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Oil tanker piracy equal to 1/4 of Saudi daily output !

Sirius StarSomali pirates have hijacked the MV Sirius Star, the largest oil tanker yet to be seized by gangs operating off the off the Horn of Africa.

The Saturday assault occurred 450 miles (724 km) southeast of Mogadishu, Somalia, in the Indian Ocean, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

One of the world’s largest oil tankers and owned by Aramco, the Sirius Star is 1,800 feet long, or about the length of an aircraft carrier, and can carry about 2m barrels of oil.

Last week, pirates hijacked three chemical tankers off the Horn of Africa and Piratesfreed another. On Sunday pirates freed the Hong Kong-flagged Stolt Valor and its crew after a $1.1m (€880,000) ransom was paid, according to Reuters.

Odfjell, one of the largest shipping groups in the world, responded to the attack by suspending its routes through the Gulf of Aden in favour of the longer journey around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of South Africa, raising the prospect that one of the world’s busiest trade routes could be sidelined unless global action is taken to combat the pirate menace.

There have been 77 attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden this year, with 31 Kenyahijacked, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which monitors piracy. Efthimios Mitropoulos, secretary general of the International Maritime Organisation described the crisis in the region – the gateway to the Suez Canal – as among the most severe facing the world.

West Texas Intermediate, the US benchmark for oil prices, rose $1.40 to $58.44 a barrel in early trading. Brent, the European benchmark, climbed to $55.33, up $1.10 on Monday 17th November.


Electric cars today, electric yachts tomorrow?

Diesel EngineThe bottom line is that without the automotive industry we would not have efficient and affordable diesel engines for our boats.

So monitoring the recent advances in the automotive industry will give us a good idea of what is going to happen to the design of boat propulsion tomorrow.

We need the car industry with its R&D budget, its mass consumer market, and its economies of scale to get new and innovative propulsion in our boats.

A great site for monitoring all aspects of alternative propulsion for cars is the Green Car Website.

A new generation of electric public service vehicles, including postal vans, police vehicles and ministerial limousines is to be introduced as part of a UK government initiative to speed up the introduction of low-emission technology on Britain’s roads.

A number of ministers, including Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, are already chauffeured in petrol-electric hybrid cars, and all of the Department of Transport’s official cars are hybrids. But plans unveiled yesterday will put green vehicles at the heart of the government’s fleet. Around £20m will be available to provide electric and low-carbon vans to public sector organisations, including Royal Mail, the Metropolitan police, the Environment Agency and the government Car and Dispatch Agency as well as councils around the country.

The announcements are part of a £100m proposal by the government to develop the technology and infrastructure needed to make electric and low-carbon cars a practical reality. As part of the plans, motorists will be able to test-drive demonstration models of the latest electric cars in locations around Britain from next year. Each car will need to keep within a maximum emission of 50g CO2/km. Drivers will be asked to report back on their experiences as part of a consultation.

In addition, around £30m will be used to develop research into electric vehicles. This includes work to make car designs more practical and affordable, as well as developments of more general technologies for vehicles that could deliver big carbon reductions in coming decades.

TeslaThis car is a Tesla Roadster, and it looks remarkably like a Lotus — no surprise, because the Tesla is built on the Lotus assembly line in England. The surprise, though, is how much it is also like a small Ferrari and how utterly quiet it is.

We tend to associate sports cars with finely tuned, sexy exhaust-noise gasoline engines.

The Tesla is nothing like that. It is quiet and quick. The Tesla people say it will do zero to 60 mph in four seconds and will top out at 130 mph. And if its creators have their way, it will be a permanent niche in the eclectic and rarely successful field of electric-powered cars.

A handful of firms is out there, trying to build cars for this new, expensive niche. So far, it appears that Tesla is the closest to actually getting some cars on the road — the Silicon Valley firm says 40 well-heeled customers have paid $100,000 each for a car, even though they won’t get their new toys for at least a year. The buyers appear to be captivated by the fact that these electrics are completely different from relatively stodgy electric vehicles of the past.

