The cruise industry uses many kinds of boats in the more than 700 destinations visited globally, from tenders to private island boats to snorkel, scuba, fishing, sightseeing and whale-watching vessels.
Photon proposes to replace boats' internal combustion motors with battery-powered motors that are simpler, cleaner, quieter and require less maintenance while offering better performance and torque, and supporting ESG goals.
'What we're building and developing at Photon uniquely meets the needs of so many different water-based fleets. Photon aims to be the most trusted provider in the world for the most fragile ecosystems on the world. This is clean technology,' Russell said.
In her former role as global impact lead for Carnival Corp. & plc (she also was founding president of social impact brand Fathom), Russell saw the gap between cruise industry aspirations to decarbonize and what's currently available and possible. Returning to her roots in mechanical engineering, she is a co-founder and the chief strategy officer for Photon.
A number of suppliers offer battery-powered motors for recreational boats. Photon Marine is targeting commercial vessels, whose needs are different.
Its first product, P300, is a 300 HP electric outboard motor with up to 150 kWh battery module and an intelligent energy and fleet management system. 300 HP is a higher power profile than what's otherwise available.
'If you are a commercial operator, 40 or 80 HP is often not enough for your power needs,' Russell said. 'The difference is like a Ford Focus versus a Ford 150 truck.'
Electric motors have higher torque — the power to get a boat going — than internal combustion motors, and are more efficient. According to Russell, a 150 HP gas-powered motor, replaced with an electric motor, may need only 120 or 130 HP to give the same performance. The trip monitoring, calculations and engineering must be done for each specific use case.
Electric motors aren't subject to rising gas prices, don't emit smoke or flammable fumes, have dramatically fewer parts and are quiet — a huge plus for uses like whale-watching and operating in sensitive areas.
Photon successfully tested its alpha prototype, an 80 HP motor with a 20 kWh battery pack, on a Zodiac Pro 5.5 last Friday. A beta prototype will have 500 Nm peak torque, 300 HP peak and 100 to 150 HP continuous with an estimated weight of 225 kg. Testing will go through 2022, with the motor expected to be commercially available in early 2023.
The 'secret sauce'
Photon's 'secret sauce,' in Russell's words, is its proprietary fleet management intelligence software. If a company fields multiple boats, 'Now there is a way to intelligently manage the energy profiles of the whole fleet — where the boats are, how much power they have, how much they need, which need charging overnight,' she said.
Private island pilot project
Photon Marine has a pilot project with a cruise line private island in Belize to repower vessels that transport 500 workers back and forth from the mainland each day, about a 6.5-mile trip. The boats have low power demand but the amount of gas used is substantial.
A non-cruise project is with Miami-Dade County's Poseidon Ferry. Besides tourism and transportation, other applications are mariculture, scientific research and military/coast guard vessels.
According to Russell, the total cost of ownership for a Photon motor is 'meaningfully and significantly less' than an internal combustion motor. Commercial operators are replacing motors every two to three years, she said. A company with a fleet of 10 boats carrying 100 passengers a day, twice a day, may be spending $3,000 to $4,000 a month, or $30,000 to $40,000 across their fleet, on gas alone.
The P300 system with a 100 kWh battery module will retail for around $92,000, with an option to lease instead. A Photon Marine comparison tallied the total cost of ownership for a 150HP gas motor over seven years at around $333,000 versus $193,000 for the electric system.
'We're building [customers] a better product for cheaper and will also reduce their carbon footprint,' Russell said.
Charging partner Aqua superPower
When it comes to charging, marinas today offer standard 250V power. For applications like the cruise line private island employee transfers, boats can plug in at a marina to charge overnight. But an Alaska whale-watching fleet, for example, with maybe 10 boats that go out three times a day for two hours with an hour in between, fast charging may be needed.
Photon Marine has a fast charging partner in UK-based Aqua superPower that is installing networked corridors of high-powered charging.
Customers will have needs beyond the motor and charging, and Russell said Photon aims to provide all the tools and resources to transition to electric.
New industry coalition
The company also wants to foster the commercial marine industry's decarbonization by forming the Marine Electric Vehicle Association (MEVA), bringing all stakeholders together for education, advocacy and risk management, to drive growth, do policy work with lawmakers and set standards. MEVA will work closely with the National Marine Manufacturers Association. A kickoff event is planned next month.
'We want to be sure we thoughtfully architect the structures that are going to help the entire industry move forward,' Russell said. 'We are trying to set a high bar.'
Eker Group partnership
Photon has forged a partnership with Norwegian product development and high performance boat manufacturer Eker Group, which was an early mover in electric boats. Together with Eker, Photon aims to adapt Eker's Hydrolift X26 to P300 motors.
As well, Photon and Eker are exploring jointly a new electric boat concept built with P300 motors. They intend to jointly exhibit both concepts at the Miami International Boat Show in February 2023.
Photon Marine is based in Portland, Oregon, and works closely with organizations there including PGE Power, Forth Mobility, Oregon Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network, Vertue Lab and others. The company is building some prototypes in partnership with Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Further work is with Washington state under Maritime Blue, a maritime tech accelerator, part of an ocean innovation cluster based in Seattle.
Besides Russell, Photon co-founders are CEO Marcelino Alvarez, an entrepreneur and a lifelong boater who grew up fishing and scuba diving in South Florida; Chief Technology Officer Nick Schoeps, who founded an EV engineering firm and is a veteran of electric motorsports; and Charles Steinback, VP business development, an innovator in ocean conservation solutions.
Strategic advisor Tony Kaufman
Serving as a strategic advisor, Tony Kaufman of Anthony Kaufman Consulting earlier held numerous senior roles within the Carnival group brands, including head of finance, HR, IT, legal, ethics and compliance, international operations, ports and shore operations and onboard revenue.
The company's lead climate investor is Third Sphere, a private venture capital firm.
Photon's future clean sheet designs will seek to improve on electric motor efficiency, and one design might not look like any outboard motors seen today.
'We are excited about pushing the envelope,' Russell said.