PowerX's battery-packed ships to fetch energy from off-shore wind farms
Fossil fuel tankers that transport oil, gas and coal across the seas play an important part in the global energy mix, but one Japanese startup is eyeing a future where these types of vessels carry a much cleaner load. PowerX's Power ARK vessels are designed to carry renewable energy from wind turbines located far off-shore back to dry land, allowing them to make the most of stronger gusts and opening up new opportunities for their installation.
PowerX's grand ambition is to accelerate the adoption of off-shore wind energy by enabling it to be shipped between any two locations on Earth. Off-shore wind farms are starting to play a bigger and bigger role in the provision of renewable energy, but there are limitations in terms of where they can be installed, as the turbines need to be anchored to the seabed.
GE's Haliade-X, for example, the world's most powerful offshore wind turbine, can only operate at depths of up to 60 m (200 ft). This problem is giving rise to a new breed of floating turbines, such as those at the Hywind farm off the coast of Scotland.
But PowerX is working on an alternative solution, particularly in its home nation of Japan, which is surrounded by deep coastal waters and therefore has limited opportunities for off-shore wind farms in close proximity to the land. Rather than relying on undersea cables to transmit the power from farms farther afield back to shore, which the company says are expensive to construct and have significant environmental impacts, it is developing watercraft to carry the load.
The first cab off the rank is the Power ARK 100, a 100-meter-long (330-ft) trimaran that will be powered by electricity and have a range of 300 km (186 miles), with biodiesel to offer backup and allow for journeys over greater distances, potentially around the globe. It will carry 100 grid-scale batteries offering a capacity of 220 MWh, which PowerX says is enough to power around 22,000 Japanese homes for a day in a single trip. The company has just entered an agreement with Japan's largest shipbuilding outfit Imabari to construct the first prototype, which is slated for completion in 2025.
As part of the same announcement earlier this month, Imabari Shipbuilding also committed to investing a billion yen (USD$8.86 million) in PowerX, which will aid in the development of the Power ARK 100. There are plans afoot for larger versions, the 150-meter-long (500-ft) Power ARK 1000 and 220-meter (721-ft) Power ARK 3000, along with an in-house battery manufacturing facility to load these vessels with the cells they need to carry all that energy.
Called the Project:MAX, the facility will be constructed in Japan and will produce batteries for use in PowerX's vessels, while off-the-shelf cells will also be packaged up for applications such as electric vehicles and grid storage. The factory is planned to have a production capacity of 1 GWh annually by 2024, and scale to produce 5 GWh by 2028.
"The realization of a decarbonized society is a major issue that the shipbuilding and shipping industries must tackle," says Imabari Shipbuilding President Yukito Higaki. "We see this alliance as an excellent opportunity for Imabari Shipbuilding to invest in as well as partner up with PowerX, who is taking on the challenge with a different approach from the existing shipbuilding and shipping industries. We are looking forward to working with PowerX to develop new solutions that can contribute to our society."
You can check out PowerX's promo video below.