate of Apollo.
Petroleum Shipper Pivots To Wind Power
All of this activity comes under the Crowley Shipping branch of Crowley Maritime Corp., which is interesting. Crowley points out that Crowley Shipping is the “largest independent operator of petroleum tank vessels in the U.S., and a leading operator of ship assist and escort tugs serving domestic ports.”
Oil tankers! Oh the irony, it burns! However, that’s the energy transition for you. Legacy firms like Crowley and Shell have the know-how and resources to pivot into zero-emission batteries, biofuel, and other clean tech, while continuing to pursue business in the inevitably shrinking fossil energy sector.
Crowley is even going after wind power, which is making a comeback in the shipping industry. Ship builders have been testing out a new generation of wind powered technology, including sails that can double as solar energy collectors.
Wait, actually that is not the kind of wind power that Crowley is involved in, at least not yet. Crowley is after bigger and better zero-emission technology that can power entire cities, not just one boat.
If you guessed offshore wind farms, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. Last year Crowley teased the idea of extending its pole position in the maritime field by dipping a toe into the US offshore wind sector, and they have been following up bigly.
Last March, Crowley announced that it is partnering with Denmark-based ESVAGT to build new vessels specifically to service the US offshore wind industry. Without getting too tangled up in the weeds of the Jones Act, that means Crowley will own and operate the new boats with US crews, with ESVAGT coming in for the financial end of things.
“The venture will work to develop a best-in-class design and deliver its first wind-dedicated, US flag SOV. The companies, which share a long history of safe and reliable solutions within their respective markets, are now positioning to advance wind farm development by directly addressing shortages of compliant vessel capacity,” Crowley explained.
No word yet on what fuel the new boats will run on, so stay tuned for more on that.
Meanwhile, Tom Crowley fired a warning shot over the bow of coal and natural gas stakeholders.
“This partnership will marry Crowley’s transferable engineering, vessel operations, project management and logistics experience in the U.S. offshore markets to ESVAGT’s global SOV design and operations capabilities. This will enable the continued growth of sustainable, greener energy solutions by directly addressing the offshore wind service capacity challenge,” he said.
Low Emission Shipping Industry Shakes Off Fossil Energy Dust
No mention of decarbonization in the maritime sector would be complete without a mention of green hydrogen, an emerging market that could help loosen the grip of natural gas on power generation, kick natural gas out of the hydrogen production pipeline, and provide ship owners with zero-emission fuel.
As a leading player in the LNG shipping industry, Crowley will have to address the green hydrogen angle sooner or later. We’re thinking a bit later, since nothing has popped up in the company’s press archives so far.
Stay tuned for more on that. Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy is already working the angles between offshore wind power, green hydrogen, and green ammonia production. Some ship builders are already building ammonia fuel compatibility into their designs and last month a multinational study consortium on ammonia fuel kicked off. Crowley was not listed among the initial round of participants but the leading offshore wind developer Equinor is, further cementing the interest of wind developers in the global hydrogen and ammonia industries.
It’s also worth noting that Crowley’s home city of Jacksonville, Florida provides it with a back-window view of offshore wind activities in the Gulf of Mexico as well as a front seat on offshore wind activities along the Atlantic coast.
Wind resources in the Gulf are not as strong as those on the Atlantic side, but the Energy Department feels like they are strong enough to make sense economically in the right circumstances, and the state of Louisiana is already priming the pump to jump into the offshore wind business. Add the state’s emerging green ammonia industry to the mix and watch the zero-emission magic happen.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image (screenshot via Microsoft TEAMS): Zero-emission electric tugboat courtesy of Crowley.
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