The 2019 Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to three scientists for their work developing lithium-ion batteries. The results of their work were on display at the U.S. Sailboat Show, applied in ways boaters can use to keep the beer and other essentials cold while using little or no fossil fuel.
Lithium-ion batteries are only one of the innovations displayed for capturing, storing and using those elusive electrons that boaters depend on to power lights, radios, navigation equipment and perhaps refrigerators, freezers, microwaves, televisions and other conveniences of home.
The traditional way to make electricity is to run a generator or the main engine on the boat. Diesel engines like to run under a load. So idling at anchor just to produce enough power to heat up the coffee is not very efficient. Running a separate smaller engine to generate electricity involves more noise and fuel than ideal. So the latest development is a much more powerful alternator and a smarter control system that allows energy to be more effectively captured from the main engine.
It works so well, said INTEGREL system owner and project manager Steve Knight, that “I run the air conditioning almost all the time in the summer without needing to plug in or turn on the engine.” The outboard motor for his dinghy is also powered by lithium batteries that are recharged from the house bank on the big boat, eliminating the need to carry gasoline.
Totally electric propulsion is also catching on.
“When we first came to the boat show 10 years ago the reception was downright hostile,” says David DiQuinzio, chief engineer of Annapolis Hybrid Marine. Skeptics doubted the feasibility of a boat relying on electric power. He attributes the success of Tesla cars to changing the mindset and now designs a variety of systems to move small and large craft through the water with hybrid or entirely electric motors.
Electric propulsion systems are becoming more common in Europe for large commercial vessels as well as small recreational boats.
“A lot of momentum for electric motors in Europe is coming from Holland, where canals and lakes are heading for prohibitions on gas and diesel engines,” explained Alessandro Acquarone, representing Transfluid, an Italian company that builds hybrid and electric motors, on his first visit to the U.S.
Alternately, you could use a really long extension cord.