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Electric Propulsion

Its Time to Get Onboard

By Stephen Gleaves, PE, Electrical Department Manager, Guido Perla & Associates, Inc.

Electric ship propulsion has been around since 1886, when Siemens delivered the "Accumulator" powered, 11m long and 2m wide vessel ELEKTRA, a 30 passenger vessel equipped with a 4.5kW electric propulsion motor [3]. The Russian tanker VANDAL, launched in 1903, was the first ship powered by a diesel-electric propulsion system, built by ASEA of Sweden, now part of ABB [2]. The VANDAL had three DC motors rated 75kW each, with each motor turning one of three propeller shafts. The VANDAL was also the first ship to use any diesel engine as part of its propulsion system, so it can be said that diesel ship propulsion and diesel-electric (DE) ship propulsion started the same day in history. One of the first patents for a practical ships electric propulsion drive was granted in 1904 to the Italian electrical engineer Cesido Del Proposto. His design provided a method for reversing the shaft of a diesel driven propeller.

When going in the ahead direction the propeller was clutched directly to the diesel (or prime mover). To go astern, the clutch was disengaged, and a generator on the prime mover provided electrical power to a motor attached to the propeller that rotated in reverse. Although not a pure DE system, it was more efficient than the system installed on the VANDAL. This was the main impetus for using electric motors with the early applications of diesel propulsion, since the first diesels were not reversible, and reliable reversing gearboxes were still waiting to be invented. In the United States, one of the very first electric propulsion systems was installed on the USS HOLLAND (SS1), a submarine built by the J.P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company of New York City [1]. It used gasoline engines while on the surface for propulsion and to charge batteries. When submerged it used the batteries to run an electric motor to turn the propellers. The motor served as a shaft driven generator when the sub was operating on the gas engines.

The military was an early proponent of electric propulsion. At first, most applications were in submarines, for obvious reasons. But in 1908 the Lightship LS88 was built with DE propulsion. This was followed by a General Electric (GE) steam turbine-electric drive Collier in 1913, then the Battleship USS NEW MEXICO in 1918. The battleship had two G.E. steam turbo-generators, nine Babcock & Wilcox boilers and four 10,000 hp G.E. propulsion motors. Many more naval electric propulsion ships followed. These systems were popular with the military for many of the same reasons electric propulsion is making a comeback today. No special astern mechanisms are required. Engine room arrangements can be flexible. There is no long shaft alley to have to design around. Long periods of operation at low speeds are no problem. Multiple generators offer increased reliability. Full torque is available at lower speeds for faster response and better maneuvering. These were all features important to optimizing the function of a naval

combatant. The same features are applicable and equally beneficial to commercial and industrial ships.
The State of Diesel Electric Propulsion Today

Direct Current (DC) systems were the bread and butter of electric propulsion for decades, and still sees significant use today. However, the development of frequency converters allowed for a change in the whole concept of a ship's electrical system. It was now possible to use a "Power Station" concept, wherein one set of generators, typically medium or high speed, could be used to power all the ship's electrical loads, including electric propulsion. One of the first large scale installations on a passenger vessel of the power station concept was the retrofit of the QE2 by GEC of Britain, wherein 9 resiliently mounted MAN B&W 9L 58/64 type medium speed diesels supplied power to the 95.5MW propulsion plant and ship's electrical system. Early solid state power electronics used in frequency converters was typi-

Optimized diesel location for a platform support vessel.


