ABB launches new electric drive propulsion system – ideal for ferries and small cruise ships

2023-06-12T13:30:22+00:00 May 31st, 2023|Technology|

Following 10 years of research, development and testing, ABB has unveiled the patented ABB Dynafin, a new direct electric drive propulsion system.

The engineering giant claimed that the design breaks new ground for efficiency in the marine industry. The design was originally inspired by the dynamic motions of a whale’s tail.

At the launch presentation, Antti Ruohonen, Head of Marine Propulsion, ABB Marine and Ports, claimed that the conventional screw type propulsion systems had reached their efficiency limits.

In the first phase of development, ABB is aiming at the ferry market, including ropaxes and small cruise ships. Further work will be undertaken to scale up the system so it can be fitted to much larger vessels at a later stage.

Ruohonen explained that ABB is marketing the concept for both newbuildings and retrofits.

The concept features a main electric motor that powers a large wheel rotating at a moderate 30-80 rounds per minute connect to vertical blades, each controlled by an individual motor and control system, extending from the wheel.

This means that each blade can be controlled individually to optimise each angle thus adapting to the needs of the ship’s operator, Janne Pohjalainen, Global Product Line Manager, explained.

The combined motion of the wheel and blades generates propulsion and steering forces simultaneously, enabling improved operational efficiency and precision for ships. This concept follows ABB’s design philosophy in marine propulsion of gearless power transmission.

An independent study conducted on ABB Dynafin by OSK-ShipTech of a passenger vessel design equipped with different propulsion solutions has verified savings in propulsion energy consumption of up to 22%, compared to a conventional shaftline configuration when using this system.

This can deliver significant savings in fuel consumption and help to avoid emissions, ABB claimed.

As part of an electric propulsion power system, this concept is also fully compatible with zero-emission battery and fuel cell technologies.

Initially available in the power range of 1–4 MW per unit containing five blades, ABB said that the new propulsion concept is particularly effective for medium-sized and smaller vessels, including ferries for passengers and vehicles, plus other vessel types.

It can be scaled up by using two or four systems per ship, for example fitted on double ended ferries – two forward and two aft.

By reducing vibrations and noise levels, the system improves passenger and crew comfort. In addition, the propulsion concept delivers superior manoeuvrability, and positioning performance, ie, the vessel’s capacity to maintain the desired position and heading.

Another plus point is the system’s low maintenance footprint with few components fitted, due to its compact design. Spare parts can be kept on board ship and the crew will be able to maintain the propulsion system, due to the ease of access.

Talking about propulsion systems in general, Pohjalainen said that the less equipment needed to be installed the better, as this reduces the power required, thus the engines can be downsized and there is no need for switch gear, etc to be fitted on board.

Propulsion future

He also said that fully electric, gearless propulsion was the future, as hydrogen based and ammonia fuels will be much more expensive.  The use of electric driven propulsion is increasing steadily and Ruohonen thought the its use would continue to rise, as it “keeps it much more simple.”

Ruohonen also revealed said that the first prototype should be ready in 2025 or 2026 and that ABB had received interest from several vessel operators to trial the system without going into details.

Model scale tests have been undertaken in a specialist testing tank and trials have also been conducted on a small vessel in a lake.

“ABB Dynafin shows what is possible when marine engineers pursue radical innovation and progress, inspired by the interplay of evolution and technology,” said Juha Koskela, Division President, ABB Marine & Ports. “This solution is all about operational efficiency and emissions avoidance, leveraging innovations from the brightest minds in marine and propulsion engineering.

“I want to thank the whole team for their persistence, resilience, innovativeness, and years of hard work,” he added.
The new concept is the latest addition to ABB’s portfolio comprising electric, automated and digital technologies. With its expertise in electric and hybrid propulsion, the company has been driving efficiency, performance, and sustainability to new levels through the 30-year plus track record of the proprietary Azipod propulsion.

ABB Dynafin will complement the existing propulsion portfolio, the company added.

The shipping industry contributes almost 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually. If it were a country, it would be the sixth largest emitter, ABB claimed. However, with about 90% of global trade being carried on ships, it is central for the movement of goods.

If no action is taken, research has shown that shipping could be responsible for up to 13% of global emissions by 2050. To counter this, the IMO has set a goal to cut annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050, against 2008 levels.

While there is consensus in the industry that no single solution can provide a ‘silver bullet’, low carbon fuels, alternative power sources, data analytics and energy-saving devices all have a part to play, and the role of new innovations may become notable, ABB said.