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Retrofit of a 1965 ferry

abb eco technology
Concept of the Onboard Microgrid system installed on a vessel

Technologies for hybrid and electric mobility are increasingly popular not just in road transport but also in the shipping sector. In shipping, e-mobility is an important resource for improving energy efficiency and favouring eco-sustainability, playing an important role in environmentally friendly solutions are reducing harmful emissions. Important results are possible both with newly built vessels and by modernisation of existing ones. This opens new perspectives to sustainable transport, because retrofit projects can offer interesting opportunities in shipping, where the conversion to hybrid/electric solutions would make it possible to modernise vessels already in use avoiding the need to replace them, with environmental and cost advantages. The State Management of Public Navigation Services on lakes Maggiore, Garda and Como is working in this direction and has chosen ABB technologies to convert a 1965 ferry to hybrid propulsion.

The Onboard Microgrid for the San Cristoforo ferry

The retrofit of the San Cristoforo ferry, which operates on Lake Maggiore and can carry up to 450 passengers and 27 vehicles, is an innovative example in Italy of how naval transport can involve: advanced ABB technology will increase the energy efficiency of this ferry of 386 tonnes while reducing emissions.

“This modernisation,” said Alessandro Acquafredda, director-general of Gestione Navigazione Laghi, “will allow the San Cristoforo to respect the environment better. We are happy to work with ABB, given the incomparable experience of the Group in designing, developing and implementing hybrid propulsion solutions.

In technical terms, the conversion will see the installation of battery-powered electric propulsion system which will allow the vessel to operate in hybrid mode and with zero emissions. The solution includes the batteries and the system for managing and controlling charging, making it possible to replace the ferry’s diesel engine with a hybrid propulsion diesel-electric system. This kind of propulsion, powered with Lithium polymer batteries, can reduce environmental impact also in terms of sound emission. In terms of passenger comfort, this means that after conversion passengers on the San Cristoforo will have a more comfortable voyage thanks to the reduction of noise, vibration and exhaust fumes.

The solution proposed by ABB is called Onboard Microgrid and is a compact DC platform designed for small vessels which optimises propulsion efficiency and reduces consumption thanks to controlled management of the power available. It is based on the same principles as the energy distribution system ABB Onboard DC Grid, launched earlier by the company, which permits energy savings of up to 20% on large vessels. With the launch of the compact Onboard Microgrid, ABB also allows small vessels operating over short distances to attain similar savings. This ABB technology can be applied to vessels powered by batteries, fuel cells or hybrid systems. It is thus a flexible system that makes it possible to use multiple energy sources and activation at various speeds to optimise operational efficiency and as a result reduce emissions.

Onboard Microgrid,” says Alessandro Acquafredda speaking of the San Cristoforo ferry, “will allow the vessel to optimise energy efficiency thanks to the benefits of hybrid propulsion and to optimise the space in the engine room; it is also efficient in terms of time and easy to install.”

This innovative technology reduces the bulk and weight of electrical apparatus on board, eliminating the need for bulky transformers and electrical switchboards. This makes more space available on board and permits a more flexible location of systems. The complete Onboard Microgrid system includes a programmable controller to implement the ABB Power Management System (PMS) and activate the generator, control the propulsion speed, protect the generator from overloading, control and supervise operational modes, regulate battery charge and manage the signal.

The San Cristoforo project,” says Jyri Jusslin, Head of Global Service, ABB Marine & Ports, “is a milestone for ABB: a concrete demonstration of the ability of the Group to modernise ships of any type and size, improving their energy efficiency thanks to the benefits of hybrid propulsion.” It is thus an important result that opens the way for future initiatives for making transport by water more sustainable. “Our Onboard Microgrid,” says Juha Koskela, Managing Director, ABB Marine & Ports, “is aimed at a specific market sector. Smaller vessels play an important role in the future of shipping, which will be electrical, digital and connected“.


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