And, indeed, they are different from the current darlings of the environmental set, the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic and other like-minded hybrids. A hybrid is a combination of gasoline engine and electric motor. The Tesla is a pure electric and has no tailpipe emissions. There are some interesting white papers here that describe the technology.

The car and the firm were named for Serbian electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, who invented alternating current, among a few hundred other things. He died in 1943, half a century before the truncated age of modern electric vehicles.

Tesla was the brainchild of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, who co-founded the Rocket e-book firm. “When you make a handheld electronic device,” Eberhard said, “you’re obsessed with the energy density of your batteries. I was also looking for my next car.”

Eventually, he got in touch with Tom Gage, president of AC Propulsion, a San Dimas (Los Angeles County) firm that had already made the TZero, a brutally fast electric-powered sports car. AC had made only a few cars, and Eberhard says he invested in the company and drove its lithium ion-battery-powered car for about three months “as a daily driver.”

“That convinced me that if you set about making a real production car,” Eberhard said, “you could make a nice car, a great sports car and a very efficient car.” Tesla eventually would use some of AC Propulsion’s electronics under license.

Eberhard and Tarpenning wrote a business plan and set about raising money. The big windfall came in April 2004 when PayPal co-founder Elon Musk agreed to invest about $30 million, half the $60 million Tesla eventually raised to get itself into the bigger league world of making cars.

Tesla wants to sell 500 to 800 cars the first year and then ramp up to maybe 2,000 cars a year. Initially, Tesla says it will sell cars in five markets — Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, New York and Miami. Harrigan says those five comprise 65 percent of the luxury sports car market. When it’s time for service, a flatbed truck will pick up a customer’s car and take it to the shop, where it will have its tires rotated and its electric system checked out. No oil and filter change. No tune-up. No valve adjustment.

Down the road, Tesla plans a four-door electric-powered sedan that would sell for somewhere between $50,000 and $65,000. But Tesla isn’t the only one out there pushing these costly electrics.

The king of the heap, pricewise, is the Venturi Fetish, a speedy little electric sports car handmade in Monaco and selling for more than $600,000.Venturi

On a more reasonable front, firms in California and Washington state are developing a range of electric cars that they hope will cater to the burgeoning audience of people who are bored with their run-of-the-mill gas-powered Porsches and BMWs and will opt for something new and different.

Commuter Cars of Spokane, Wash., makes the Tango, something that looks like a four-wheeled motorcycle and was different enough to attract actor George Clooney as its first (and, so far, only) buyer. Commuter Cars Vice President TangoBryan Woodbury says the car will do zero to 60 in four seconds (like the Tesla) and, in the spirit of these exclusive wheels, costs about $108,000.

“It’s the new high-power electronics that is making this possible,” Woodbury said of the immense power he and other manufacturers are seeing in modern electric vehicle machinery. “Now you have electric cars blowing away Dodge Vipers on the drag strip. Electric cars are expensive and fast, because of better motor controllers and better batteries. People just aren’t interested in slow cars.”

In California, Universal Electric Vehicles of Thousands Oaks (Ventura County) makes a convertible sports car (the Electrum Spyder ) that it says will, like the others, be doing that zero to 60 dance in around four seconds, according to Vice President Gregory Lane and will be relatively cheap — under $70,000.Universal

“This is a niche market,” Lane said. “We’re not after the general public. We have a list of potential buyers, and we’re talking production of about 155 Spyders by the third year.” Lane’s wife, Diana, says the firm is trying to secure funding.

Phoenix Motorcars in Ojai figures its niche is SUVs and SUTs (sport utility Phoenixtruck), using bodies made in South Korea and electric motors built in Torrance. The vehicles will sell for about $45,000 each.