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cally a thyristor, or Silicon Controlled Rectifier (SCR). These are robust devices capable of carrying high currents, but with the somewhat tricky trait that they can only be turned on. To turn one off, it has to be "commutated", which means that somehow the voltage at its terminals needs to be revered for a short time to stop conduction. Once stopped, the device can then be forward biased again, making it ready for the next signal to turn it back on. Even with this characteristic, the SCR has been the backbone of high power requirement electric propulsion systems, used in cycloconverters, load commutated inverters (LCI), both a type of frequency converter, and in AC rectifiers, for DC systems. SCR's are still the solid state electronics component of choice in really large power applications. Cruise ships, ice breakers, specialty cargo ships (the TOTE ORCA Class RO-RO ships have 19MW on each of two electric motor driven shafts), and other ships with electric propulsion requirements above about 5MW per shaft have had little other choice, as there simply weren't any other power electronics capable of handling either the current or voltages needed to support these power levels. In particular, there wasn't anything that behaved like a transistor and that could handle anywhere near the desired power levels. Finding a way to both turn on and turn off the solid state device has been the Holy Grail of power electronics for large drives. Several companies attempted to produce some version of a thyristor that could be turned off using a control signal rather than commutation. ABB developed a device called a GTO (Gate Turn-Off thyristor). It is basically an SCR with the ability to deplete the gate region of the semiconductor of current carriers, causing the device to stop conducting. The device has many of the benefits of an SCR, like usable at relatively high voltages (~5kV), and low conduction losses. But the device is slow, and requires substantial additional circuitry, in this case a snubber circuit, to work properly, making it expensive and reducing reliability. The GTO has seen some use in ship propulsion, mostly in ABB designs. In the last decade there have been significant advances in devices that truly behave like a transistor, but can work at high power levels. The capabilities of a device called an IGBT (Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor) have incrementally advanced year to year, until it is now showing up in systems well above 2MW, challenging DC directly, and
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beginning to make inroads into higher power systems that have been the domain of SCR based designs. Why are transistor characteristics such a big deal? Torque control! DC has had a long life because a DC motor can deliver full rated torque at any speed and can change speed and direction very quickly. Try to do that with any internal

combustion engine. SCR based variable frequency systems come close to DC performance, but problems start to occur as soon as speed drops below maximum. Device duty cycles become a problem, since they may be in conduction longer than they are designed to conduct when in low speed operation. Harmonics tend to be worse below maximum speed.

The control electronics associated with SCR systems is fairly complex in a variable speed system. What a transistor based system allows is a mode of operation for controlling the speed of a motor called PWM (Pulse Width Modulation). This type of speed control creates a "virtual" motor operating frequency by first creating a high




Comparison of Solid State Device Characteristics

Relative Power Semiconductor Characteristics
Type GTO IGBT IGCT Speed Medium Fast Fastest Gain Medium High Efficiency Low High Control Method Current Voltage High Maximum Rating, A 10,000 (snubbered) 2,000 (unsubbered) Current 4,000 (unsnubbered)

Turn-off, low; Conduction, high

(Table from "The Next Stage in Power Semiconductors", by Leslie Langau)

frequency square wave output from the variable speed drive, typically 2000 Hz to 5000 Hz, and then modulating the width of each square pulse of that higher frequency to create a torque current in the motor, causing it to rotate it at any speed desired, including zero rpm. The modulation signal can be controlled to cause an AC motor to behave virtually identically to a DC motor. Modulating the width of a square wave (effectively what is occurring in the control circuitry) is fairly simple, making a PWM drive reliable and comparatively inexpensive. The other really nice thing about PWM is it works well with induction motors. AC induction motors are extremely reliable, inexpensive compared to DC motors of the same horsepower rating, and very low maintenance. To work well this technique requires a device that can quickly turn on and off. That is one of the features of a transistor. But transistors have their shortcomings, like higher internal losses, limited current carrying capability, and limited voltage level. These limitations that have been largely overcome in the last few years. However, this has not stopped development of competing technologies. ABB and Siemens have both been developing a device called an IGCT (Integrated Gate Commutated Thyristor), which they claim combines

the best features of an SCR and an IGBT. It has fast speed of operation, very low losses in conduction, and is usable at voltages typically higher than those at which an IBGT can be used.
Merits of AC vs DC Drives

