‘World’s first’ electric freefall lifeboat gains approval

Verhoef electric lifeboat at sea. Credit: Verhoef

What is claimed to be the world’s first electrically powered lifeboat has passed its final drop tests and is now approved for installation on rigs and platforms. Built by the Dutch company Verhoef, the lifeboat has been several years in the making, and promises to lower maintenance and operating costs and run more reliably compared to diesel-powered lifeboats.

The first of the new Verhoef aluminum 32-passenger lifeboats will be deployed on an offshore platform in the new Valhall Flank West oilfield project in Norway and the contract for this pioneering installation also includes an option for similar lifeboats in the future.

Verhoef CEO Martin Verhoef stated that while the focus is initially on applications like oil platforms, which have shorter distances to reach shore, the technology will “ultimately transform the shipping and cruise industry” too.

Verhoef has been working with Torqeedo, the major suppliers of advanced marine electric propulsion systems engineers to create this fully integrated emission-free propulsion system. The propulsion motor is one of Torqeedo’s 50 kW (80 hp) Deep Blue inboard electric motors, which connects to the propeller with a straight shaft drive as no gearbox is required. Reverse is obtained by reversing the electric current, and neutral simply by switching off the electrical supply.

This electric motor is supplied by electricity from three 30.5 kWh Deep Blue battery banks which were developed with technology from the car company BMW.

The rugged installation is designed to withstand the heavy g-forces that can be generated during a freefall launch and they have enough power for the propulsion motor to run for 30 minutes at full speed, followed by an additional 10 hours at half the maximum speed.

The electric system also includes an inverter to drive a water spray pump, which is an IMO requirement to provide for lifeboat survival in the event of there being burning oil on the water surface.

One of the primary motivations behind the switch to electric power is to reduce the high maintenance costs of diesel engines which are currently in use, according to Verhoef. Experience has shown that diesel lifeboat engines require a great deal of ongoing maintenance and repair, with these saving generated by the reduced maintenance. Soot accumulation in the seldom-run engines can cause internal damage and negatively affect the performance and reliability of the evacuation system. Electric propulsion also eliminates the need to transport, store, and handle diesel fuel on the platform.

Verhoef estimates that the electric propulsion system will reduce operating costs for the platform operators by about 90 to 95% compared to combustion engine powered lifeboats.

Furthermore, a built-in connectivity function will enable remote monitoring of the condition of the electric system from shore so that any deterioration or reduced electric charge in the batteries can be corrected promptly. The system supplied by Torqeedo comes with a nine-year battery capacity warranty.

“This challenging project is an important validation of the ruggedness, resiliency, and performance of our integrated marine electric propulsion technology,” said Dr.Christoph Ballin, co-founder and CEO of Torqeedo GmbH. “These lifeboats must be ready to launch in an emergency at any time of the day or night, capable of surviving the shock and vibration of launch from a high platform and deliver its passengers to safety. Torqeedo has demonstrated we are up to the task.”

Verhoef added, “This is what the industry has been waiting for to reduce their OPEX and carbon footprint. We are convinced that electric propulsion will be the wave of the future for lifeboat technology.”

Verhoef is thought to be the only approved lifeboat builder using aluminium for the construction of its lifeboats rather than the composites used by most lifeboat builders