Drives and Controls Magazine
Whale’s tail inspires ‘revolutionary’ propulsion concept
Published:  31 May, 2023

ABB has announced a “revolutionary” electric motor-driven marine propulsion system that, it claims, breaks new ground for efficiency in the marine industry. Inspired by the dynamic movements of a whale’s tail, the system – called Dynafin – is the result of more than a decade of research, development, and testing. The first prototype is expected to be available in 2025.

The new propulsion concept uses a main electric motor to rotate a large wheel which spins 30-80 times per minute. Vertical blades, each powered by an individual motor and control system, extend below the wheel. The combined motion of the wheel and blades generates propulsion and steering forces simultaneously, enabling “ground-breaking” efficiency and precision for ships.

An independent study of the technology by the Danish marine technology specialist OSK-ShipTech has shown that it can achieve energy savings of up to 22% compared to conventional shaftline configurations used to propel passenger vessels.

This could result in significant reductions in fuel consumption as well as helping to reduce emissions. When used as part of an electric propulsion system, the concept is compatible with zero-emission battery and fuel cell technologies.

Initially available in power ratings from 1–4 MW, the new propulsion system will be particularly suitable for mid-sized and smaller vessels, such as passenger and vehicle ferries, offshore support vessels for wind farms, and yachts. By reducing vibrations and noise levels, the system should improve passenger and crew comfort. In addition, the system promises improved manoeuvrability and positioning performance – helping vessels to maintain their desired positions and headings.

“ABB Dynafin shows what is possible when marine engineers pursue radical innovation and progress, inspired by the interplay of evolution and technology,” says Juha Koskela, president of ABB’s Marine & Ports division. “This solution is all about operational efficiency and emissions avoidance, leveraging innovations from the brightest minds in marine and propulsion engineering.”

ABB says that its Dynafin propulsion technology could cut energy consumption by up to 22%

The new concept is the latest addition to ABB’s portfolio of electric and hybrid propulsion technologies, including more than 30 years of supplying its pod-based Azipod propulsion system.

Shipping is responsible for almost 3% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. But, with about 90% of global trade being carried on ships, it is essential to the movement of goods. If it were a country, the industry would be the world’s sixth-largest emitter. If no action is taken, shipping could account for up to 13% of global emissions by 2050.

The International Maritime Organization has set a goal of cutting annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels. While no single technology can achieve this, low-carbon fuels, alternative power sources, data analytics and energy-saving devices all have a part to play, and new innovations could be vital.

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