Electric Propulsion Systems

Volvo Penta Hybrid Powers Arctic Tour Boat

Volvo Penta Hybrid Arctic Tour Boat

The engine room of the 49’ (15 m) tour boat under construction. The blue lithium-ion batteries are forward and the techs prepare the engine beds for the D4 diesels and electric motors that will be connected to the Aquamatic sterndrives aft.

At 78-degrees north, Longyearbyen, Svalbard is the world’s most northern permanent settlement. An important industry on the island, tourism brings thousands of people each year to see the polar bears, walrus and other sea creatures. But to get close, the tour boat Kvitbjorn must glide up on them silently from downwind. That’s where the Volvo hybrid system comes into play. 

The Kvitbjørn (Polar Bear in English) is a Marrell M15 capable of cruising at a maximum speed of 32 knots. But thanks to Volvo Penta’s hybrid diesel/electric propulsion, the boat will respect the delicate marine balance, ensuring quiet sailing in protected areas.

Volvo Penta Hybrid Arctic Tour Boat

A walrus at 500 yards. Tourists should be able to get much closer with the hybrid-powered boat.

Volvo Penta is the most outspoken diesel engine builder about its plans for building sustainable power systems in the near future. It built its first hybrid DPS units at the start of 2018. The company feels that the experience of the hybrid system in Svalbard will influence the market. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more harsh testing protocol.

Volvo Penta is on the cutting edge of this new technology that has applications in tourism and other professional purposes including civil and military use. Costs are still high, but the industry is adapting and more signs are appearing every day, according to Volvo, the world is slowly moving to sustainable power.

Volvo Penta Hybrid: A Pilot Project

This is a pilot project developed by the Swedish company in collaboration with the Östhmmar shipyard and Hurtigruten Svalbard, one of the archipelago’s historic tour operators.

Volvo Penta Hybrid Arctic Tour Boat

The D-4 being installed with the electric motor at the business end of the unit.

Polar Bear will be powered by a Volvo Penta twin D4-320 DPI Aquamatic hybrid engine. She will be prepared for sailing in the Arctic Sea in sub-zero temperatures in a range of 500 nautical miles. Polar Bears will operate in the season from May to October for more than 1,000 hours each year.

Hurtigruten Svalbard is a tour operator that looks to the future through a new business model and does so also through a dedicated foundation. Preserving the beauty of marine environments is a civil and economic duty. “We are delighted to be working with Volvo Penta, which is taking the sustainability of marine engineering to a new level,” explains CEO Daniel Skjeldam. 

“Our aim is to be the world leader in sustainable power solutions and to do this we want to partner with companies that have the vision and courage to join us,” says Jonas Karnefors, sales project manager for Volvo Penta.

Volvo Penta Hybrid Arctic Tour Boat

Svalbard is world-famous for its large community of polar bears.

Innovative Payment System

In commercial terms, Volvo Penta’s hybrid engine will be supplied through a power-by-the-hour payment scheme, i.e. at a cost per kilowatt every 60 minutes. Volvo Penta’s vision is e-mobility offered as a service. Although still in its infancy, this strategy could revolutionize the way a much sought-after ‘green’ service is used in the nautical sector. This is also because the initial costs to be incurred for a hybrid engine constitute a severe barrier.

Collaboration with the Shipyard

Marrel Boats and Volvo Penta worked together to develop all the interfaces between the hybrid propulsion and support systems. Nothing was left to chance: charging, ventilation, heating and air conditioning. The Volvo Penta hybrid is a complete system. “The Volvo Penta DPI package features a hydraulic clutch for silent and smooth shifting at low engine speeds, as well as added maneuverability — perfect for slow cruising when wildlife watching,” said Jonas Karnefors, sales project manager for Volvo Penta.

In the meantime, Polar Bear is in the testing phase, but will soon be delivered to the tourism group. The scheduled date is late May 2022.

Volvo Penta Hybrid Arctic Tour Boat

Whales abound in the far north and are annoyed by engine noise.