Wärtsilä urges owners to weigh up HY

The Hybrid Centre's can simulate propeller loads to replicate the effect of real operations on the propulsion arrangement (credit: Wartsila)
The Hybrid Centre's can simulate propeller loads to replicate the effect of real operations on the propulsion arrangement (credit: Wartsila)
The energy management system is the brain of Wartsila HY (credit: Wartsila)
The energy management system is the brain of Wartsila HY (credit: Wartsila)

Ship operators may not have to sail over the rainbow to reach a cleaner, more efficient future if Wärtsilä’s investments in hybrid propulsion system bear fruit, writes Gavin Lipsith.

Our hybrid-powered future will be driven by data. That’s the message from Finnish technology group Wärtsilä Corp as it unveiled its latest investment in advanced propulsion concepts, the Hybrid Centre at its factory in Trieste. There the company aims to make breakthroughs that will accelerate the roll-out of Wärtsilä HY, the integrated hybrid propulsion module launched last year.

At its heart Wärtsilä HY boasts an energy storage system and engines (coupled to a shaft generator via a two-way clutch), controlled by a brain – more technically, an energy management system (EMS) - that manages power control and distribution. The EMS automatically optimises performance based on a vessel’s operational mode.

Many of the benefits of hybrid operation are well known. They include peak shaving (keeping engine load steady and handling extra demand with batteries); power boost (running on full engine and battery power); instant load taking and the ability to charge batteries from engines when power output exceeds demand. Batteries also enable purely electric sailing, meaning ships can depart or come into ports with zero emissions, for example; under one such mode of operation, vessels can perform low-speed manoeuvres using batteries until a pre-set minimum charge is reached, after which engines are started.

Where Wärtsilä’s latest iteration of hybrid power and propulsion differs from earlier installations is the stage at which integration of the battery, engine and energy management systems begins – not just at installation but as far back as the design of the individual components.

Such integration entails some physical modification of the system components. Batteries and engines are sized according to the operational profile, but there are other implications for system design too – as one small example, the clutch connecting engines to the shaftline must be two-way, in order to allow both power take in and take out.


Even more important are the improvements to the power control and distribution logic governing the module. Developments in the EMS and deeper integration of the whole propulsion system has allowed Wärtsilä to explore some entirely new benefits for hybrid vessels.

One particularly interesting example is a patented start-up function, the smokeless start. A cold start of an engine will usually create smoke because of the incompletely burned fuel that results from over-injection of oil – one of several inefficient measures (including electric motors and air compressors) aimed at reducing the time it takes for engines to get up to speed. All these measures can be jettisoned by harnessing batteries to bring the engines online, meaning an instant start without having to wait for the engines to warm up. Successful testing has already been carried out on the electric start-up procedure.

Giulio Tirelli, director, sales & business intelligence, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions, that each component in the module boasts performance that cannot be achieved in isolation. “Integration is not just putting batteries and engines onboard and then trying to optimise the vessel,” he explains. “In Wärtsilä HY, the performance these technologies are capable of delivering can be delivered only within the connections of the system.”

Developing further beneficial modes of operation depends on expanding understanding of how the engines, energy storage system and other components interact, as well as the ever-increasing knowledge of operations gained by the energy management system and its self-learning algorithms. It is for exactly these reasons that the Hybrid Centre has been opened.

The centre is claimed to be the world’s first real-scale hybrid centre and comprises an engine, batteries, power drives, a propeller load simulator using an electric motor, a power take off/in motor generator and EMS. It is capable of simulating operational data gathered from the field, which Wärtsilä says will enable optimisation of the hybrid system to reach unprecedented levels.

A potentially revolutionary implication of the hybrid centre’s ability to optimise base on real experience is that efficiency improvements will not only be passed on to future vessels. A ship could be optimised throughout its lifetime by updating the EMS.

Wärtsilä believes the investment will also provide owners and operators the chance to experience and familiarise themselves with hybrid propulsion, accelerating the introduction of hybrid technologies to the marine market and thereby boosting the environmental sustainability of shipping.

“Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine approach to delivering greater efficiencies, improved safety, and enhanced sustainability is once again demonstrated with this innovative Hybrid Centre. This unique concept clearly shows the commitment we have to leading the industry towards a cleaner and more cost-effective future,” says Stefan Wiik, Vice President, Marine Power Solutions, Wärtsilä.

In addition to being used to validate hybrid technologies, the centre will also welcome customer groups to learn in very practical terms the technical aspects of the Wärtsilä HY, as well as the value adding benefits it offers. As a bonus, the energy generated by the centre will be fed to the Trieste factory grid to provide sustainable power to the company’s production facilities.


When The Motorship visited the Hybrid Centre in October, it was configured to simulate a tugboat system. Given the widely varying operational profile – including long idle times and short busts of intense power usage – tugs are an ideal candidate for hybridisation and so have been an important test bed for HY. But according to Tirelli, all ship types could benefit from hybrid technology. This includes the deep-sea merchant sector.

An important case in point is the series of Teekay shuttle tankers currently under construction by Samsung Heavy Industries. The four ships will feature a hybrid arrangement that includes dual-fuel engines (which can also burn volatile organic compounds) and batteries. Tirelli notes that while such vessels may not have the surges in demand that make batteries instantly attractive, there are other advantages that do make hybridisation appealing. In particular he notes that the running of auxiliary engines can often by optimised. Further, batteries effectively avoid the possibility of a blackout. And the smokeless start could also be useful in some ports.

For owners and operators that remain to be convinced of the benefits, Wärtsilä offers a service – based on Skylight monitoring from subsidiary Eniram – that visualises precisely what efficiencies hybrid propulsion could bring. The data collection unit uses readings from sensors on ship equipment then combines this with AIS and weather information. This information can be used to test and optimise suitable hybrid configurations in the Hybrid Centre. But for an instant view on how hybridisation can enhance operations, a dashboard shows energy consumption, efficiency and other indicators – both for the current installation and for the equivalent hybrid arrangement.

In most ship segments, hybridisation is still in its infancy. Wärtsilä’s has correctly identified that, to accelerate uptake, it needs to show proven efficiencies. With the Hybrid Centre, it aims to show ship owners that it has the capability to effectively – and continuously - optimise propulsion, not only creating efficient installations but ensuring that they stay efficient, even potentially improve in efficiency, across a vessel’s lifetime.


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