This past week I attended the Electric Hybrid & Marine World Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as part of NAATBatt’s Sponsored Conference Program.  The concept behind that Sponsored Conference Program is that NAATBatt will attend trade shows that may be of general interest, but not necessarily high priority, to our members.  NAATBatt scouts out those shows and distributes marketing literature at the shows for members that do not attend.  The Sponsored Conference Program provides a great benefit for NAATBatt members and is highly valued by those who take advantage of it.  Show producers like it too, because a good review by NAATBatt often ensures increased attendance at future shows.

This was the first year of Electric Hybrid & Marine World Expo in the United States, though UKIP Media and Events Ltd., the show producer, has organized several prior shows under the same name in Europe.  I picked the show to attend in part because I thought that maritime applications for advanced batteries was a small and fairly exotic topic that might have some long term interest for our members.  The Electric Hybrid & Marine World Expo seemed, in other words, an excellent choice for the Sponsored Conference Program.

What I found out at the show, somewhat to my surprise, is that the opportunity for battery power systems in maritime applications is no longer small, exotic and long term.  It is very much here and now.  Several of our members had booths of their own at the show and I noticed several representatives of prominent battery companies walking the floor.  While it is true that very few advanced batteries have yet been deployed in major maritime applications in the United States, the opportunity for advanced batteries in this sector is apparently quite real, immediate and large.

The reason why the opportunity seems so attractive for battery manufacturers was best explained to me by Dennis Townsend, Chairman of XALT Energy, who I met walking the floor.  Many ships and boats, explained Dennis, have three characteristics that make them particularly good candidates for battery power.  First, ships such as ferries and oil platform servicing vessels are in constant use.  This is important because battery-based power systems have a high capital cost and a low operating cost relative to systems powered by hydrocarbon-based fuels.  The more you operate a battery-powered system, the more quickly you can amortize the cost of the battery and realize the benefits of the lower operating cost. This, Dennis noted, stands in stark contrast to the challenge of deploying batteries in cars and light vehicles, which often sit idle 22 or 23 hours a day.

The second factor that makes batteries an attractive power source for maritime vessels is that, as a general rule, boats and ships use hydrocarbon fuel very inefficiently.  A ferry, for example, starts, travels at port speed, cruises, slows back to port speed, idles, stops and starts all over again all day long.  Its variable demand for power wreaks havoc on the ability of its diesel engine to use fuel efficiently and to limit air emissions.  Batteries, by contrast, are well-suited to handle variable power needs, either in hybrid applications, where they can allow diesel engines to run at  a constant rate (and allow them to be designed to be smaller in size), or in full electric mode.

The third attraction is that the power needs of ships and boats are large–and often very large—relative to other devices that can be powered by batteries, such as consumer electronics and light vehicles. This is good for battery manufacturers: the greater the need for power, the greater the potential sales volume.

The maritime market, while still in its infancy, is showing many signs of being the next, next thing in large format battery power.  The Electric Hybrid & Marine World Expo was well worth attending.  I suspect that it will be a considerably larger show next year when it reconvenes on January 16-18, 2017 in Tampa, Florida