Lithium-ion battery modules: The electrification of the seas

The latest chapter in the Siemens electromobility story: The company’s BlueVault lithium-ion battery modules are now being assembled in a new plant in Norway. The batteries are used to power the country’s ferries as well as store energy on offshore rigs. That puts Norway ahead of the game.


by Lesley Nicol / Alexander Chavez

The decision to invest in new technologies is often quite straightforward. For instance, when it comes to opening an assembly site for Siemens’ BlueVault lithium-ion battery modules in Trondheim, Norway. The batteries are at the heart of the company’s energy storage solutions for the marine industry. The factory also helps to serve a considerably growing market that wants to take advantage of technology advancements and the increasing demand for an environmentally friendlier, quieter and, last but not least, more cost-effective energy source.

Norway shows what the world could do

“Clearly, battery systems are getting better, cheaper, smaller and safer,” says Eirik Børsheim about the current technology development. A graduate of the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and a key expert in energy systems, he had good reason to join Siemens. He was attracted to the company because of its essential role as a project partner for the Ampere – the world’s first fully electric car ferry. At the time, Siemens subcontracted the battery supply for the Ampere, which set sail in 2015, connecting Lavik and Oppedal in Sognefjord, Norway’s largest fjord. An opportunity too good to be missed for Børsheim. 

Norway is ahead of the game – and not only due to the fact that the country’s lawmakers require all county and municipal ferries and speedboats to use low- or zero-emission technology for all tenders. The most recent legislation stipulates that only low-emissions cruise ships will be allowed in UNESCO-protected fjords.


Trondheim has long been an innovation and technology driver and the Siemens site there is no exception. Ampere, for example, charges its lithium-ion batteries with a total capacity of more than 1,000 kWh while docked at the pier during unloading and loading.

For ferries covering longer routes, a diesel-electric solution is also viable. In harbors these vessels operate with electricity, while diesel operation is applied on open seas. In general, internationally the situation is shifting in favor of electric solutions.

Bjørn Einar Brath, Head of the Marine and Offshore business at Siemens in Norway, is also convinced that battery solutions have a great future ahead. “More than four years down the line, data analysis shows that running the fully electric Ampere cuts operational costs by 80 percent with 95 percent less carbon emissions,” he proudly states.

Electric boats have a story to tell

Boats powered by electricity have been used for over 120 years, with an early popularity peak between the 1880s and the 1920s. During that time, Werner von Siemens also turned his attention to electrifying water-going vessels and launched the Elektra in 1886, which was intended to operate as a kind of water taxi. The Akkumulator followed some 25 years later; power came from a lead-acid battery, giving the boat an operating range of 100 kilometers.


The emergence of the internal combustion engine pushed electric drives out of most boating applications. Since the energy crisis in the 1970s, however, this quiet and potentially renewable marine energy source has again been steadily increasing in popularity.

Dynamic technology for a growing market

Today, electricity and hybrid battery solutions are powering more and more means of transport. In turn, the need for lithium-ion batteries is growing considerably. A recently issued analysis from Research and Markets predicts that the market will increase from $25 billion in 2017 to $78 billion in 2028. Siemens itself has orders for battery and charging solutions for 23 Norwegian ferries in the pipeline. 


Eirik Børsheim is pleased about the full order book, but he also keeps a close eye on technological developments. “This technology is new, it’s disruptive and it’s changing fast. It means that flexible and highly competitive solutions are needed. Currently, several different battery chemistries are being investigated with promising results. Thus, it is important to be able to modify the system according to technological developments,” he states. In plain terms, it means no rigid standardization.

Offshore: lookout for energy storage solutions

Besides the marine market, another field is increasingly looking into a far more efficient power distribution system to achieve considerable fuel savings. “Around 500 offshore rigs worldwide have the potential to upgrade with energy storage solutions. Today there are more remote drilling operations with a higher degree of digitalization, which enables more remote monitoring and maintenance. In this area, Siemens brings enormous competence to the table,” Bjørn Einar Brath explains.


Things are already happening. Northern Drilling’s West Mira will be the world’s first modern offshore drilling rig with a low-emission hybrid power plant. Toward the end of 2019, West Mira will start operations in the North Sea's Nova Field, approximately 120 kilometers northwest of Bergen. The battery installation on West Mira will reduce the runtime of on-platform diesel engines by an estimated 42 percent, thereby lowering CO2emissions by 15 percent and NOx emissions by 12 percent, which is equivalent to annual emissions from approximately 10,000 automobiles.


From the first electric train 140 years ago to becoming an innovator for much needed solutions today, Siemens is a main driver in electromobility. Among the gains are reduced fuel consumption, emissions and maintenance costs. And the story is far from over. Experts agree that by 2025 the majority of new ships will have a battery on board in one form or another. And who knows – that battery module might just be from Trondheim.


Lesley Nicol / Alexander Chavez

Picture credits: Siemens AG

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