If the characteristics of DC are so desirable, why change? DC has a good track record and is very reliable. But it isn't perfect, and there are other forces at work driving manufacturers away from large DC applications. A single DC motor is limited to about 8MW maximum output. This mostly is due to limitations of the commutator and brushes in a DC motor. The brushes have current density limitations, while the commutator segments have voltage limitations. DC motors are also complex devices, expensive to build in large sizes, and heavy. Although electrically simple overall, it is still something of an art to get every element of DC motor installation, like brush alignment, brush chemistry, field alignment, and commutator film development, to come together just right and all at the same time for optimum operation of the motor. DC motors also have much higher maintenance requirements than either AC synchronous or induction motors. There are fewer manufacturers of large DC motors, fewer service centers, and fewer

operating engineers with any real experience or understanding of the nuances of maintaining a DC motor in good condition. Add to this that economic forces are driving manufacturers of DC drives away from the marine market, and it starts to become clear why most manufacturers of marine propulsion drives are pursuing Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) so intensively over DC. It is expensive to build both motors and drives to the special rules and standards that the maritime authorities require. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM's) are less inclined to produce and stock as standard products anything that doesn't sell in large quantities. This argument is not so strong in regards to the motors, particularly if it is a choice between a large synchronous motor or a large DC motor. Both are special construction. But in drives it is a leading factor in the decision of such companies as Siemens to no longer produce an Offthe-Shelf marine rated DC propulsion drive. These top tier OEM manufacturers are putting their effort into VFD development and slowly letting go of DC technology. There are still third party integrators operating in niche markets where DC can fill the bill both technically and economically. Companies like EPD

(Electronic Power Design, Inc.) of Houston, Texas, are supplying significant quantities of marine propulsion and platform motors and controls in a DC format. Using the ubiquitous GE 752 motor and marinizing OEM DC drives for the purpose, they are supplying propulsion systems for PSV's, jack-up rigs, and other oil field applications that are familiar with and still demand this type of system.
Benefits of Diesel Electric

Diesel Electric propulsion has significant advantages in many areas when compared to other propulsion systems. Since diesel has replaced just about all other propulsion systems except nuclear/steam on some Navy aircraft carriers and submarines, this comparison will limit itself to equivalent diesel direct mechanical drive propulsion systems. A diesel-only system requires some kind of mechanical linkage from the diesel output coupling to the propeller. This necessitates putting the diesel inline with some set of components making up that linkage, typically a reduction gear and shaft. The reduction gear is used to match the diesel speed to the required propeller speed, which typically is lower than the engine rpm for best efficiency of operation. The reduc-

Typical 12 and 24 Pulse Configurations. (Diagram Courtesy of Siemens E&A)

Typical Medium Voltage High Power DE Installation. (Diagram Courtesy of Siemens E&A)

Integrated Gate Commutated Thyristor. (Photo Courtesy of ABB)


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tion gear may also provide clutching and reversing for maneuvering the vessel. Sometimes reversing is achieved through use of Controllable Pitch Propellers (CPP). CPP has the added benefit of allowing a better match of the diesel torque curve with the propeller power demand curve, achieved through use of "Combinator" controls. Reduction gears and CP propellers are both robust and technically mature systems, but they are also typically heavy, expensive, and mechanically complex. The diesel in these systems must necessarily line up with and be at one end of the array of equipment. This puts significant restrictions on the location of the diesel, and space allocation for engine rooms and shaft alleys is typically not optimum. Also of necessity, the diesel is dedicated to the propulsion system. There have been efforts in the past to make dual use of the propulsion diesel, but these efforts require compromises in either the propulsion system itself or in the other systems supplied by the diesel. If used to also supply electrical power to the ship, the diesel must run at some fixed speed, requiring a CPP system to allow maneuvering while running the diesel at constant speed and direction. A few ships were designed to operate "in the range of" 50 to 60 Hz, allowing some variation in the diesel speed, but this concept doesn't seem to have caught on. For the reasons just given, it has been necessary to install dedicated Ship Service Generators in addition to the propulsion diesel. This uses more space, requires more total installed diesel horsepower, more exhaust systems, more auxiliary systems, etc, to support this secondary set of diesels. Diesel Electric (DE) propulsion can overcome many of these shortcomings, and provide other advantages as well. By making all the diesels prime movers for generators, the mechanical link to the propeller is broken. Now the diesel can be located where it best suits the demands of the ship's mission, rather than where a shaftline dictates. Most of the shaftline can typically be eliminated by placing the propulsion motor near the tail shaft. In the case of vertical input azimuthing drives, there is no shaft at all. Where cargo space is critical or revenue generating, being able to replace a space dedicated to a shaft with space that can generate more revenue for the ship's operator makes a strong argument in favor of DE. The diesel generator can also now serve the dual purpose of propulsion and
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ship service electrical needs in a much more efficient manner. This is actually the biggest benefit from DE. Except in long haul applications, the total horsepower of a dedicated propulsion diesel is seldom used. By installing multiple diesel generators, using a full understanding of the ship's operational pro-

