Elco Motor Yachts, based in Athens, New York, provides electric propulsion systems for various types of water craft, ranging from pleasure to commercial and sail to power boats, in serial and hybrid combinations. There is a well-established market for electric propulsion in cruise ships and larger commercial vessels that is based upon the principle of diesel electric technology. In contrast, the market that Elco serves is based upon the use of battery energy storage to power electric water craft.
Elco works with several battery manufacturers to define the most suitable battery type, size, and shape, to meet the needs of each individual application. The market addressed by this technology is growing at a rate primarily limited by the relative high cost and weight of today's batteries. Lithium-ion batteries resolve the weight issues however they cost approximately $.90-$1.00 per installed WH whereas lead acid is $.17-$.20 per WH. However, the cost of lithium-ion batteries is coming down fast and when it approaches $.30-$.40 per installed WH the market for marine electric propulsion will expand dramatically.
Presently, lead acid absorbed glass matt (AGM) batteries do resolve the battery cost issue. While they do not resolve the weight or size issue, they do a great job where the weight and size fit the application, such as in large and small sail boats, displacement launches, and semi-displacement trawlers. Elco’s propulsion systems make use of battery systems with capacities ranging from 8 kWH to 105 kWH. The company’s contribution in the field of energy storage is to develop the marine electric propulsion market and therefore the demand for better, lighter, less expensive batteries, and to work with battery companies by using their products and providing them with field experience feedback.
The use of battery storage in shipboard propulsion systems has a number of advantages. These systems produce no exhaust fumes and provide silent motor operation, eliminating the noise pollution generally associated with powered water craft. All-electric propulsion systems never need tune-ups and don’t require winterization. The conversation efficiency of stored energy to mechanical work with a gasoline engine is typically 25%, a diesel engine 35%, and an Elco electric motor 90%, which makes Elco electric propulsion considerably more energy efficient than conventional propulsion systems. If the batteries are charged by solar or wind power sources, operating these craft has an extremely small carbon footprint,
According to Joseph W. Fleming, Chief Engineer at Elco, “The market for Elco marine grade electric propulsion in both inboard and outboard applications has captured the imaginations and desires of sail and power boaters around the world, and this growing market carries the expectation that it will eventually replace polluting, noisy, smelly, and inefficient diesel and gasoline engines. The key to this expanding market is energy storage in the form of batteries, and we at Elco expect to see, and look forward to the continued drop in cost and increase in quality of lithium based batteries, which will, combined with high efficiency Elco motors, help create incentives and growing demand for better less expensive energy storage in general.”
Electric boats are definitely not a new concept. Elco first introduced the electric engine to boating well over 100 years ago. Electric Launch Company (Elco), originally incorporated on December 31, 1892, was first to introduce electric boats in the United States at the Chicago Exposition in 1893. Elco was requested to build fifty-five (55) 36-foot electric launches for this event. 120 years later, Elco is still a world leader in electric boat propulsion.