Among the glitter and glamour of the Düsseldorf boat show there were several companies that showed low- or no-emission propulsion systems. Prominent among them was Torqeedo, the outfit from Starnberg near Munich, Germany, that develops and sells electric propulsion systems for boats—and now is set to add hybrid systems.
Traffic in the booth was dense, with end-users and boat building reps inquiring about products that range from tiny outboards that can propel kayaks, canoes or other light craft, to engines that can be hung on the back of RIBs or light runabouts for planing speeds. The technology was developed in part, because on many European freshwater lakes the use of combustion engines in boats is severely restricted, if not outlawed altogether. Now the company is a darling of the industry, and proudly plasters more than a dozen award logos—such as the NMMA Innovations Award the Torqeedo Deep Blue won at the 2013 Miami Boat Show—on the back of their product catalog. It’s a global brand and their motors are used on lakes and oceans alike.
In this game it’s all about efficiency, and that starts with lightweight construction of the motors. But there are other reasons why the Deep Blue system is a slick sample of German engineering: power comes from lithium-based batteries that were developed for the automotive sector, and marinized. They are fully encased, waterproof, vented, and they sit on shock absorbers. A connection box can combine up to four battery packs to extend the range per charge. The computerized power management is controlled via a touchscreen display or smart phone app. The brushless and water-cooled motors have CAN bus and NMEA2000 interfaces. Some feature special props, with a hub vortex vane to reduce drag.
Torqeedo also displayed their new inboard in their booth, which is destined for service as primary propulsion in runabouts such as a Kona 17' SportRIB, scheduled to debut later this month, but also as auxiliary in sailboats. Just before the Düsseldorf show Torqeedo announced the acquisition of Moonwave Systems, a start-up from Jena in East Germany, that develops hybrid propulsion systems for large multihulls like Gunboat cruising catamarans. The hybrid system is said to power AC and DC house loads such as air conditioning, appliances, and joystick docking, with the option of using renewable energy such as solar, wind, or hydropower for battery charging. Conveniently, it can be retrofitted on existing boats.
Moonwave’s CEO Stephan Schambach, a software entrepreneur, was on hand in Düsseldorf. “The secret to making these systems perform well is in the components that have to be rugged and developed for the purpose,” he explained. Schambach said he came to this conclusion after analyzing existing sailboat hybrid systems, which are either very expensive or don’t live up to expectations. Or both. He expects the first of Torqeedo’s hybrid drives to be delivered to boat manufacturers in 2015.
Until then, the strictly electrical Deep Blue speaks to boaters who want to eliminate exhaust fumes and carbon emissions, and trade the roar of combustion power for the whirr of an electric motor. But like most things engineered and made in Germany, Deep Blue ain’t cheap. The Deep Blue 80 system with four batteries (and a total capacity of 52 kwh) runs close to $100,000. That’s a lot of hay for strapping two small outboards on the stern, even when one considers the reward redeemed when refueling. But Deep Blue isn’t intended to be a mainstream technology, and therefore it’s not priced like it. For the moment, they’re targeting it at low-speed commercial applications such as barges, ferries, water taxis, and harbor patrol boats. But Torqeedo hopes their scheme will also interest a few customers who get a lot of use from their boats, and want to avoid pain at the pump.
For more information, visit Torqeedo.