Fullers unveils electric ferry for Devonport run, wider EV plans

Fullers has unveiled a plug-in hybrid-electric ferry that will service the Auckland-CBD run from 2023.

Chief executive Mike Horne told the Herald that his company had spent around $1 million on R&D for the boat so far. He said its build cost would be between $10m and $20m – all privately funded by Fullers and its commercial partners.

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The hybrid-electric ferry can carry up to 300 passengers at up to 28 knots (not that it will get close to that speed on the short Devonport hop) and have lots of extra space for bikes and e-scooters – a pain-point for his company’s current fleet.

Home says the hybrid ferry, which will be built locally, will take 25 minutes to charge from cold, but would operate on a series of fast-charging top-ups that would take five minutes – or less than the time to offload, then board new passengers.

Auckland Transport has earmarked funds for electrifying the city’s wharves as part of its decarbonisation programme – although today the council agency could not immediately confirm a timeline for the project.

It will run much more quietly than today’s diesel-powered models, but still feature a diesel generator as a backup (which is where the “hybrid” element comes in).

Home says if AT does not have its fast-chargers on piers by the time Fullers electric-hybrid ferry launches, the diesel generator will be able to charge the new ferry’s batteries.The generator could also be pressed into service during a power cut.

The CEO said the project was not a one-off, show pony greenwashing exercise but part of a plan that would see his company gradually replace all of its 21 Auckland ferries with hybrid and pure-electric boats.

Home said a session with EV Maritime chief executive Michael Eaglen had led him toward the light.

EV ferries are better for passenger comfort – in terms of noise and most areas on one level, and better for the planet.

And, more bluntly, the technology a tipping point that makes electric ferries commercially viable.

“They’ll cost me twice as much as the equivalent diesel vessel, but because of the savings in energy costs and maintenance, they will pay for themselves in four to six years,” Home told the Herald.

“That’s a complete step-change. It’s much more palatable in terms of capital costs.”

He adds, “We’re not building any more diesel ferries. They are gone from our thinking. And if I’m being really honest, the chance of getting investment for a diesel ferry is now probably non-existent.”

Instead, his focus now is on ensuring that his company’s first hybrid-EV ferry will be upgradeable to run on hydrogen fuel cells.

Home says his company has a strong focus on local design and local boat building. But it’s not looking to reinvent the wheel. Its hybrid-EV ferry will use industry-standard battery and charging systems already in widespread use for EV and electric truck recharging networks around the world.

Fullers’ new ferry has been designed by Australia’s Incat Crowther.

But in what Fullers pitches as a first for NZ, a first for our country, the new electric hybrid vessel is being completely built in New Zealand by Q-West and is set to support 30 jobs to the Whanganui region where boat builders Q-West is based. A propulsion system will be supplied by HamiltonJet.

Not the only game in town

In July, the Herald covered how another boat builder EV Maritime (a startup spun out of East Tamaki boat builder McMullen & Wing) was partnering with Fullers, Auckland Transport and Vector on a 200-person pure-electric ferry.

EV Maritime CEO Michael Eaglen saw the vessel – also due to hit the water in 2023 – servicing the Hobsonville Point, Devonport and Gulf Harbour runs.

Funding for the project ran to $50m from central and local government sources, with AT seen as the owner of the new electric ferries, and Fullers as the operator.

Under its new 10-year Regional Land Transport Plan, released in June, AT earmarked $30m for “Decarbonisation of the Ferry Fleet Stage 1” between 2021 and 2024.

Back then, Eaglen was expecting a central government announcement in September. Delta but the kibosh on that hope, however. And today’s announcement of a privately-funded Fullers boat seemed to indicate a new tangent.

However, both Home and Eaglen told the Herald that the EV Maritime project is still full steam ahead, so to speak – although it will now not include the Devonport run. An update is imminent.

Home said he saw Fullers hybrid EVs servicing the Devonport and Waiheke runs, which called for a larger ferry, as well as possibly the route to Half Moon Bay. EV Maritime’s 200-seater pure EV would handle other sailings.

More hybrid-electric ferries would be built for the Devonport run, although there was no set timeline. Home said his company operated the CBD-Devonport sailing as a two-ferry operation, but in practice that required four or five boats.

AT had no immediate extra detail today, but Home expects its electrification plan will see superchargers installed at five berths on the city side (his company’s hybrid will not have to do a top-up charge in Devonport) along with supporting infrastructure such as cables and transformers to convert AC power to the DC power required for fast charging.

This morning, Eaglen heaped praise on Fullers and its planned hybrid ferry.

“We’ve been working with Fullers for over three years now. They’ve been very supportive of EV Maritime, both practically and financially, and we’re still working very closely together on the development of our 24-metre vessel.I count Fullers as great friends and close colleagues and I sincerely congratulate them on taking this first move, which I know has been a long time in the making.”

He added, “As a route to demonstrate commitment to climate action and to set public expectations for zero emissions, Devonport is a great option.” he said.

“It offers exposure to a large passenger audience and it doesn’t use much energy on each run, which means it’s actually quite easy to electrify. A clean, quiet, all-electric service between Auckland and Devonport will really lift the game for Auckland ferry passengers. It will be a beacon of sustainability, showcasing care for our climate and EV Maritime is delighted to have been a key part of the conversation which has led to that.”

But he added that his company’s faster model, with it longer 40km range would ultimately play a larger role in reducing emissions.

“Despite representing over 30 per cent of all mainland Auckland ferry sailings, Devonport only represents about 5 per cent of emissions,” Eaglen said.

“All the low-speed, short-range inner harbour services combined represent well over half of all sailings but only a bit over 10 per centof their emissions. These services are relatively easy to electrify because they don’t burn much diesel, yet they barely scratch the surface of the climate problem.”

Fullers' plug-in hybrid electric ferry

• Top speed: 28 knots

• Capacity: 300 passengers

• Recharge time: 25 minutes

• Top-up recharge: 5 minutes

• Boatbuilder: Whanganui’s Q-West

• Waterjet propulsion system: HamiltonJet

• Fast-charging: Megawatt ChargingSystem (MCS)

• Backup charging: Diesel generator

• Carbon emission savings on Auckland CBD-Devonport route: 75,000kg/year

• Cost: Up to $20m

• Delivery: anticipated to be 2023

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