Lithium battery-powered ships tackle pollution on West Coast

Corvus Energy says it's doing the same for cargo ships as Tesla has done for cars. But is that enough to get the shipping industry to use clean energy?

Corvus Energy CEO says large cargo ships are some of the worst polluters in the world

Vancouver-based Corvus Energy is aiming to provide large cargo ships like these with a hybrid lithium battery fuel system. (CBC)

A Vancouver-based business that works to reduce pollution produced by the shipping industry around the world is bringing the benefits back to Canada. But is that enough to get the industry to use clean energy?

"We're very pleased to have our product deployed locally for the first time," said Andrew Morden, the CEO of Corvus Energy, which produces full and hybrid lithium ion battery systems that power large and small vessels.  

"We've done the same thing [for ships] that Tesla's done for cars," said Morden. 

The company's batteries are currently being used in 35 ships across Northern Europe, and it recently received an investment from Statoil, Norway's largest offshore oil company.

Soon, the batteries will also be used in vessels on Canada's West Coast. SeaSpan has signed off for two hybrid cargo ferries, and Morden said BC Ferries is also considering using the technology.

Morden said one of the company's hybrid systems results in a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.

That's particularly encouraging, he says, given that most large vessels are powered by diesel fuel, which produces more fine particulate matter than gasoline.

"In the shipping industry there's certainly been a focus on reducing emissions, because on a global scale it really does matter," said Morden. 

More incentives needed for change

Robert L. Evans, author of Fueling Our Future: an Introduction to Sustainable Energy, agrees that lithium batteries are a much cleaner energy source.

Corvus Energy CEO Andrew Morden says cargo ships are some of the world's worst polluters. (CBC)

But he says just creating cleaner technology isn't enough to get industries to start using it. 

"The issue is the very high energy density and relatively low cost of fossil fuels," said Evans.

"If you don't have a price on carbon, that's where people will go. There needs some sort of incentive to move to something else."

Evans says there are only three sources of power in the world: fossil fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear. Currently, 80 per cent of the world's power comes from fossil fuels, he says. 

Diesel engines in particular are 20 to 30 per cent more efficient than gasoline, says Evans, which is why they're so often used for heavy duty industrial purposes. 

But he points to the car industry to show how lithium batteries could gain traction.

He says although cars like Tesla are too expensive for the average consumer, others like the Chevrolet Volt have started to use hybrid technology to offer consumers a more affordable and sustainable ride. 

Evans also calls attention to B.C.'s carbon tax, which he says has been effective in reducing emissions. 

"If you send a strong enough price signal to industry, they will start looking for other alternatives," he said. 

With files from Kiran Dhillon and Maryse Zeidler

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