Do you want electric boats? Build a better battery

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Later this year, The world's largest fully electric container ship is expected to embark on its maiden voyage, setting sail from a port in Norway and traveling down the Scandinavian coast. Known as the Yara BirkelandThe ship was commissioned by Yara, a Norwegian fertilizer company, to move its product across the country. The company expects the ship to reduce carbon emissions by eliminating around 40,000 trips each year that would otherwise be made by diesel-powered trucks.

There are around 50,000 cargo ships operating worldwide, and each year their engines release around 900 million metric tons of CO ~ 2 ~ and other pollutants into the atmosphere. In fact, the 15 largest container ships only emit more nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide pollutants than all the cars in the world combined. The electrification of cars and other modes of transport promises to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the same is true of the shipping industry.

An illustration of the Yara Birkeland, which will carry cargo in Norway with a battery.

Courtesy of Yara International ASA

But conventional lithium-ion batteries can only hold enough energy to move small ships like the Yara Birkeland over short distances If we want to electrify the world's largest cargo ships, we will need better batteries.

Building ships with batteries comes with two major problems. The first is that conventional lithium ion batteries present safety risks because they use liquid electrolytes to transport lithium ions between the electrodes. If the components of a battery degrade, this can cause the cell to heat up quickly and fail, a process known as thermal runaway. Battery heat can cause a cascade of faults in nearby batteries. If these batteries release their chemicals as they fail, all it takes is for a battery to catch fire and cause a big explosion. That would be bad anywhere, but it's particularly bad at sea, where there are millions of dollars of cargo on the line and limited escape routes for the crew.

Last year, a small fire in the battery room of a hybrid electric ferry in Norway resulted in an explosion. The ferry operator was able to evacuate passengers and crew to land before the explosion, but a similar event on a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean could be catastrophic.

SPBES, a Canadian energy technology company, is working to reduce the risk of electric boats by designing marine energy systems that are resistant to thermal leakage. The company's power system, which is currently installed in approximately 20 ferries and tugs worldwide, uses lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, or NMC batteries. This is the same conventional lithium-ion chemistry you'll find in most consumer electronics or electric vehicles, which have had a fair amount of thermal leakage problems.

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