Electrifying the Niagara Falls Maid of the Mist ferries

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ABB zero-emission technology will power the next-generation, fully electric ferries on the iconic Maid of the Mist tour at the Niagara Falls. The two new vessels will be powered solely by high-capacity battery packs, making them the first purely electrically powered vessels built in the United States.

Priscila Faester, Edward Schwarz ABB Inc. Marine and Ports Miramar, FL, United States, priscila.faester@us.abb.com, edward.schwarz@us.abb.com

It is appropriate that one of the latest advances in electrical power should be associated with the Niagara Falls. Here it was, in 1896, during the War of the Currents that pitted Edison’s DC against Tesla’s AC [1], that the switch was thrown on George Westinghouse’s Niagara Falls Power Project. This historical event saw AC electricity flow to consumers in nearby Buffalo – the first city in the United States to have widespread street lighting and a place still known as “The City of Light.” Just a few years later, the AC power generated by the Niagara Falls was illuminating many parts of New York City, including Broadway. The project was one of the first large-scale hydropower plants in North America and a personal triumph for Tesla.

ABB was involved in the Tesla/Westinghouse saga too: In 1891, the Swiss-born Charles Brown, then Europe’s top AC engineer, cofounded Brown, Boveri and Company (ABB’s predecessor), which helped General Electric fight the dominance of Westinghouse and Tesla in AC power. In a further twist to the story, a century later, in 1989, ABB acquired Westinghouse’s transmission and distribution business.

Now, over 120 years after this early pioneering work in electrical engineering, the Niagara Falls are once more the focal point of technical innovation: ABB zero-emission technology will power the next-generation, fully electric ferries that will replace the current diesel vessels that take over 500 visitors at a time on the iconic Maid of the Mist tour. This tour sails past the base of the American Falls and into the basin of Horseshoe Falls – the largest of the three waterfalls at Niagara →1. This excursion is not only one of the top attractions in the United States, but also the oldest.

01 Artist’s rendering of the two new all-electric Maid of the Mist tour boats. The boats’ design is modular. The modules were built in a shipyard then trucked to site, where they were craned into the assembly area near the river. Craning the vessel modules to the assembly area was challenging due to the difficult topography of the area. The boats’ hulls are made from 5086 H116 marine-grade corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy.
01 Artist’s rendering of the two new all-electric Maid of the Mist tour boats. The boats’ design is modular. The modules were built in a shipyard then trucked to site, where they were craned into the assembly area near the river. Craning the vessel modules to the assembly area was challenging due to the difficult topography of the area. The boats’ hulls are made from 5086 H116 marine-grade corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy.

The two new 28 m catamaran vessels will be powered solely by high-capacity battery packs, making them the first fully electric vessels ever built in the United States (usually, electric boats and ships have auxiliary diesel generators to power onboard ancillary systems or to provide thrust when the electric propulsion is unavailable).

Emission remission
The Niagara Falls are a wonder of the natural world – and as such should be enjoyed without having to breathe in fumes from marine engines or endure the noise and vibrations the current ferries generate →2. Now, the nearly silent electric ferries – due to enter service in late 2019 – will carry passengers up to the falls and allow them to take in their majesty while breathing clean air, just as nature intended.

02 One of the current Maid of the Mist ferries at American Falls, Niagara. The new all-electric ferries will be noise-, emission- and vibration-free.
02 One of the current Maid of the Mist ferries at American Falls, Niagara. The new all-electric ferries will be noise-, emission- and vibration-free.

In the dock and charged
The Maid of the Mist boats set off from their downstream dock for the base of Niagara Falls every 30 minutes, serving 1.6 million guests annually. While the ferry is docked and passengers are embarking and disembarking, the new boats’ lithium-ion batteries will be recharged. The seven-minute charge provides a battery boost to enable the vessel’s dual electric propulsion motors to maintain their total output of 400 kW (563 HP). Each trip consumes about 38 kWh. The batteries are charged up to 100 percent overnight and still have 80 percent at the end of the working day. Naturally, the electricity needed to charge up the 316 kWh battery packs comes from zero-emission hydropower.

All-electric for all
The ferry company – the Maid of the Mist Corporation, founded in 1846 – is family owned and operated and their step forward in demonstrating the commercial viability of all-electric boat technology has attracted attention from around the world. The Niagara boats might be among the first all-electric vessels, but they will not be the last: Passenger ferries, river barges, harbor tugs and dredgers are just some classes of vessel that are eminently suited to all-electric operation. Marine vessels are one of the largest contributors to transportation emissions (3 to 5 percent of global CO₂ and over 5 percent of global SOx) so electrification of shipping cannot come soon enough.

