WBE showcases the Electric Eel design concept

Electric Eel
Electric Eel; Source; WBE

Lithuanian ship designer Western Baltic Engineering (WBE) has unveiled designs for an electric pusher vessel intended for use on Europe’s inland waterways.

Dubbed the Electric Eel, the electric pusher is due to be built next year for the Lithuanian Inland Waterways Authority, a public body operating under the Lithuanian Ministry of Transport and Communications.

WBE’s Head of Sales & Marketing Eglė Mikalauskienė, said the new vessel is designed to replace diesel pushers which presently dominate the market for ‘pushing’ non-propelled barges around Europe’s inland waterways. WBE is producing the concept just as the European Union is ramping up pressure to shift freight to Europe’s inland waterways via green vessels.

Specifically, the EU has outlined steps for the shift in its two strategies, the European Green Deal and the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, indicating that inland waterway transport and short-sea shipping should increase by 25 percent by 2030 and by 50 percent by 2050. Presently IWT’s share in EU transport is just six percent, while road freight presently accounts for 75 percent of EU inland freight. However, the commission insists the transition would require investments in modern infrastructure and greener vessels.

We are so excited to unveil this electric pusher design,” said Egle. “The Electric Eel has huge potential to help cut carbon emissions on inland waterways across Europe and worldwide. The idea came after we were approached by the Lithuanian Maritime Cluster to see if we could help the Lithuanian Inland Waterways authority create an eco-efficient pusher. The authority has big plans to ramp up the use of the 450km stretch of waterway between Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea to Kaunas to switch cargo from the road network in line with EU policy.”

Electric Eel; Source; WBE

The authority estimates the pusher can help remove 10,000 trucks a year from Lithuania’s roads.

As explained by Egle, there is a fleet of 332 diesel pushers on the Danube alone pushing more than 2000 non-propelled barges.

“We estimate that each of these vessels is emitting 196,317 KGsTank To Wheel (TTW) of CO2, per navigation, while our electric pusher design slashes this at a stroke as it emits zero CO2. The beauty of our design is also in its ease of use, it can be bought and then built at a local shipyard near the customer or we can build it in Lithuania. We believe our electric pusher is a first mover in the market and can play a critical role in the drive to transform the IWT of Lithuania as well as the Danube and Rhine.”

Mikalauskienė said the pusher design is pending class Approval in Principle with Bureau Veritas and can operate at a range of 300km before needing to stop. The 26m long vessel is powered by three DNV-approved batteries with a combined weight of 74 tonnes, two held in TEU containers on deck which can be replaced via a crane at harbour, and one permanent battery below deck which can be charged at quayside.

The vessel has a pushing capacity of 2000 tonnes and a top speed of 22Km/h downstream at 85 percent engine load. The electric batteries create an engine power of 500 HP/400 KW compared to a diesel equivalent which has 1000 HP/800 KW. It also has a wind turbine to generate 5kw of additional electricity for lighting, the galley and crew facilities.  

“The biggest challenge we faced was weight and draft,” she said. “The Lithuanian inland waterway is presently very shallow so we had to design a vessel that was as light as possible, no more than 195 DWT, with a draft not greater than 1.2metres. So, we have created a super-efficient hull design that will operate brilliantly on shallow waters in Europe and around the world. Through trial and error using rigorous computerised fluid dynamic (CFD) testing, we have produced the smoothest possible hull resistance. We’re also using thin lighter steel, approved by class, to reduce weight while at the same time keeping safety of paramount importance. In addition, we have innovated the wheelhouse, using a jack-up design made of aluminium, again to spread and reduce weight.