Electric boat makes debut; Costco cuts Chilean salmon
The first seagoing electric powered passenger vessel in the U.S. is set to launch next summer in Juneau.
The E/V Tongass Rain is a 50-foot, 47-passenger catamaran designed for eco-education and whale watching tours. Its primary fuel source will be rain, delivered to the boat via Juneau’s hydroelectric power grid and stored in a bank of lithium batteries.
The more modern batteries are less than half the weight of a traditional lead acid battery, and they provide three times the power and charge three times as fast, said Bob Varness, president and manager of Tongass Rain Electric Cruise or TREC.
The hull of the craft, designed by Jutson Marine in Vancouver, has been certified by the Coast Guard for 150 nautical miles “for safe harbor” in 6½-foot seas at 12 knots. Once the propulsion system gets the green light, Varness said, building will be underway.
“No noise, no emissions … and the system only has one moving part, so you don’t have exhaust systems to deal with, turbo chargers or cooling systems, or injection pumps. Every 50,000 hours the battery manufacturer recommends pulling the motor out, putting new bearings and seals on either end and they send you the same one back,” he said.
Varness, who also is an independent Torqeedo electric marine motor dealer, said some alternative powers are being used by U.S. mariners on a small scale, but not in commercial fishing. His small troller runs up to 130 miles on a single charge and recharges for $1.25, and he believes electro-power would also be a good fit for salmon drift and gillnetters, jig and pot gear and other fisheries.
“If you know where you’re going every day and it’s pretty much a routine, and if it’s not high speed, this technology is something that people really need to look at. All the products are off the shelf and available for purchase today,” he said.
The products might be at hand, but the expertise to do electro-power conversions for fishing boats is not.
“It’s so new, no one is even sure how to do it,” Varness said.
Marine designer Trevor O’Brien agreed putting the technology aboard fishing vessels today is tricky. O’Brien manages the production engineering team at Armstrong Marine in Port Angeles, Washington, where the E/V Tongass Rain will be built.
“This first boat is a lot simpler; it’s a passenger boat and we know exactly how many miles they run out and back,” he said. “Figuring out how much electricity they need to make that run is a lot easier than a fishing boat that you don’t know where they’re going, or how long they’ll be running chillers or have their lights on.”
O’Brien said chillers and compressors for the fish hold are a big power draw, and the lithium batteries do pose challenges.
“The most complicated part is getting the batteries charged quickly, and some of the systems are liquid cooled and that can get complex. The charging circuits aren’t really user friendly, and you’ve got to be kind of an electrical expert to maintain and service the systems,” he explained. “For that reason, a lot of the battery manufacturers have required that they do installations and maintenance on the first boats being built. But I know they are working very hard to get the system to where people can maintain it on their own.”
The biggest drawback now is battery price. The 50-foot Tongass Rain, for example, will use 10 five-kilowatt batteries at $5,000 each.
As with any new technology, O’Brien said prices would drop fast as it gets more widely used. And O’Brien and Varness are confident that will happen. To make believers out of the fishing fleets, both agreed it would take what they called a “soft hand off.”
“We need to build a vessel and learn from it and challenge it and fine tune it until it is right. And then do mass production or conversions of that type of systems,” said Varness.
“That’s why I’m excited about this project,” O’Brien said. “No one has done this yet and we are willing to be the guinea pig and make it happen. We’re one of the frontrunners and we want to prove it works because we think it is the future.”
Also on the electro-front: Kodiak Electric Vessels LLC received a $247,000 grant in 2013 from the state’s Emerging Energy Technology Fund. The small company has demonstrated two core technologies: a Power Dense Motor and Universal Modular Inverter Controller, for use in both stationary power generation and propulsion applications. The project team has filed for several patents and is in discussion with potential investors in anticipation of commercialization.
Check those labels!
More U.S. food retailers are getting the message that Americans want to know what they are eating. And it’s clear that consumers don’t want their foods tainted with hormones and antibiotics.
That’s prompted Costco to turn away from farmed salmon from Chile — the world’s second largest producer — due to its record use of antibiotics to kill deadly bacteria in its net pens. According to Reuters, Chile used 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics last year on production of nearly 900,000 tons of salmon, a 25 percent increase from 2013.
Costco — the No. 3 U.S. retailer — routinely bought 90 percent of the 600,000 pounds of salmon fillets it sells each week from Chile, accounting for nearly 9 percent of Chilean exports to the United States. Costco now will buy 60 percent of its farmed salmon from Norway, and 40 percent from Chile.
Norway is the world’s largest farmed salmon producer and uses far less antibiotics. Latest figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization show Norway produced 1.3 million tons of salmon and used just over 2,000 pounds of antibiotics in 2013.
Costco is following the lead of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which have phased out Chilean fish in favor of antibiotic-free fish that is caught in the wild. Target has gone further and eliminated farmed salmon from its shelves, and Walmart is pressing all protein suppliers to reduce their use of antibiotics.
Luckily, American salmon lovers can know what they are buying. By law, all fresh or frozen salmon and other seafood on U.S. grocery shelves must be labeled according to the country of origin and whether it is farmed or wild.