Currently, it would be difficult to build ocean-going vessels that are 100 percent electric. However, as equipment becomes smaller and more cost-effective, doors are opened for many new opportunities not thought possible just a few years ago. Autonom-ous, all-electric high-sea vessels might just set sail some day in the not-too-distant future.

ABB is moving with e-mobility
ABB is supporting e-mobility for applications outside the maritime world too – for example, with public and private EV charging solutions (over 10,000 ABB DC fast chargers had been sold in 73 countries by the start of 2019). Looking ahead, products such as ABB’s Terra HP high-power charger are designed to accommodate 
the higher-­capacity batteries of tomorrow as well as those of today.

ABB is helping stakeholders across the globe establish electric bus services that reduce human impact on the environment. ABB is also a founder of both the CHAdeMO and CCS alliance charging standards. Further, ABB launched its first DC fast charger in 2010, the first nationwide DC charging networks in 2012 and the first eBus charging networks in Europe in 2016.

New horizons in marine battery technology
Global interest in marine electrification is being spurred on by, for instance, new International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules, such as the 2020 IMO fuel sulfur regulation, which will reduce the limit on the sulfur content of bunker fuel. Maritime operators are therefore keen to explore fuel cell technology and for this reason ABB has research projects in this area. For instance, ABB is a member of the MARANDA project [2], a joint venture of several companies financed by the European Union. The project will design and implement a 165 kW proton-exchange membrane fuel-cell unit for the research vessel Aranda. The main objective is to verify the fuel cell’s ability to produce emission-free electrical power with low noise and vibration levels. ABB will deliver the electrical power conversion technology needed to attach the fuel cell system to the vessel’s electrical power plant.

In a separate development, ABB and Ballard Power Systems, the leading global provider of innovative clean energy fuel cell solutions, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly develop a next-generation, fuel-cell power system for sustainable marine e-mobility [3,4].

The fuel-cell power system will play a significant role in accelerating the adoption of sustainable solutions for marine e-mobility and help shipowners meet increasing demands for clean operations.

The two partners will leverage existing kW-scale fuel-cell technologies and optimize them to create a pioneering MW-scale solution suitable for powering larger ships. With an electrical generating capacity of 3 MW (4,000 HP), the new system will fit within a single module no bigger than a traditional fossil-fuel marine engine.

E-mobility for a greener world
Battery technology also underpins zero-emission, electrified vessels ABB has already equipped in Europe – for example, Iceland’s first electrified ferry →3. This boat will carry 75 cars and 550 passengers on a sometimes treacherous 13 km crossing to an island off the Icelandic coast. ABB will not only supply the drive and energy storage (a 3 MWh battery pack) but also the generators, transformers, switchboard, power and energy management system, and the energy storage control system. An ABB dockside Onboard DC GridTM system recharges the battery in just 30 min via a DC connection. Unlike the Niagara boats, this ferry has a backup diesel generator, though it is foreseen that it will be used only rarely.

03 Iceland’s first electric ferry, visualized by Polarkonsult, a design partner of the vessel.
03 Iceland’s first electric ferry, visualized by Polarkonsult, a design partner of the vessel.

The Maid of the Mist Corporation’s decisive move toward e-mobility and the comprehensive palette of ABB solutions for marine vessel electrification described above not only signal the beginning of a new era in transportation, but they also underline ABB’s commitment to power the world in a sustainable fashion. Reducing emissions at Niagara Falls is not only important for this national natural treasure, but also important in proving that the technologies enabling sustainable mobility are already available today. 

References
[1] D. Siegrist, “125 years and a centennial: ABB celebrates 125 years’ existence in Switzerland and 100 years of corporate research,” ABB Review 3/2016, pp. 7–12.
[2] M. Kajava, “MARANDA – Aranda goes hybrid.” Available: http://search.abb.com/library/Download.aspx?DocumentID=9AKK107045A7585&LanguageCode=en&DocumentPartId=&­Action=Launch
[3] “ABB and Ballard Power Systems to jointly develop zero-emission fuel cell power plant for shipping industry.” Available: https://new.abb.com/news/detail/5360/abb-and-ballard-power-systems-to-jointly-develop-zero-emission-fuel-cell-power-plant-for-shipping-industry
[4] K. Vanska, S. Kanerva, J. Bogen, G. Skinner “Welcome aboard hydrogen – QRV?” ABB Review 4/2019, pp. 18–23.

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