Cruise lines see potential for Photon Marine's electric motors

Seatrade Cruise News

April 20, 2023

Carnival's Rich Pruitt sees potential for the electric motors, depending on the total cost of ownership

By Anne Kalosh |Apr 05, 2023

Electric boats were the big story at this year's Miami International Boat Show, where Photon Marine showed off its new 300 HP electric outboard motor in cruising's capital.

This was significant because the P300 has potential cruise-related uses. And cruise line executives who took part in sea trials of the motor aboard a 21-foot Silverback Marine aluminum work boat see promise.

'Awesome' experience

'My experience was awesome,' said Santiago Dunn, CEO of Galápagos travel company Ecoventura (newly partnered with A&K Travel Group) and A&K South America. He was impressed he could converse without yelling over motor noise and said the speed and torque on a windy, choppy day was 'great.' He felt safe and was able to imagine the experience for travelers on Ecoventura's Zodiacs 'in the— I hope — near future.'

After his P300 sea trial, Rich Pruitt, VP environmental operations, Carnival Cruise Line, envisages electric motors on small support or excursion boats used for parasailing, safety and security operations.

Significantly more expensive but ...

'I think there is potential for them if they can get the price down, Pruitt said. 'They are significantly more expensive than comparable gas outboards, due to the price of batteries. But, if operated in areas where fuel prices are high and the price of electricity is below the typically high rates found in the islands, the total cost of ownership may reach parity with [internal combustion engine] outboards.'

Photon Marine, whose principals include cruise industry veteran Tara Russell (Carnival Corp.& plc and Fathom), is developing high-powered electric outboard motors for a wide range of commercial fleets. She touts them as simpler, cleaner, quieter and needing less maintenance while offering better performance and torque, and supporting ESG goals.

One year ago the company just had a concept. Now it has the P300 and is working on pilot projects including retrofitting a water taxi. Other work is with the New York Power Authority, which is looking at electrifying its canal survey boats; with a Canadian boatbuilder developing vessels for the Canadian government to meet aggressive decarbonization goals, and with Alaska's Native Conservancy, a tribal organization with boatbuilding and kelp-farming projects that are part of a commitment to preserving the environment for future generations.

Expedition cruising

For expedition companies like Ecoventura that aim to electrify their Zodiacs, there are some challenges, Russell noted, including how to charge them on the ship and the battery weight, which can be meaningful for smaller vessels.

Currently Photon has the 300 HP motor but eventually it will offer a 100 HP model for operators like Ecoventura that don't need so much power.

Ecoventura began its green journey with the Rainforest Alliance in 1999, becoming pioneers and a test case for its green the late 2000s the company outfitted its yacht Eric with solar panels andwind generators, and has continued pursuing ways to further cut emissions.

'We designed our new vessels with that in mind and ended up with ships almost twice the tonnage while consuming the same or less fuel,' Dunn said. Though electric motors for small yachts are too expensive, he's honing in on electric Zodiacs.

Ecoventura toyed with brands such as Torqeedo but Dunn said the reliability and the torque to maneuver in open sea and in certain conditions 'was not there until we spoke with Photon Marine.'

He considers Photon a 'great fit for expedition vessels, 'depending on their size. Dunn doubts lines with 100- to 250-passengerships will make the necessary investments to have charging stations for the 10 to 20 or more Zodiacs they carry.

However, 'We operate yachts of 20 guests so two or three tenders/engines have to be charged and it is easy. On our expansion plan with A&K we will also be entering river cruising with boats of no more than 24 guests and four tenders,' he added, so electric motors should work there, too.

'We are waiting for Photon Marine's green light on when they would have an engine ready and are willing to become ... the guinea pigs and a testing ground for them.'

Miami sea trials

At the Miami International Boat Show, Photon Marine provided sea trials for 65 customers and potential customers, partners, investors and officials such a US Coast Guard team that's working on safe electric boating standards and Allen Dennis of the Electric Power Research Institute, which is heavily focused on R&D.

Russell was 'incredibly pleased' at the high degree of interest, the media exposure and reactions to the test drives. 'People were pleasantly surprised,' she said. 'There's great torque and performance but also it's so quiet. People couldn't believe how quiet this big, powerful motor is.'

A cord from the dock provided charging.

$5 a day for electricity versus $49 for gas

'We were able to show we're just charging in the marina with 50-amp standard marina charging,' Russell added. 'Charging overnight was more than sufficient to power the vessel throughout the day.'

The Miami marina's $9 flat rate was more than the $5 worth of electricity Photon actually used. For four hours of running time (eight sea trials in 30-minute blocks), Photon’s electricity usage was less than that: 31.5 kWh at 16 cents, or $5.04 per day. The comparable 300 HP motor running at 1,500 rpm for the same period would have burned 2 GPH x 4 hours x$6.10/G, or $48.80 in gas.

'It's a very inexpensive operational cost once you have the motor, and the charging for most of our customers will be standard marina charging for most low-speed, all-day operations,' Russell said.

Of course, costs vary by location. In Portland, Oregon, for example, where Photon motors are manufactured, it would have been closer to $2.50 for electricity and about $45 for gas.

Range and duration

Electric motors aren't for everybody. They're suitable for commercial operators with set routes and clarity about their usage.

Photon Marine's travel industry customers include scuba/snorkel and whale-watching excursion boats and water taxis. 'Those are great use cases,' Russell said.

Range and duration depend on how fast and how far operators need to go.

'For a low speed, all-day operation, one charge of the battery should get [users] through their workday,' according to Russell. 'If they're trying to go faster and further, they may only have a couple hours of duration and need to come back and charge in the marina.'

Using standard marina charging will likely require 10 hours for low-speed, all-day operations, as the P300 sea trials in Miami demonstrated.

With a Level 3 DC fast charger — Photon Marine is also working with fast-charging partners — Russell said it would take about 45 minutes to get to an 85% charge. Some customers, such as whale-watching boats in Alaska or Canada, may make a couple trips in the morning, then come back to the dock at midday and charge before going out again.

Battery safety and rating

Photon Marine partners with Kreisel Electric, an Austria-based battery manufacturer recently acquired by John Deere. Kreisel has a heavily tested 63 kWh battery pack that weighs about 880 pounds.

Russell described it as a large box that effectively replaces much of the weight of the gas tank. It has IP67 certification, a high safety standard.

Overall cost of ownership

As Carnival's Pruitt noted, electric motors currently cost much more than internal combustion engines.

Commercial operators, though, focus on the overall cost of ownership, including fuel and maintenance. Russell noted electric motors are much easier to maintain, with fewer parts, so that means less down time.

'For most commercial customers, the payback for our motor will be between one and three years,' she said. 'That's a significantly lower cost of ownership.'

Cruise lines are 'all watching closely and paying attention,' according to Russell, who's in conversations with multiple lines, many in relation to private island uses. 'They have a lot of different boats in their fleets. This works for some,' she said.

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