Perhaps the most ambitious project in all these may be the one mounted by Ian Wright, a New Zealander who used to work for Tesla and now has his own shop in Burlingame and is raising money.

“I want to build an extreme performance electric sports car,” Wright said the other day, “faster than any production car you can buy for less than $1 million. This would be zero to 60 in three seconds.”


Hybrid has got to be the “way forward”…

Solar Cat If you have read my blog recently then you will also realise that the question of the rising cost of diesel fuel has also been causing a lot of concern and controversy in the UK boating community. So I thought I would carry out an investigation into the practicality of running a boat on pure electric or on hybrid propulsion systems such as combined diesel and electric power.

Although there are drawbacks to hybrid systems – some of which I list below – it reminds me of the early days of the commercialisation of the microcomputers in the 80’s when every advance could be met with derision and scepticsm particularly by those that always think the glass is half empty. Having spent my working career in software development, I have an easy acceptance of rapid change; of innovations that cause step changes; of being periodically surprised by the ingenuity of physicists, chemists, and materials scientists that have created a tipping point so many times over the past 20 years.

This is what will happen in boat building now. I believe that all the drawbacks that people cite will be overcome. Many are already within reach SkySails and lie within the bounds of the current technical horizons of boat design, alternative energy generation, electrical storage, and hybrid propulsion systems.

So with this in mind I set off to research the “state of the art” in pure electric or hybrid propulsion for boats. A good place to start is the very comprehensive US Dept of Energy web site and the related “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy ” program of the US Dept of Energy. Here you will find out a lot about energy conservation and the US government’s attempts to encourage initiative in all areas of industry, travel, and domestic power and propulsion systems

A long time ago in a land far away…
Of course it is tempting to think that these are new ideas but in fact in 1912 Jack Delmar-Morgan created a motor yacht that was unique. His yacht Mansura was designed to run selectively under petrol, electric or sail power alone or under any combination of these sources. The petrol engine could be started electrically and the yacht was equipped with electric lighting, cooking and water heating systems. The hybrid power train delivered 9 knots under petrol power, between 5 and 8 knots under electric power and 11 knots under both but just as impressive was the silent running and ease of her operation and maneuverability.

It was in memory of him that the Mansura Perpetual Challenge Trophy was launched earlier this year. The idea was to inspire an international competition, recognising innovation in the design, development and operation of marine vessels with hybrid or all-electric propulsion systems. Hundreds of entries were received and of these 25 hybrid designs were followed up in Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the USA as the competition gathered momentum and international recognition, leading to a final shortlist of five contestants from four nations.

Hybrid boats…
Lagoon420This year the Mansura Trophy was awarded to Lagrange Construction Navale de Bordeaux for their Lagoon 420 . All Lagoon 420s will have the new propulsion system as standard – the diesel only version is an option! The propulsion system comprises two electric motors connected to propellers by straight shaft transmissions, one generator and two sets of 6 batteries. When batteries are 100 % charged, the boat will be able to function with both motors for approximately two hours (depending on speed). When batteries are 80% charged, the generator will automatically start and charge the batteries in order to provide electricity for the motors. When sailing, propellers will recharge the batteries. Built using Leroy Somer’s Motor Technology , the new motors offer strong savings in carbon dioxide emissions and engine maintenance.

The Lagoon 420 is a full size cruising cat, there are a large number of smaller pleasure boats that combine solar, diesel, electric and of course sail to create a hybrid boat. There are even giant container vessels that use alternatives to just diesel power including the strange SkySail pictured here.

Here are links to just a few of the designs available…

QM2Of course at the other end of the scale there is the Queen Mary 2 – Four 250 ton Rolls-Royce Mermaid™ electric propulsion pods totalling 80MW drive the QM2 along at almost 30 knots! Ok – its not that simple – The vessel is powered by four Wärtsilä diesel engines, supplemented by two gas turbines. With a total output of 118MW, the power plant develops 157,000hp. The actual propulsion is carried out by four 20MW Rolls Royce MerMaid podded propulsion units, two fixed and two azimuthing through 360°. They incorporate an electric AC motor that directly drives a fixed-pitch propeller with highly skewed blades for low noise and vibration.

