Echandia – Going Green at Sea
Echandia is designing the battery and fuel cell systems that will transform the way we power maritime transportation and travel.
Echandia is a market leader in designing high power batteries for the maritime industry, with a speciality in combined LTO batteries and fuel cell systems. It is a unique offering that has given the firm a clear strong leading position, providing zero-emission solutions for the maritime sector.
“We have the potential, in my opinion, to become a world-leading supplier of zero-emission solutions,” says Magnus Eriksson, CEO and founder of Echandia.
Echandia is particularly well-positioned given the transport sector as a whole is set to undergo an ecological transformation.
“There are many, many global initiatives ongoing in this transformation across all transportation systems, including shipping and maritime,” Eriksson says. “The EU has launched a new climate proposal which we think will be a huge driver. It includes a tax redistribution system that for the first time includes shipping. Previously ships have been tax-exempt, so ships would be tax-exempt for fossils fuel but taxed for electric. So, this new system is a boon for electric. Biden has initiatives ongoing and there are activities in Asia, so it’s an interesting time and the transformation has only just started.”
While there is a global push throughout the transport sector, the maritime part of that push is one that has the furthest to go.
“There are only a few hundred electric ships worldwide, but the intention is to convert the whole global fleet to meet these future requirements. We’re at 1% so far, but I’ve seen some interesting statistics,” Eriksson says. “4% of ships being ordered today have a battery system on board, and in Norway all ships being ordered today have some kind of battery system on board. If the rest of the world follows their example, we will have a lot of work to do.”
Echandia is a relatively small business, with a main office and a fuel cell development plant. Its customers are typically big global shipyard companies, and the company works closely with a selection of strategic suppliers.
“We supply one particular type of battery system called LTO. It’s the safest lithium battery chemistry available and the most renewable,” Eriksson explains. “We are the only company in the world with a type-approved LTO-battery system for maritime use and the only qualified provider of these high-power battery systems.”
Echandia has established itself in this sector this year by securing the order for the world’s first emission-free high-speed catamaran.
“It is the fastest fuel cell driven passenger ferry in the world and we were chosen because of the excellent performance we can offer when combining these high-powered batteries and fuel cells,” Eriksson tells us. “We have the most competitive combined offering in terms of performance and price and weight.”
Developing Tomorrow’s Power Sources
Echandia is able to achieve and maintain this competitive position thanks to its strong research and development capability.
“We have a very agile approach to product development. We continuously fine-tune and optimise our systems,” Eriksson says. “If we’re comparing battery solutions alone a customer can expect our solution to be 30-50% smaller than our competitors’ solutions. We offer smaller physical size, a smaller carbon footprint, and it’s less costly.”
That is possible because Echandia is constantly developing its product portfolio, increasing performance and reducing costs. That is only possible through Echandia’s superior levels of competence and market knowledge.
“The same goes on the fuel cell side of the business. It is about world-leading competence, superior experience in developing these types of systems and holding a close ear to what the customer actually requires,” Eriksson says.
Indeed, as we talk with Eriksson it is clear there are already some exciting new market sectors the company is looking to engage.
“We’re opening up new market segments, particularly large ships requiring our battery solutions. We are also looking at special niche applications, such as in the navy space,” Eriksson says. “We are looking into adjacent markets like harbour infrastructure where batteries and fuel cells will play a role in port facilities. Also, land-based applications where we think our batteries will have a good fit.”
Zero-emission solutions for larger ships are a particularly knotty problem, with everything from hydrogen fuel to large kites being considered elsewhere in the industry. As Eriksson points out, it is not simply a question of building a bigger battery.
“There are lots of hurdles to overcome, especially for large ocean-going ships. There is no current viable solution to operate a large ship fully with battery power,” he says. “So, we’re taking small steps to that goal, where ships entering into port can operate on electric propulsion with batteries but switch to conventional engines on the oceans. That’s an area where current technology has not yet reached the performance or capacity we are looking for. It is the technical development we will hopefully solve, because I think ultimately, going forward we will see a lot of biofuel-based solutions, or LNG-based solutions, but that is only one step on the way. At the moment we’re focusing on true zero-emission solutions, we don’t think biofuel is the long-term solution.”
Preservation and Growth
With that product development capability comes success, and with that success comes growth, but Eriksson is cautious about allowing the company to grow while preserving the agility and entrepreneurial spirit that are the source of Echandia’s success in the first place.
“During this type of scale-up or growth journey the challenge is to make sure all aspects of the business grow in a professional manner,” he says. “We are continuously recruiting the right candidates to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit. There are more unknowns than knowns, so keeping that spirit as we grow into a more professional business is essential.”
“It’s more art than science,” Eriksson reflects. “There are no simple recipes. It means trying to stay on top of things, communicating our core values and the essence of the business culture and having that as a key topic when recruiting new talent. It’s about branding, marketing, asking what we represent and what we want to represent going forward. It’s down to ‘soft values’, not just hard-core engineering skills, and combining that with personal character is the essence of it all.”
Looking forward, Eriksson is optimistic for the business, but he also takes the crucial role it can play in decarbonisation seriously.
“The next big goal is in 2030, which is the 55% CO2 reduction goal as laid out in the EU-directive Fit For 55, and from there the aim is getting to zero in 2050,” Eriksson says. “We’ve only just started this journey to safe zero emissions. So much is going to happen moving forward from now. Echandia has a key position in this marketplace and the opportunity to become a world-leading supplier of these types of zero-emission solutions.”