R&D for Zero-Emissions Automated Electric Ships

R&D for electric autonomous zero emission vessels
Concept for an electric tanker - courtesy of Mitsubishi

Published Aug 25, 2020 6:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

Japan’s e5 Lab, a project focusing on the electrification and digitization of ocean-going vessels, announced the next step in their research. The company unveiled the first version of Roboship, electrically powered vessels, and an integrated system Roboship Box, which brings together telecommunications, the Internet of Things (IoT), and software.   

Through this initiative, e5 Lab is working to address critical issues facing Japan’s ocean shipping and maritime industries, including a shortage of seafarers, environmental concerns, safety, and the sustainable growth of the shipbuilding/ship machinery sectors. With strategic partners in Japan and overseas, the development project team is targeting the commercialization of electric-powered merchant vessels.

The team developed two types of electric vessels in the Roboship Ver. 1.0, with a gross tonnage of 499 tons and 749 tons. They expect that the vessels will be able to achieve the same speed and sailing range as vessels currently in service, while producing zero-emissions in port by employing large-capacity storage batteries in combination with a diesel-powered generator. By employing the world’s most efficient electric devices, including DC grids, PM motors, and AI technology. e5 projects that these vessels will achieve a higher energy efficiency than other vessels currently in service.

Concept for an automated harbor ferry - courtesy of e5

Beyond seeking to produce a sustainable, low emissions vessel, e5 is also working to develop designs to address a growing shortage of seafarers and aging on the workforce. They believe that the Roboship Ver. 1.0 can significantly reduce not only the workload of seafarers, but also lower the risk of mechanical problems and decrease maintenance costs with its electric power.  

The team’s current target is to keep construction costs less than five percent above the cost of comparable existing vessels. The Roboship Ver. 1.0 is slated for delivery within 2022. To support and accelerate the transformation of the shipping industry, e5 will also be offering the Roboship Box as well as the EV powertrain, which is a key technology of the Roboship, to all interested shipyards and shipowners.

The Roboship Box is the foundation that connects the vessel and shore and enables shore-side support using digital technology. According to e5, the broad application of the Roboship and Roboship Box will realize competitive and value-added vessels from aspects such as environmental friendliness, economy, quality, and performance. Their goal is to leverage these technologies to achieve a transition to electric vessels and digitalization in the ocean shipping and maritime industries.