So how efficient are these systems ?
It seems that the two most popular suppliers of hybrid systems are Steyr and Leroy-Somer .. plus the Emotion electric drive unit and the OSSA Powerlite genset and accessories

Steyr Motors is now shipping their MO 256/H45 diesel-electric hybrid marine engine that couples a 250hp Steyr diesel engine with a 48 volt 14hp electric motor.

Steyr provides an example that demonstrates the advantages of the engine. They replaced the engines of an older pleasure boat – a 34ft cabin cruiser with twin diesel 225hp engines that cruised at 21 knots and burned 20 gallons per hour. The same boat with two of their new diesel-electric hybrids cruised at 25 knots and burned 12 gallons per hour. So, it’s faster and consumes much less fuel. Well I assume that the diesels replaced were of an old type and not as efficient as a modern unit – but still it makes you think.

Common criticisms..
1. Batteries are too heavy /take up too much space?
Taking the Fastcat435 for example, it uses 11 normal sized 60Ah car batteries – but they can be distributed to advantageous positions in the boat, and depending on the whole system you may not have a conventional generator or other items of equipment.
2. The batteries would cost too much?
Again the Fastcat 435 quote approx. US$1,850 each or US$21,000 for the set of 11 batteries with an anticpated 10 years of life. I dont think any system has been shown to be cheaper in year1. They probably cost 10% more over the cost of a new boat.
3. Certain batteries are a fire risk
Well, lead acid or GEL are no more risk in a hybrid than they are in a normal boat and thats not very much, but some hybrids are using the Lithium Ion batteries that were blamed for the fire on the cat Playstation some years ago. However the Lithium Ion Phosphate batteries will not catch fire and are used on the Airbus aircraft for that reason.
4. Bearings on electric motors wear out.
The development of brushless direct current motors using neodymium magnets has reduced this type of wear.

It seems that I have only talked about problems but here are some excellent resources from advocates of the technology:

This is an extract from Tim Murphy’s article…”Bill Choice, who circumnavigated from 1989 to 2000 aboard a Wauquiez Centurion 47. “The advantages of a hybrid approach for sailboats are even greater than for automobiles, because sailboats have another source of power to tap: the wind,” Choice says. He reckons his hybrid system, which incorporates two gensets and two motors, will cost a third more than if he’d installed two traditional diesel engines and a genset. But for him, that initial investment is outweighed by the advantages, which include cost of ownership and fuel savings brought about by the efficiencies gained throughout the propulsion system; less noise, fumes, vibrations, and heat in the aft cabins; easier maintenance on the gensets; greater maneuverability with faster prop response and greater torque for motoring into wind and swells; regeneration capabilities, especially at sea; better weight distribution of equipment around the boat; and improved resale potential.”

Well time will tell!


First PowerMonkey now Freeloader

FreeloaderJust like the PowerMonkey that I reviewed and have used on my boat, for the past year, the FreeLoader is a power pack that can itself be charged using a solar panel.

Freeloader is a portable charging system that can power any hand held device anywhere, anytime. Freeloader takes power from its solar panels, the supplied Supercharger or via its charge cable that plugs into a computers’ USB. Once charged, Freeloader RucksackFreeloader’s internal battery can power an iPod for 18hours, a mobile phone for 44 hours, PSP for 2.5 hours or a PDA for 22 hours.

I can verify the the Powermonkey works fine having used it since August 2007. But it looks like this company have a number of other products in the portable solar device market. See the Solar Technology website – they even make solar toys like helicopters!

Its good to see so many alternative energy products coming on to the market now. It will mean that they will get more and more powerful and efficient – and maybe one day all this product development will result in real hybrid or even totally solar powered boats. I will be posting on that subject soon.