file, the total installed horsepower can typically be less in a DE system. The number of diesels in operation can also be matched to the power needed at any given moment, allowing optimum loading of the diesels, reduced run time on the diesels, and decreased maintenance requirements. Less expensive medium

or high speed diesels can be installed, further decreasing space requirements. By using the Power Island concept, wherein a common set of generators feeds a central switchboard and distribution system, standard products used in shoreside industry for electrical power control and distribution can be applied



OFFSHORE ators and switchboard distribution. Loss of a diesel doesn't prevent the ship from performing its mission. This reaches an extreme in vessels that carry the DP3 designation, where the ship must be able to continue to maintain position and perform its declared function even with the loss of an engine room or machinery control space. This leads to having two engine rooms and two Engineer's Control Stations. Designing a ship to meet this requirement using dedicated propulsion diesels would be prohibitively expensive if not impossible.
Types of Variable Frequency Drives and System Configurations

to the ship's electrical systems. The Power Island also provides the flexibility to extend the capabilities of the vessel by providing unused power capacity for use in such things as dynamic positioning, factory processes onboard the ship, scientific research equipment power needs, large electric hotel loads (think cruise ship), loading cranes, cargo pumps, or other activities that otherwise would require additional installed electrical capacity. DE systems are also more reliable, due to typical regulatory and marine authority rules regarding redundancy of gener-

There is an extensive variety of Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) systems available today. There is Low Voltage (under 690VAC), and Medium Voltage (over 690VAC). Low voltage systems are good up to about 10MW total load. Above this the fault current capability of the electrical system starts to exceed the ratings of economical switchboard equipment. Most medium voltage systems use a voltage somewhere between 2.2kV and 11.5kV. In the US, 4160VAC is a common medium

voltage for use on ships. Medium voltage systems reduce the fault duty of the electrical system, but the switchgear is usually more expensive. However, medium voltage can provide significant weight and cost savings in the amount of copper needed to distribute the propulsion power. As vessel electrical needs continue to increase, more vessels presently falling into the Low Voltage range will need to seriously consider moving up to Medium Voltage generators. Most systems require transformers or reactors at the input to the VFD.

Typical PWM Waveform. (Graph Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Typical Low Voltage DE Installation. (Dwg Courtesy of Siemens E&A)


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Sometimes this is to match voltage needs of a specific manufacturer's VFD. Sometimes it is to create a "multiple pulse" system, related to reducing the harmonics developed in the VFD and fed back into the ships mains. There are some new system designs that reduce or eliminate the need for transformers, reducing cost and weight. In most cases, the variations in designs are related to an attempt to reduce or eliminate harmonics. Harmonics are an electrical byproduct of a typical VFD. Harmonics are any deviation from the pure voltage or current sine wave you see in old Sci-Fi movies on those little green oscilloscope screens. Harmonics are the "Achilles heel" of DE propulsion. They can create havoc with other electrical equipment, especially electronics, but can even cause problems with hardware like motors if harmonic levels are severe enough. In the past, harmonics were dealt with by installing inductive and capacitive filters that would reduce the level of harmonics on the system. Since harmonics usually consist of multiple frequencies, a different filter set is needed for each frequency. This is where one

variation in DE system design comes from, the concept of multiple pulse rates. In a standard 3 phase electrical system, the minimum number of pulses that a VFD creates is 6 (6 pulse drive). This drive also creates the largest number of different harmonic frequencies. As the number of "pulses" of the drive increases, typically in multiples of 6, the number of harmonic frequencies it produces decreases. This is why there are 12, 18, 24 and even higher pulse rate drives. By the time you get to 24 pulses, the available harmonic levels are reduced to levels where filters are usually no longer needed. But 24 pulse, or 18 or even 12, come at a price. For each additional set of six pulses, a three phase transformer is required, as well as another set of solid state devices. More electronics is traded for less filters. Costwise, this is a loser, but operationally it is much better, as filters are a major source of failure and other problems when installed. There is another option to either of these two previously described fixes for harmonics. The same IGBT device that is so crucial to the current advancements in DE propulsion can be used to virtually eliminate harmonics without

