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August 6, 2019 10:45 AM, EDT

Battery-Powered Ships Next Up in Battle to Tackle Emissions

Shipping containers Getty Images

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The electric battery boom has a new target: ships.

Four Japanese companies have teamed to build the world’s first zero-emission tanker by mid-2021 that will be powered by large-capacity batteries and will operate in Tokyo Bay, according to a statement Aug. 6. The new company e5 Lab Inc. is a venture between Asahi Tanker Co., Exeno Yamamizu Corp., Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. and Mitsubishi Corp.

The global maritime industry is facing an onslaught of legislation to improve its environmental performance. From next year, a majority of vessels will have to burn fuel containing less sulfur. A challenge requiring even more innovation, though, is a goal to halve shipping’s carbon emissions by 2050.

While fully electric ships have struggled to penetrate major markets, momentum is gathering. Rolls-Royce Holdings said last year that it had started offering battery-powered ship engines, while Norway’s Kongsberg Gruppen is developing an electric container vessel. Still, there are challenges in making the technology applicable to ships navigating thousands of miles across oceans because of the need to recharge batteries.

Industries from auto to aviation also are looking to go electric. Komatsu Ltd., the world’s second-biggest construction equipment, has developed its first-battery powered electric diggers. Electric-plane company Eviation Aircraft Ltd., which has signed up its first customer, predicts that in a few years it may not be able to keep up with orders.