The Japanese Are Developing An Awesome 3.5 MWh Battery-Powered Ocean Freighter

Illustration for article titled The Japanese Are Developing An Awesome 3.5 MWh Battery-Powered Ocean Freighter
Screenshot: e5 Project

There are over 7,000 domestic shipping vessels in Japan, constantly churning a hydrocarbons and particulates into the atmosphere. These boats are vital to the Japanese economy, obviously, as the country is built entirely on a chain of islands. And make no mistake, Japan is running headlong at electrification to keep its air clean and reduce its impact on the environment. Part of that effort is seen in e5's new zero emissions battery electric tanker.


This ambitious e5 project is backed by a consortium of Japanese companies; Asahi Tanker Co., Ltd., Idemitsu Kosan Co., Ltd., Exeno Yamamizu Corporation, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd., Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., Ltd., Tokyo Electric Power Company, and Mitsubishi Corporation. The five e’s of e5 are related to the project’s core values, electrification, environment, evolution, efficiency, and economics. Get it?

While the project came together in 2019, the first two battery electric ships are now under construction. Asahi Tanker Co will begin building a pair of these e5 ships concurrently, hoping to have both finished and seaworthy by March 2022.

The boats will be powered by a large-capacity 3.5 MWh lithium ion battery rack. That’s a whole lot of batteries, but in a tanker like this weight is much less of a consideration than in something like a car. These batteries will power a pair of 300 kW azimuth thrusters at the back, capable of 360 degree propulsion, plus a 68 kW side thruster to point the nose. That’s a total of three massive electric motors.

There isn’t much said on the idea of range, but considering the boat can run non-stop for 10 hours on a half-capacity battery, that should be sufficient for hopping from port to port in Japan. No, it won’t be capable of trans-Pacific trips, but that’s not the point of this particular experiment.

The first Asahi-built battery tanker will be used in Tokyo Bay as a marine fuel supply vessel, bringing heavy fuel oil out to larger ships anchored in port. In addition to lowering emissions in-port, the EV ship will also reduce noise and vibration in Tokyo Bay, presumably making the shipping industry less of a nuisance to the people who reside there.

The e5 ship will charge up while it is in port, using wind and solar generated electricity, meaning its operation will be truly emissions free. The irony is not lost on me, however, that this electric ship will be carrying loads of fuel to large industrial and cruise ships for them to go back out to sea and make more emissions. At this point I’ll take whatever wins I can get, however. It’s a move in the right direction.

Industrial shipping is responsible for more than 18 percent of certain air pollutants, around four percent of all climate change emissions, including around three percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally. There are over 100,000 transport ships at sea, the majority being medium-sized regional transporters. If this project proves viable, I’d imagine Japan will be pushing for mass adoption in short order.

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.



Allow me to be dumb and ask what advantages would this have over a nuclear-powered tanker? I’m all for electrifying and getting off petrol and I’m aware there’s some advantages batteries would have over nuclear but I also feel like we already have a proven solution here that outweighs said advantages.