If your are wondering how to workout what size of solar panel to buy for a specific purpose on your boat there is a simple calculator and explanation on the Solar Technology web site.


Red Alert Diesel v Green Alert Global Warming

Red AlertThis blog is meant to restrict itself to all things electric, but I can’t help but comment on the polarising debate that is going on in the UK leisure boat sector with regard to red diesel.

For the sake of foreign readers there is a very low rate of tax on diesel for marine users in the UK which makes it about 40% cheaper than the same diesel being sold to car owners. The origins of this benefit are not clear but it is believed that it goes back to the 1930’s post war years. Some people have attributed the concession to Winston Churchill who, it is said, gave a tax concession on fuel to UK boat owners as a thank you for their participation during the D-Day landings.

In December 2006 the European Commission turned down the UK’s request for an extension to its derogation from the Energy Products Directive. This meant that UK boaters could no longer buy low-tax diesel.

Currently, derogations in the Council Directive 2003/96/EC allow five countries, including Belgium, Ireland, Finland, and Malta and the United Kingdom, to charge reduced rates of excise duty on red diesel, applying only to private leisure. From 1 January 2007, each litre of fuel used for leisure has to carry the minimum rate of EU duty of 21ppl.

Annual research undertaken by BMF/RYA/Sunsail shows that more than four million people participate in leisure boating and related water sports in the UK. Boating makes a significant contribution to tourism in all regions and employs approximately 30,000 people – mainly from SMEs.

The “No to higher tax” Lobby:

The RYA and the British Marine Federation are supportive of the fuel retailers position, and also have lobbied for a system of “self regulation” by leisure boat owners.

The fuel retailers and marina owners say that the ending of low-duty on red diesel will devastate motor boating in Britain. Suppliers in rural and remote areas have already said that they would not sell red diesel because they do not want to be burdened with the cost and bureaucracy involved in recording every sale to private recreational craft. I personally dont understand this since they already record every sale – that’s the law and also its good accounting practice !

Under a system of self regulation, recreational boaters would continue to purchase red diesel at the rebated rate, but would declare and pay the additional duty periodically.

The RYA has also urged Government to look seriously at reducing the rate of duty payable by recreational boaters on red diesel to the lowest possible rate, ideally the EU minimum rate.

The proposal at present is that red diesel would be taxed at the full, road fuel rate of duty – 54.68 pence per litre. This would probably get the retail price to approach the current road price of £1 per litre.

The “Yes to higher tax” Lobby:

Ancasta, the yacht broking company, have compiled data on the useage of the fuel made by sailors and motorboat users.

According to this survey:

1. The average motor boat engine has 60 hours use per annum.
2. An average 38 ft twin engined motorboat runs on full speed at 45 litres per engine, using 90 litres per hour for both engines.
3. If red diesel duty is doubled, and with VAT included, the added cost for an average use (60 hours per year) is £2,601 for a motor boat and it’s about £216 for a sailboat per annum.

Ancasta has produced its engine usage figures derived from over 22 years of experience of brokerage. Sales Director Ashley Overton says “We always calculate that if a boat is five years old, it will have 500 or less engine hours. In reality, looking at our records, the figure is nearer 60 hours per annum”…or 5×60 = 300 hours for a five year old motorboat…

Ancasta dont view this extra annual cost as being significant for those owning or about to purchase their new boat.

My view:

Fishermen and other commercial users will continue to use red diesel at its existing tax of 6.44p, so they are not directly affected other than by the possible reduction in retail outlets.

I dont like paying tax, but I dislike destroying the planet even more… we should pay up,…

This may incentivise marine diesel manufacturers to conduct more R&D into greater fuel efficiency such as the diesel hybrids that are being produced for the car industry..,

….motor boaters should switch to sail…… ok that last bit was just a dig – sorry 😉