Energy saving proves good investment for Corvus

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche
ShipInsight

22 September 2015


Starting a new business with an innovative and untried technology in the depth of an economic downturn may not seem like a recipe for success but for Corvus Energy it looks to be a strategy that is paying off as it takes a lead and has introduced battery power to four sectors of shipping — tugs, ferries, offshore and port cranes. The concept of using batteries to store surplus energy for use later is not new in marine, but experiments made on board ships using lead acid batteries were less than successful. This profile is not so much about the technology behind the current generation of energy storage systems (ESS) — which has been well described — but about the future market and latest company developments. Corvus was founded just six years ago in 2009 when its three founders, a shipbuilder, a naval architect and a battery technology specialist came together as a result of one of the threes’ clients looking for a hybrid mega yacht with the same fuel efficiency and environmental benefits that hybrid cars offered. From there the company has progressed to the point where it probably has more marine references than fuel cells, hydrogen and other non-conventional energy sources combined. After the yacht, the company progressed to harbour tugs with the retrofit of the Campbell Foss with its new Lithium Polymer battery packs. Thereafter, according to Sean Puchalski, VP Strategic Marketing & Accounts, interest broadened fairly quickly particularly from the ferry and offshore sectors. Overall there was a very strong pull from the market although some contact was more inquisitive than serious. Notable contracts include the PSV Viking Lady which has a reputation as being a test bed for innovation having been earlier fitted with a fuel cell, another PSV, the Edda Ferd, owned by Østensjø, a series of Kotug harbour tugs and two Norwegian ferries. One of the ferries, Norled’s Ampere is purely battery driven with recharging from the shore and the other is a retrofit of a Corvus ESS on board the 1999-built LNG powered Finnøy. An unusual application but one that shows promise for future expansion is in battery powered cranes. There are already three hybrid cranes using Corvus ESS in use in Shanghai and interest being shown by other ports. The concept is also being considered for ships’ cranes. Today Corvus claims it has a market share of battery ESS in marine of around 85%. That may be a conservative estimate since the demise of European Batteries and the fact that most projects now underway make use of Corvus’ products. European Batteries — declared bankrupt in Finland in 2013 — supplied the ESS for the two CMAL ferries operating in Scotland leaving French company Saft as the only real competitor at the present time. Marine accounts for about 75% of Corvus’ turnover with the remaining portion spread among road and rail transport and power. The non-marine activity is a legacy from the start-up days when the company was hungry for any business. Today the company is preparing to expand and although production demands only one shift working, that is now approaching full utilisation. In the short term, growth could be accommodated by adding a second or third shift before needing to expand its facilities. Corvus’ production facility in Vancouver is mainly concerned with assembly rather than manufacture. It does not make the lithium cells but sources them from two outside suppliers — one in the US and one in South Korea. The company’s primary strength lies in its design and battery management systems that allow the cells to be used to their best potential. Puchalski told ShipInsight that there would be no problem in securing cells and other components as the company grows. Another strength of the company that Puchalski sees, is its partnering with Siemens on several of the projects it has been involved with. Siemens is a respected name in power The company has been successful in attracting private equity and the growth potential is making the company an attractive investment prospect for institutional money. There are also grants and subsidies for some of the projects it is involved with although these are not necessarily directed to Corvus itself. Corvus’ early activity with tugs and offshore is still being pursued as the company sees offshore as a rapidly growing market with drillships being a particular focus. However, it is ferries that are featuring highest in the growing list of Corvus’ references. Conceivably the most prestigious contracts won so far have been those for the replacement of one of the four engines on Scandlines’ fleet of four hybrid ferries: the Prinsesse Benedikte, Deutschland, Schleswig-Holstein and Prins Richard. All four have been fitted with a 2.7MWh Energy Storage System consisting of 399 Corvus Energy AT6500 advanced lithium polymer batteries integrated with Siemens drive systems in place of one of their four MaK 8M32 engines. Corvus has also won the contract for a similar operation to be carried out on the Berlin and Copenhagen ferries now being converted in Denmark by Fayard. Most of the company’s successes have been for European-based operators but the latest contract is much closer to home. In February, Corvus announced the award of a contract from Seaspan Ferries for its systems to be fitted on two new battery hybrid LNG ferries. The new vessels are designed by VARD and will be built in Turkey by Sedef Shipyard. They will each use a 1050VDC, 546kWh ESS consisting of 84 Corvus Energy AT6500 batteries. The ESS will be integrated with an Elkon Electric propulsion and distribution system and will be powered with dual-fuel engines capable of running on diesel and LNG with the Corvus ESS as spinning reserve and power for responsive harbour manoeuvring. The 148.9 metre ferries, both expected to be operation by late 2016, will accommodate up to 59 trailers and will operate a drop trailer-only route between Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. An early criticism of batteries was their perceived lack of energy density, meaning the power to weight ratio was uneconomic. This has been improved to the point where Puchalski told ShipInsight that by the end of this year, ESS will reach their peak capabilities. However, he did say that new technologies, including a liquid cooling system will mean that the systems will be able to deal with much higher power inputs and outputs. The modules equipped with liquid cooling can now support more aggressive load profiles with a smaller battery system, reducing total capacity required as well as space and weight. The liquid cooled modules allow for higher average power, suitable for projects where the constraint is not energy but power and improves RMS power handling by ~2.5x. The first application of liquid cooling is in the systems used by the Ampere. A trickle charge from the local grid is put into the shore-based battery and transferred into a matter of minutes into the battery on board. Battery power or more accurately energy storage clearly has great potential. While many will opt to espouse it for its ‘green’ credentials as far as most are concerned it is the ability to improve efficiency and economic performance of ships and equipment that will be the biggest attraction. Whatever, the reason it looks as if Corvus has hit the right note with the shipping industry.