New whale tail-inspired electric propulsion for ships unveiled

Swiss-based equipment provider ABB has unveiled a new concept of an electric propulsion system to boost efficiency in the shipping industry.

As explained, the concept ABB Dynafin is inspired by the dynamic motions of a whale’s tail. The company has been working on the new system for over a decade.

Credit: ABB

According to ABB, the new propulsion concept features a main electric motor that powers a large wheel rotating at a moderate 30-80 rounds per minute. Vertical blades, each controlled by an individual motor and control system, extend from the wheel.

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

Credit: ABB

Furthermore, an independent study of ABB Dynafin from OSK-ShipTech A/S of a passenger vessel design equipped with different propulsion solutions has verified savings in propulsion energy consumption of up to 22 percent compared to conventional shaftline configuration.

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

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

“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…”

ABB further explained that the initial design will be available in the power range of 1–4 MW per unit, making it particularly effective for medium-sized and smaller vessels, including ferries for passengers and vehicles, offshore support vessels operating at wind farms, and yachts. The new propulsion concept will also complement the existing propulsion portfolio.

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

If no action is taken, shipping could be responsible for up to 13 percent of global emissions by 2050. At the same time, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set the goal to cut annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent 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.

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Recently, ABB has joined forces with classification society RINA to develop new concepts to reduce emissions in shipping for various vessel types.