China launches first ever electric cargo ship

China has launched the world's first ever completely battery-electric powered cargo ship in Guangzhou last month.

The new electric cargo ship will carry coal around the Pearl River Delta. Image courtesy of Chris Hoare
The new electric cargo ship will carry coal around the Pearl River Delta. Image courtesy of Chris Hoare

The vessel makes use of a huge lithium-ion battery weighing 26 tons and delivering 2,400KWh in order to provide power for its voyages.

All up the ship has a total length of 70.5 meters and weighs in at approximately 2000 tons, making it significantly larger than previously built battery-electric ships.

It is able to carry up to 2000 tons of cargo and can travel as far as 80km on a single 2-hour charge, according to reporting by the Global Times.

The ship has significant environmental potential, as it produces no greenhouse gas emissions or PM2.5 particulates while running.

Shipping currently contributes to a significant fraction of global CO2 emissions and alternative-fuel cargo ships will need to be developed in order to reduce these emissions.

Ironically however, this ship itself will be used to transport thermal coal around the Pearl River Delta, one of the most polluted areas of China.

Batteries only as clean as their electricity

While this new battery powered ship could theoretically help reduce emissions from the notoriously-polluting shipping industry, its use as a coal carrier highlights an important point about the ‘green’ credentials of electric vehicles.

The coal which the ship will be transporting will likely be used in China’s large number of coal power plants, which make up the bulk of the country’s power generation.

If electric ships and the more numerous electric vehicles continue to make use of fossil fuel energy in order to charge their batteries, the pollution problem is simply being relocated from car emissions to power plant emissions.

China, as well as much of the developed and developing world, will need to rapidly switch to renewable forms of energy if battery-electric vehicles are ever to realise their potential as a greener alternative to the internal combustion engine

Unlike the US, however, China appears to be taking this challenge seriously, installing record amounts of renewable energy this year and committing tens of billions of dollars of investment into moving away from coal power.