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Electrification Takes to the High Seas As Investors Get on Board

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The next big thing in electric transportation seems it may be on the sea rather than on the roads as electric boat motor technology comes sharply into focus. Much as the attractions of clean, quiet, efficient battery-powered electric vehicles have begun a revolution in the auto sector, the same trend now appears to be taking hold in the boating industry—and in investors.

Electric Boats Set Sail

Efforts to electrify the boating industry are scoring ever more wins around the globe. Los Angeles-based start-up Arc Boat announced they had raised $30 million in investment in November 2021 to send their luxury all-electric speed boats, aimed at water-skiers and other leisure users, into production. Arc hopes to begin deliveries in the spring and cites a growing waiting list of eager buyers right behind.

Meanwhile, Swedish high-performance, all-electric boat maker X Shore launched into the US market earlier in 2021. It pledges to build its boats with sustainable materials, in an environmentally-friendly way. X Shore’s Eelex 8000 electric boat uses intelligent software so improvements can be updated remotely with enhancements like self-docking on the horizon. It can supercharge in an hour and has a range of 100 nautical miles.

A-list companies are also taking steps. In November 2021, General Motors (GM) acquired a 25% stake in Seattle-based start-up Pure Watercraft, a maker of fully electric outboard motors. With its heavy strategic commitment to electrification, GM will supply components to Pure Watercraft and co-develop products.

Much as the attractions of clean, quiet, efficient battery-powered electric vehicles have begun a revolution in the auto sector, the same trend now appears to be taking hold in the boating industry—and in investors.

Battery-Swappers Look to Cargo

For some time, electrification has generally been thought of as an option only for boats that don’t travel far from land and that can be regularly recharged. US start-up Fleetzero says battery cargo shipping has only just become feasible thanks to innovations in the electric vehicle industry, which have simultaneously driven battery costs down and performance higher. Safety enhancements have also made larger battery packs possible.

The key to Fleetzero’s solution is the concept of battery swapping. It is building batteries using standard 20-foot shipping containers, which means drained batteries can be quickly swapped for fully charged ones when ships arrive at port. That means there is no need to knuckle down for a long wait while batteries are recharged. Fleetzero says the more ships and battery-swapping stops along a given route, the lower the cost of batteries per ship becomes, ideally to a level cheaper than fossil-fuel ships.

As giant container ships can only access certain ports, Fleetzero also plans to use multiple smaller ships instead, opening access to more. It points to the potential to replace trucking with battery-powered freight ships for many road journeys currently taking place between ports. It also highlights the fact that battery storage is key to scaling renewable energy.

IMO Sets Target

Maritime transport emits around 1.1 billion tons of CO2 annually, representing about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, putting it slightly ahead of the toll created by the aviation sector. In 2018, the UN-affiliated International Maritime Organization (IMO) set a target to cut international shipping carbon emissions by 50% for 2050 versus 2008 levels. Experts soon concluded that the only way the target could be met was if international shipping fleets switched to net-zero carbon fuels.

The recent rapid rise of electrification technology raises hopes that the goal might actually be met, with the potential for better technology to be broadly adopted across the seas and waterways. Clean, quiet, more efficient boats that can be integrated with the latest technological solutions should be compelling for leisure and industrial users alike, as well as impact investors seeking to support electric transportation and manage the carbon footprint of shipping.

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