Danfoss Drives Forms New Marine Electrification Division 

Marilyn Bell Ferry at Ports Toronto demonstrates Danfoss capability to fully electrify existing marine vessels 

Danfoss Drives has established a new marine business unit in North America focused on electrification for maritime applications bringing together a team of its product experts in the field while providing testing and development capabilities at Danfoss Drives’ application development center (ADC) in Loves Park, Illinois. Danfoss announced the new unit at the 2023 International Workboat Show in New Orleans held November 29 to December 1. 

“The ADC is a maker space for testing solutions at the forefront of electrification and the marine industry with our partners. It is an investment locally, further proof of how Danfoss is transferring years of Nordic heritage and marine expertise into the evolving Americas maritime market,” said Clayton Gibbons, Head of Electrification and System Drives, Americas and Head of Marine and Electrification Sales, North America, Danfoss Drives. “Agility and specialized knowledge empower us to deliver tailor-made solutions that not only meet but exceed the stringent requirements of the maritime sector.” 

The move follows a key project for the company in Port Toronto where Danfoss Drive systems were employed to fully electrify a marine workhorse, the Marilyn Bell I ferry. Ports Toronto had launched an initiative to reduce carbon emissions from the airport and all the vessels in their fleet. In 2018, the ferry was converted to run on biodiesel fuel, but by 2020, they were looking to fully decarbonize. 

Today the vessel’s propulsion system consists of two electric motors, each powering a thruster, forward and aft. There are two autonomous power plants, for redundancy, each utilizing battery arrays, air-cooled VACON NX Series drive modules, grid converters and DC/DC converters plus filters, all working together in common DC bus topologies to provide power conversion between the batteries and motors to power the vessel’s thrusters and other electrical systems. The batteries are charged through the common DC bus distribution system via an automatic power connection to shore. Each vessel function – ventilation, radar, pumps, hydraulics – is connected to the main AC bus distribution, supported from the common DC buses via dual redundant grid converters. 

The vessel makes four round trips per hour during a 19-hour day and recharges each time it docks at the mainland via an automated 400 kW pantograph charging system. This creates a shore-to-vessel DC connection, the first of its kind in North America, which integrates with the Danfoss electrification system, utilizing the active front end module to convert the AC utility power to DC power for use by the vessel systems. As soon as the vessel docks and the vehicle ramp is lowered, the vessel starts charging via the pantograph, initiated using wireless communication between the vessel and the equipment on shore. 

“Powered entirely by electricity from clean wind and solar sources, the retrofitted Marilyn Bell has eliminated greenhouse gas emissions from the ferry operation, reducing Billy Bishop Airport’s direct emissions by approximately 530 tons per year,” said Chris Sawicki, vice president of infrastructure, planning and environment at PortsToronto. 

 “This project shows the potential for electric-powered vessels, particularly short-haul ferries, and also highlights that the technology is as applicable to existing vessel conversions as it is for new builds,” said Andy Wright, technical opportunity manager at Danfoss. “The savings in expensive diesel fuels, zero emissions and much lower operating noise levels all justify the investment. This is another example of deploying proven technologies to meet emissions reduction targets.”