Today’s Solutions: September 25, 2023

Designing solutions targeting the shipping industry’s humongous carbon footprint is key to ensuring a sustainable future for sea transport. While we’ve seen such solutions in ships that replaced fossil fuels with hydrogen, most experts argue that it’s not feasible to design electric cargo ships for crossing the ocean. Replacing fuel with battery electricity in a huge cargo ship, for example, would require a battery that’s a whopping 1.6 billion pounds. One startup, however, is aiming to prove that an electric alternative to fossil fuel-powered cargo ships is feasible.

Fleetzero will soon attempt to prove its point by crossing the Pacific Ocean with smaller electric ships that switch batteries at ports along the way. Fleetzero says this will be a cheaper and more sustainable shipping power source than fossil fuels.

Greener and cheaper alternative

“We started with the problem of decarbonizing ocean freight and finding a way to make it not cost more,” says Fleetzero CEO Steven Henderson. While working in the shipping industry, Henderson and co-founder Michael Carter saw a huge challenge with the industry’s decarbonization goals: The current alternatives were a lot more expensive than fossil fuels. “We realized that this isn’t good for the industry if this is our future, and not good for the world if rates go up,” says Carter.

After exploring different solutions, Henderson and Carter eventually arrived at the conclusion that if ships were smaller and made quick stops on their way, current battery technology could work. “Modern ships are optimized around fossil fuels,” Henderson says. “What would it look like if you optimized ships around batteries?”

Quick stops for battery swaps

The company’s batteries are strategically designed to fit into standard shipping containers. This allows cranes at ports to easily replace the batteries with freshly charged ones. Because the ships are smaller — carrying about up to 4000 containers — they can also stop at ports that cannot handle conventional cargo ships, thus saving time by avoiding busy ports.

The startup has its first prototype, a shipping-container-sized battery, ready, and it has passed some initial regulatory hurdles with the American Bureau for Shipping. The plan now is to retrofit a ship with the battery and prepare to start operations in 2023.

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