Hybrid technology moves from road to water

Mar 02, 2012 By Drew Grossman

Hybrid engines aren't just for cars anymore. Hybrid engine systems are slowly catching on with environmentally conscious sailors, replacing less-fuel efficient diesel motors on sailboats.

The setup - a diesel generator paired with an - allows sailors to stay out on the water longer, bypassing the need to return to the dock each night to recharge. And it burns less fuel than a diesel motor by itself, pumping out a fraction of the pollution.

"Yes, you're still using diesel, but you're using it efficiently," said Sally Reuther, who co-owns Annapolis Hybrid Marine, a 3-year-old company that sells hybrid engine systems.

Like hybrid boat engine systems, caught on slowly when they were first introduced in the United States. In 2000, hybrid cars represented .06 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States, according to the federal government. Last year, they accounted for 2.11 percent of all vehicles sold in the country.

Currently, the number of hybrid boat engine systems sold in this country is so small that the National Marine Manufacturers Association does not collect data on hybrids. But boating industry experts said they expect to see many more sold in coming years.

"Everybody is thinking in terms of making this technology work," said Susan Zellers of the Marine Trade Association of Maryland. "We all have to get there eventually."

As with other green technologies, Zellers said that she thinks boaters are interested in hybrids but are hesitant to switch because of the cost. Hybrid engine systems cost between 10 percent and 15 percent more than a traditional setup, industry experts said, though they save owners money on gas and maintenance.

A 36-foot sailboat with a traditional diesel engine can go 350 miles on 50 gallons of fuel, according to Elco Motor Yachts, a New York company that makes electric boat engines. The same boat with a can go more than three times as far - 1,100 miles - with the same amount of fuel, according to the company.

Hybrid manufacturers also said they needed to do more to educate boat owners accustomed to buying traditional diesel engines.

"At first, the response was very skeptical from people who would look at the technology at the boat show," said David DiQuinzio, who co-owns Annapolis Hybrid Marine. "But in the space of a year-and-a-half we have seen a shift where instead of, 'Oh, this will never work' or, 'Maybe five or 10 years from now this will be for real,' more and more people are beginning to see this works now."

Most hybrid cars use an electric motor at low speeds and a gasoline-powered engine at higher speeds. A hybrid boat does not have two motors, instead using a diesel generator to charge batteries that power an electric motor.

Unlike with a traditional diesel boat engine, the electric motor warms up instantly.

"It's all electronic, it's all computerized. You turn the key and it's ready to go. Instant torque," Reuther said.

There is no vibration, no noise and no smoke from the motor.

Sailboat owners are the primary target for systems. The systems are an especially good alternative for sailors who do not want to return their to dock each night to charge.

In some systems, the generator also powers all of the on-board electronics like the lights, kitchen appliances and electronic navigation tools.

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More information: © 2012, Capital News Service
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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User comments : 11

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MR166
3.2 / 5 (5) Mar 02, 2012
Other than perhaps low speeds that are not in the engines economy zone , I can not see how this can triple fuel efficiency. You still need the same size diesel engine which now has to turn a generator which charges a battery and or powers the motor. I know that big locomotives are also diesel/electric but I always assumed this was for speed control and to eliminate massive transmissions and drive-trains.

Boats do not need much in the way of speed control, they have an ideal cruising speed and the engine drive-train is designed around that speed.
deatopmg
1 / 5 (1) Mar 02, 2012
If environmentalists subsidize the significantly higher initial installation costs and higher maintenance for this type of system with their own money then I think it is a great idea. Otherwise.....

One upside is lead/acid batteries can replace all the ballast.

MR166
2.7 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2012
With only a 10-15% increase in drivetrain costs I really doubt that they could be installing that many batteries. Thus electric only range has to be very limited. Also, hybrid cars gain all of their efficiency due to regenerative braking. This of course has no equivalent in the boating world.
Green_Dragon
1 / 5 (1) Mar 02, 2012
Really? I think there must be a way to skim power from moving water
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2012
I hope for your sake that you are making a joke.
Feldagast
not rated yet Mar 03, 2012
Hybrid engines aren't just for cars anymore. Hybrid engine systems are slowly catching on with environmentally conscious sailors, replacing less-fuel efficient diesel motors on sailboats.
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Why would you even bother with a SAILBOAT, it already has an alternate form of power called wind. maybe they meant just plain BOAT.
the-big-eazy
not rated yet Mar 03, 2012
The system is designed for sail boats where the main use for the engine would be getting into and out of harbours or when the boat is becalmed. The batteries can be recharged when the boat is under sail power as the prop will still spin, also solar panels could be used in conjunction with this set up. A small diesel engine could also be used for recharging when under sail power. All large sail boats have a diesel backup engine, this is just more efficient.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2012
Boats do not need much in the way of speed control, they have an ideal cruising speed and the engine drive-train is designed around that speed.


While the speed of a boat may remain largely the same, the power requirement from the engine to maintain speed does not. It fluctuates around the most efficient operating point depending on conditions like waves, or wind, or how deep the boat is swimming. Then comes the question of whether or not the captain of the boat always wants to drive at the exact optimum speed. Maybe he needs to go faster, or slower.

The battery buffer allows the engine to run at its exact efficiency peak all the time it runs, by simply turning it off when the batteries are full. This allows for greater optimization of the engine as well, because you can employ techniques like tuning the exhaust to a single frequency that improves the flushing of the cylinders. The power band can be so narrow that the same engine would be hopeless on its own.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2012
Also, hybrid cars gain all of their efficiency due to regenerative braking. This of course has no equivalent in the boating world.


Regenerative braking is actually a minor effect in hybrid cars. It's signifigance is highly exaggerated by misleading advertising.

It's because the return efficiency depends on the vehicle's initial speed as it starts to slow down. Below a certain speed, the regenerative brakes return no energy because the magnetization power required to make the motor turn into a generator, and then boost up the voltage back to the battery is greater than the power returned. At city limits, you get barely anything back. Outside of city - no need to brake. The average gain is in the single percentage points.

The biggest effect of the hybrid drivetrain is the ability to use exotic engine configurations like the Atkinson cycle engine that have higher efficiencies than regular car engines, and that are driven hard to reach that peak efficiency at all times.
dschlink
not rated yet Mar 03, 2012
Additional savings should be possible. A serial hybrid drive-train means the engine can be much smaller and run at a higher load percentage. Cutting an engine size in half can boost efficiency 25%. Engine speed can be optimized of the average load, totally ignoring the rapidly varying power requirements typical of a boat moving through waves.
Green_Dragon
not rated yet Mar 26, 2012
@ MR66 I'm not actually but I want to know why not?