First Ever U.S.-Built Electric Vessels are Under Construction

Maid of the Mist's future electric boats (Maid of the Mist)

By The Maritime Executive 05-03-2019 07:46:38

Visitors to Niagara Falls will soon be able to take a trip on the first American-built all-electric vessels. Two new passenger vessels operated by Maid of the Mist will be powered entirely by battery packs, making them the first commercial vessels of their kind made in the United States. This will allow guests to experience Niagara Falls without engine noise, vibration or exhaust from a conventional diesel engine.

Maid of the Mist, one of North America’s oldest tourist attractions, operates from April through to the first week of November, with boats departing for the base of Niagara Falls every 30 minutes. It serves an estimated 1.6 million guests on board annually. “We are thrilled to be the USA’s first vessel owner to add all-electric ferries to our fleet,” said Christopher M. Glynn, president of Maid of the Mist Corp. 

The two vessels are currently under construction by Burger Boat Company in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. In mid-May, the modules will be transported to Niagara Falls and lowered onto the Maid of the Mist dry dock and maintenance facility for assembly.  Following completion of construction, launch and certification, the new vessels will be placed into service in mid-September. The 1990s-era Maid of the Mist VI and Maid of the Mist VII will be removed from service when the new vessels begin operating.

ABB, which has extensive experience with electric drive systems, is providing the propulsion and system integration for the new vessels. Each of the vessels will be powered by a pair of battery packs with a total capacity of about 315 kWh, split evenly between two catamaran hulls. Having two fully independent power systems on board will add  redundancy for the passenger vessels' operations.

“Maid of the Mist’s decisive move . . . complements ABB’s commitment to power the world without consuming the earth,” said Peter Terwiesch, President of the Industrial Automation business at ABB. “Reducing emissions at Niagara Falls is not only important for the natural landmark, but also proves that the technologies enabling sustainable mobility are already available today.”

The vessels will charge between every trip while passengers disembark and board. Shoreside charging will only take seven minutes, allowing the batteries to power electric propulsion motors capable of about 560 horsepower of total output. The power setup will be controlled by ABB’s integrated Power and Energy Management System (PEMS).

As might be expected for the location, the batteries will be charged using hydropower. The use of locally produced renewable power will make the energy cycle for the operation of the new Maid of the Mist vessels entirely emission-free. This is aligns with the industry's goals: Shipping accounts for a total of about two to three percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and the IMO has set a global target to cut annual emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050 from 2008 levels.

The privately-funded project also aligns with New York State's goals: Governor Andrew Cuomo has set an ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2040. “The Maid of the Mist has offered tours of the world-famous Niagara Falls waterfalls and of the Niagara River Gorge for more than a century, and are a signature tourism attraction of Western New York,” said Governor Cuomo. “The new zero-emission boats will continue that proud tradition while continuing our efforts to make New York State a premier environmentally friendly tourism destination.”