Like minds sparkle on San Diego Bay – at the forefront of tug electrification

Like minds sparkle on San Diego Bay – at the forefront of tug electrification

With delivery of the first all-electric U.S. tugboat – Crowley’s eWolf – in 2023, the Port of San Diego will realize their vision of a zero-emission workboat, ensuring cleaner air from day one of operations, and taking an important step toward a sustainable future for port residents.

“San Diego is proud of our focus on blue and green technology,” says Vice President of Maritime at the Port of San Diego, Michael LaFleur. “Our goal is to be a ‘Port of Firsts.’ Everyone is interested in what we are doing to bring about the transition from diesel to electric workboats, and this project allows them to see the tangible results, clearly demonstrating the effect of the push to electrification.”

David Lee, Senior Account Manager – Commercial Vessels, ABB Marine & Ports, adds: “Crowley has been working with the Port of San Diego for a long time, looking together at introducing electric tugs. ABB had also wanted to bring electric tugs to San Diego, so our thinking was a good match with port goals, but Crowley was really the connector.”

San Diego and tugs – a good match for electrification

“We are not as big as the Port of Los Angeles or Long Beach, but our volumes are still significant,” tells Jason Giffen, Vice President of Planning and Environment with the Port of San Diego. “This gives us sufficient critical mass to allow a basis for the introduction of all-electric solutions. We intend to leverage this position to become a recognized leader internationally, and a dedicated local environmental steward.”

San Diego is always looking closely at how to ensure cleaner air for the community, and the e-tug project is receiving a lot of local interest, Giffen assures. “This is a type of ‘catalytic cooperation.’ We are conducting joint discussions with Crowley on how ports and private companies can work together to push leading edge technology.” And as short-haul duration vessels, tugs are more easily transitioned to electrification than the larger, long-haul ships trafficking the port, he confirms.

Crowley leads the way

eWolf rendering. Image credit Crowley
eWolf rendering. Image credit Crowley

Over a century of harbor workboat operations, Crowley has become widely known as a pioneer in the sustainable workboat space, says Greg Glover, Director of engineering for ship assist and harbor escort services at Crowley. “We have been working with districts in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and California since 2010. We have done a lot of repower projects, and we have a long history of improving existing vessels.”

Crowley is committed to being the leader in clean vessels – setting its ambition to be the most sustainable and innovative solutions provider in the Americas by 2025: “This is significant for the environment, but also for the people impacted by port activities,” says Cole Van Gundy, Director, Commercial Operations, at Crowley Engineering Services. “We are the leading vessel designer for workboats in the U.S., with roughly half of the domestic design market.”

“With the e-tug, we had time to design the vessel from scratch. Starting with a new electric tug, we could prioritize sustainable technology and design features that are also efficient and safe for operators. These innovative design solutions involved many aspects of the overall design, including the pilothouse, bulwarks, self rescue zone and more,” Van Gundy says.

Port make-up suits the task

LaFleur reports that San Diego has considered tug design from sea buoy to berth. “With shorter haul tug operations, we are looking at mostly carrying out assignments and transit, with very little waiting on station.”

Lee notes that port configuration in San Diego is suited to deploy all-electric tugs using currently available technology: “The solutions are based on a typical day’s work for Crowley tugs in the port. They need fast charging during the day, and less intensive overnight charging.”

In addition, the local community is deeply involved, Giffen observes: “We are in ongoing dialog with several local planning groups to keep them up to date. This initiative represents the convergence of technology, community, industry ambitions, and port goals. We are a region looking for innovation, and we need the concepts to prove it. It is important to note that we are in this for the benefit of all, not just serving local interests, but ultimately global interests as well.”

Reaping the silent benefits

“The community has embraced the notion of electric tugs, but they are not really aware of all the specific benefits just yet,” says LaFleur. For example, those residing closest to the port will no longer be hearing the familiar rumble of diesel engines. “They will barely be able to hear a low humming from the tugs from port operations during the night,” he assures.

System setup on board the eWolf tug. Image credit Crowley
System setup on board the eWolf tug. Image credit Crowley

Leading onboard technology enables this shift, says Lee: “ABB’s Onboard DC Grid™ is the enabling technology power here, allowing integration of batteries into the smaller but more active workboats, ensuring near-silent operations to the benefit of local residents.”

Funding for the initiative is another enabler, reports LaFleur. “We are building on innovation from Crowley, and with the full support of a willing port and involved stakeholders.” Partners include the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District, the California Air Resources Board, the Port of San Diego, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Listen, learn, deliver

“For this project we gathered input from captains, deckhands, and others involved in the running of the vessels,” says Glover. “With only two crew on deck at a time, the captain needs to see everything that is going on. This requires the latest in ergonomics, with safety as the primary goal.”

Lee adds: “Design built around an electric drive power eliminates the need for an exhaust system and gives 360 degree visibility from the pilothouse. This goes hand-in-hand with the safety and sustainability requirements for the rest of the boat. The knock-on benefits of electric propulsion include less vibration and noise for onboard crew, and with a better working environment comes improved crew performance.”

“We approached the port with our ideas, not really knowing their interest. As it turned out, these fell hand in hand. They were very supportive from the beginning, and they still are today. This is what we could call a real partnership,” Glover confirms.

Technology converges

Emissions goals for the project call for operation of the new eTug to eliminate 178 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), 2.5 tons of diesel particulate matter, and 3,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) versus a conventional tug over the first 10 years of operations.

On the design side, Van Gundy reports that the port needed a fully electric vessel with 70 tons of bollard pull, and a relatively shallow draft. “All the same diesel criteria needed to be met with an electric boat,” he confirms.

“We worked extensively with Crowley to fine-tune the operational profile of the vessel,” says Lee. “They needed to be able to operate a full day without having to charge after every task. The goal was to not modify the operation of tug to fit an all-electric power train, so battery requirements needed to be made to fit the operational profile.”

Onboard DC Grid™ was a key enabler in achieving this goal, he continues: “Electric motors save space and free up the onboard configuration, and Onboard DC Grid™ enables onboard power storage such as fuel cells and batteries, allowing more efficient shore charging because DC is simply a more straight-forward system. This will allow Crowley to meet all their fast charging requirements.”

In addition, the new eWolf is ready for remote control operations, says Lee. “ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Vision and ABB Ability™ Marine Pilot Control are key deliveries here.” He notes that ABB has gathered experience from similar projects abroad, including delivery of highly automated, remote control ready harbor tugs to the Port of Singapore. “There was tremendous transfer of learning from the Singapore project. We had the concept in hand, and the job in Singapore provided the proof.”

“Improving safety is paramount among our goals, but increased levels of automation also aid in efficiency,” Glover says. “For example, by staying on station without crew, we can eliminate risk to humans, and increase the efficiency of the vessel’s operating profile in one and the same initiative.”

A true meeting of the minds

“Our mission was to build a lower emission, new energy vessel. The challenge of leadership fell to ABB and they met this to our great satisfaction,” says Glover. “I met David Lee in Houston at an alternative energy conference and it quickly became apparent that we were of like minds. It has been amazing to work with ABB, to see how they apply their expertise to create solutions around our data.”

“We were surprised to learn how compatible our respective progress and initiatives were,” LaFleur relates. “The Port of San Diego’s goals for electrification, not least the ability to charge during peak hours, matched up perfectly with the ability of the project partners to deliver, including a shoreside battery to control the amount of draw from grid at peak hours.”

ABB and Crowley share many similarities, Lee concludes: “The Port of San Diego is also lined up on the same criteria as Crowley and ABB. This project can be described as a true meeting of the minds.”


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