resorting to multi-winding transformers or filters. All PWM drives first need to rectify the AC power from the ship service mains to DC. This has been done using a purely "static" rectifier using diodes, or sometimes using thyristors on the "front end" of the drive. Both create harmonics, and particularly at less than full power. Replacing this static inverter with an Active Front End (AFE) is the latest technological advance in the effort to eliminate harmonics. The AFE is just another IGBT VFD hooked up back-toback with the original VFD. The AFE is able to control exactly when it conducts and when it stops conducting. Through appropriate control circuitry, it is able to reduce the harmonics produced from the rectification process to nearly zero. As an added bonus, AFE drives can also correct the power factor of the ship's electrical system to just about any value desired. The significance of this ability is to reduce reactive currents (wasted energy) flowing in the cables and equipment of the rest of the ship's electrical system. These currents simply generate heat and serve no useful purpose. If severe enough they can

24 Pulse System with Filters. (Diagram Courtesy of Siemens E&A)

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damage electrical equipment, including the generators. This is why it is important to have kVAR meters on switchboards that feed large VFD loads or that have large generators operating in parallel. Although AFE drives are more expensive than a static front end VFD, it becomes possible to simplify the rest of the propulsion power system. Fewer or smaller transformers are needed, and 6 pulse drives no longer need filters. When first introduced in the late 1990's, it was thought AFE would replace everything else, but complexity of design, costs, power limitations, and some initially high failure rates kept them from achieving their potential. The state of the art has progressed, however, and several OEM's are seeing good results with their current generation of AFE drives. Another DE method that has seen some application are fixed frequency electric propulsion systems. The concept here is to eliminate the VFD and the various problems associated with it, while retaining the advantages of DE. Propulsion motors are run at full speed all the time, while required changes in power and direction are achieved through CP propellers. Sounds good, and for long voyages it could be a viable system. In any other application it has a number of

problems. When the propeller is not at full power, significant power is wasted overcoming water resistance in simply spinning the propeller at high speed. In a geared system problems arise when the shaft bearings and gears are hovering at some neutral point where they are neither really pushing nor pulling. Gear chatter and bearing seals suffer from high wear. This is an extremely inefficient system with high maintenance requirements. The need for CPP and in all probability a CPP hydraulic system adds additional complexity, a high loss auxiliary system, and the potential for hydraulic leaks. Additionally, most systems would require some kind of reduced voltage starter for the large motors, which, although not as expensive as a VFD, is almost there, so why not just go the small extra step and get the full benefits that a good DE design can provide? As ships become more expensive, their mission capabilities become more complex in order to allow more flexibility and therefore create more potential for finding profitable work. Diesel electric propulsion and a fully DE ship provide the most flexible propulsion and power platform available. Environmental regulations, cost of fuel, mission support criteria, increased power needs of new ves-

sels, declining costs of Variable Frequency Drives due to technological advances, and the eventual general acceptance of electric propulsion by the industry will result in DE ships becoming the norm rather than the exception. There are several examples of this already occurring in applications that just a few years ago would have never considered DE propulsion to be a viable option. The TOTE ORCA Class RoRo is a prime example. The Navy is moving to All Electric ships for their new designs, in large part because the mission loads have tremendous electrical requirements, and it therefore makes sense to make every aspect of power delivery in the vessel electrical in nature. The rest of the marine community will shortly follow suit for much the same reasons.

Bibliography: 1. . . .Captain John A. Culver, USNR (RET), Electric Drive Propulsion for Ships, An Historical Summary, Trafford Publishing. 2. . . . . . . . . . . .Norwegian Society of Engineers, 2nd International Diesel Electric Propulsion, 95 Years of Diesel-Electric Propulsion Form a Mekeshift Solution to a Modern Propulsion System 3. . . . . .Siemens Energy & Automation, Mr. Thomas Orberger

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