Cargo coming to Vancouver Island will soon have a lighter carbon footprint, according to the Richmond, B.C. company that supplied the battery system for North America's first hybrid LNG and electricity powered cargo ferries.

The Seaspan Swift, which was delivered this month, will operate between the mainland and Vancouver Island.  A second ferry, the Seaspan Reliant, is due for delivery in early 2017.

The battery systems for the two vessels will provide backup power and are expected to cut fuel costs and emissions by 15 to 20 per cent.

Seaspan says it delivers 50 per cent of all cargo transported to Vancouver Island. 

Richmond-based Corvus Energy provided the large lithium-ion battery system for the ferry.

Sean Puchalski, a vice president with Corvus Energy, told On the Island host Gregor Craigie that the conventional way of ensuring backup power is to have a second generator running all the time.

MV Copenhagen Scandlines hybrid ferry

Scandlines M/V Copenhagen, a diesel-electric hybrid ferry with a battery system from Richmond, B.C. based Corvus Energy, has a capacity of 460 cars and 1,300 passengers. (Corvus Energy)

"Essentially, the ferry has LNG generators for its main propulsion and then it also has what most people would consider a rather large battery bank that serves mostly in this case as a spinning reserve," Puchalski said.

"It helps to save fuel and therefore emissions and helps to make the vessel safer by providing backup power if necessary."

Battery-only ferries in Europe

Hybrid ferries with a battery storage component are becoming more numerous in Europe, Puchalski said.

"There are some battery-only ferries now in Europe but it's still a new thing, even over there." 

MF Ampere, world's first all-electric car ferry

Norwegian ferry company Norled AS launched the first all-electric car ferry in 2014. Its "lightweight" energy storage system provided by Richmond, B.C. based Corvus Energy weighs 20 metric tonnes. (Corvus Energy)

B.C. Ferry Services is also looking towards hybrid technology for its upcoming purchase of new smaller ferries, spokesperson Deborah Marshall said. 

BC Ferries seeks hybrid proposals

"We will be looking for a hybrid solution for our new minor class vessels," Marshall said.

B.C. Ferries plans to replace three minor vessels, the 43 year-old Nimpkish, the 58 year-old North Island Princess and the 52 year-old Howe Sound Queen. 

Meanwhile, Marshall said, the first of BC Ferries' new LNG-powered passenger vessels, the Salish Orca, is en route to the West Coast and passed through the Panama Canal on Sunday. 

It is expected to arrive in B.C. in early January, replacing the 51-year-old Queen of Burnaby and providing service between Comox and Powell River.