Renton, WA /Washington Manufacturing Alert/ — Planes, boats, cars and trucks, whatever the mode of transport, the future of moving people and freight is in electric propulsion. That means batteries.
A Japanese-U.S. joint venture has set up offices and manufacturing in Anacortes to develop and manufacture energy storage and propulsion systems. The initial target market is in the marine sector, but Lavle Inc. (a reverse acronym standing for ELectric Vehicles Autonomous Logistics) also sees potential applications in oil-and-gas production and for renewable-energy systems.
The joint venture has the potential to make Washington, which has already seen several companies developing electric-propulsion systems for planes and watercraft, even more of a presence of innovation in the technologies of battery systems and transportation. It also could be a jobs generator. The offices alone have added seven jobs, and a proposed fabrication facility could add another dozen, the company said in an email interview with WMA.
Beyond that, a plant to manufacture batteries and a key component in them could create another 400 to 500 jobs, the company said.
The joint-venture’s partners are 3Dom Inc., based in Yokohama, and Ockerman Automation, an Anacortes marine engineering and systems integration company that designs and helps install engines, generators, energy storage, control stations and vessel bridge systems. John Ockerman is Lavle’s chief engineering and technology officer.
3Dom is investing $20 million in the joint venture, a transaction Lavle described in its announcement as “one of the largest private financings of a Washington-based company so far this year.”
3Dom is the developer of a technology involving separators, the membrane between the anode and cathode in a battery; the flow of electrons between the two through a membrane is what produces current to do work. The 3Dom separator – made with a polyimide resin with high heat resistance – prevents thermal runaway (overheating), which makes the battery inherently safe, the company said, adding that batteries built around its design have better performance characteristics than other batteries commercially available.
Those characteristics include greater safety, longer life, higher number of cycles, higher energy densities and wider operational temperature range. “As a result, practical commercialization of lithium metal batteries with high energy density, which has long been believed to be difficult, has now become a reality, dramatically improving the life of secondary batteries,” the company said.
Those batteries could be used in vessels ranging in size from small harbor patrol craft and ferries, up to larger ferries (such as Washington’s Jumbo Mark 2 class), oil platform supply vessels, cruise ships, military vessels and container ships. 3Dom believes it can produce a battery with a 10-year lifetime, rechargeable in 10 minutes (depending on the shorepower supply) and for more than 50,000 cycles.
Vessels could use the batteries in hybrid mode (using diesel or natural gas generators, although Lavle says its design “is much safer and more efficient than conventional lithium ion batteries and so would facilitate vessels with much longer runs being able to operate entirely on battery-electric mode.” They can be installed in existing vessels or new construction.
The oil and gas market, meanwhile, needs batteries for use in remote, beyond-the-grid locations where it’s exploring and developing wells.
3Dom is already producing the separator, but it’s now working on battery designs that use it. One promising approach is the solid electrolyte (or solid state) battery, but that’s in the prototype phase; commercial deployment is expected in 18 to 24 months.
Once at commercial stage, Lavle and Ockerman Automation anticipate offering such services as engineering and supplying complete drivetrains for ships (from engine to propeller), including the engine generators and battery systems along with controls.
It will do so from Anacortes, a location 3Dom picked for being in the heart of the state’s maritime sector. Lavle plans to make battery cells, assemble them into marine batteries and then send them to shipyards around the world for installation. It’s hoping that its first projects for installation will be at shipyards in this state.
The fabrication center, which will begin operating in a few months, will manufacture, assemble, and test equipment. Lavle is also looking for a location for production of its solid-electrolyte battery. “We would very much like to locate it in Washington State, but our primary consideration is the cost of electricity,” the company said. “It takes a lot of electricity to manufacture batteries, so we are looking for a location with the most competitive power rates.”
Lavle is leasing its fabrication and assembly facilities; as it grows, the company expects to build its assembly and manufacturing plants to its own specifications.
Lavle and 3Dom are hardly the only parties trying to improve batteries and find new applications for them in transportation. The marine sector is a relative latecomer, compared with what’s been done with highway vehicles, “Ten years ago the marine battery electric/hybrid market had only a few projects, with most shipowners viewing batteries and hybrids with skepticism,” said Liz Stout, Lavle’s general manager. “Today electric and hybrid vessels are widely viewed as established technologies and low-risk. When building or renovating a ship most owners will prefer this technology unless it can be proven to be infeasible.”
In December 2017 Transparency Market Research estimated that the annual electric and hybrid marine market will grow to approximately $6.5 billion by 2025, Stout added.
Competition for a share of that market will be fierce. Stout said a dozen major battery companies operate in the marine market, with six companies dominating sales. “All of the major, global, drivetrain suppliers are in the electric and hybrid vessel market, including Siemens, ABB, GE, Rolls-Royce (Marine), Cummins, Caterpillar, MAN, Wartsila and Kongsberg,” she said. “Most global ferry companies have already or have plans to add hybrids or full electric vessels to their fleet. Most major cruise lines are also planning major additions with hybrids for their fleet and even containerships are researching hybridization of vessels. Adoption of electric and hybrid drivetrains is highest in Europe, where substantial government subsidies are available. The adoption in North America is growing strongly with ferries and offshore supply vessels, as the prices of batteries come down and the benefits/payback without subsidies become compelling.”
Battery power and electric power is not only competing with traditional diesel power, it’s also up against emerging alternatives such as fuel cells and liquefied natural gas.
Washington becoming a hive of activity in electric propulsion.
Examples of other projects in the state:
- Zunum Aero. The Boeing-backed venture is developing small electric passenger aircraft.
- All American Marine. The Bellingham builder of ferry, excursion, research and other work boats recently completed a lithium-ion-battery-powered electric passenger excursion vessel for San Francisco.
- Pure Watercraft. The Seattle-based company is developing an electric outboard motor.
- PropEle Electric Boat Motors, Inc. North Bend, lightweight electric motor for inflatables and other small craft.
- Paccar. The Bellevue truck maker modified a Kenworth truck with fuel cells, hydrogen fuel storage and batteries for a truck to operate within limited range; it’s been tested at the Port of Seattle.