EThere is one thing Christoph Witte really wants to get rid of. What the technical director of Bodensee-Schiffsbetriebe has been working on for several years is intended for the future generation. “We have to be careful not to lose focus,” says Witte, referring to the current world crises, which he believes are pushing the dangers of climate change into the background in public awareness.
Ships with internal combustion engines are considered climate sinners. The Bodensee-Schiffsbetriebe have therefore heralded a new era in water transport: the first electrically operated ferry has been in use since this week. According to Witte, it is currently the largest electric ship in Germany. As a sign that the team wants to set an important signal for the future, the children had the ferry christened – not with sparkling wine, but with water from Lake Constance.
Named after the island of Mainau, the ship should be able to bring around 300 people to the flower island and the north shore of the lake. Two motors deliver a total of 40 kilowatts. “That corresponds to the performance of a VW Beetle,” says Witte. The ferry’s 1,000-kilowatt-hour battery is charged at night, which takes several hours.
So far only small ships replaceable
In order to be able to keep the old timetable, the ship between Unteruhldingen and the island of Mainau initially only runs in the afternoon. That should change in the coming season, according to Witte, the ferry should then completely replace one of the smaller diesel ships in the fleet. According to Witte, there is currently no sustainable solution for the larger diesel ferries, which can transport up to 1,000 people, and work is in progress.
Relaxation should not be missing on board: In order to use as little energy as possible, the ship only travels at a speed of 15 kilometers per hour. According to Witte, this is slower than the diesel ferries, but the driving experience is completely different: “It’s more like gliding across the lake. You don’t hear anything and the ship only generates very small waves.” The balancing act between nature conservation and environmental protection is “absolutely successful” here, for example in contrast to wind turbines. The passengers are also enthusiastic if the ship team speaks to them about the new technology.
There were enough problems
Witte’s favorite place on the fifteen-minute crossing is below the solar cells on the roof, which can cover around a fifth of the ship’s electricity needs when the sun is shining. “It’s in the semi-shade, air comes from the side. The light is refracted, like under a deciduous tree.”
It had been less idyllic in the weeks before, there were enough problems. Actually, the e-ferry should have been in service since mid-July. In June, however, she was damaged when she was brought ashore for further work. The shipbuilders also had to contend with delivery problems caused by the Ukraine war.
A course record soon?
The passenger ship was christened in July. If the e-ferry works as intended, Witte and his team want to use a second, identical ship as early as 2025. In the coming year, the Bodensee-Schiffsbetriebe also want to test a ferry that runs on bio-liquid gas. The entire fleet should be climate-friendly by 2035.
Energy saving was also taken into account in the construction of the “Mainau Island”. Many parts of the ship are made of aluminum to make it as light as possible. The ferry is a catamaran, the two runners have to use less energy to reach against the water resistance.
“From a technical point of view, the ship has completely exceeded our expectations,” says Witte. The ferry has a range of about 180 kilometers. He has already registered on the Guinness World Records website to see which top performances e-ships have already achieved. He has already seen about 210 kilometers, which is not impossible to crack. “Let’s see if we set a record run next year.”