Canada Research Ship Gets Fuel Cells

British Columbia, working through the University of Victoria, is moving to transform a former Coast Guard  vessel into a tool for research in the Strait of Georgia and off the west coast of Vancouver Island. But this won’t be any old maritime retrofit. In the process, the Tsekoa II will become North America’s first hybrid fuel cell and plug-in ship, the university said.

The $7.9 million funding to create this green ship is part of $13.3 million the province is providing to the university to improve research in the waters off British Columbia. The other $4.4 million will be used to add high-frequency radar antennae at the VENUS undersea observatory in the Strait of Georgia and Saanich Inlet, and to install VENUS instruments on several BC Ferries vessels to measure ocean and weather conditions in the strait. This will help provide real-time surface current and wave information to scientists, shipping, rescue co-ordination agencies and others.

Tsekoa II, Canadian ocean research vessel

image via Canadian Coast Guard

The ship will rely on an all-electric propulsion system that will be powered by batteries, fuel cells and low-emission diesel generators. These generators will only be used, said the university, when power demands are high during long-distance cruising or submersible operations. This green technology, besides enhancing fuel efficiency, will also permit acoustically sensitive research operations—such as marine mammal observations or studies of sound in the ocean— without requiring power from noisy diesel engines.

The ship will also be a floating testbed for this new hybrid technology and is expected by the university to open new niche markets in the marine sector.

In addition to going green, the 26.7-meter Tsekoa II will be extended by 6.6 meters to include a science lab and accommodations for seven crew members and up to 11 scientists. Ownership was recently transferred to the university from Fisheries and Oceans Canada where the vessel was used for maintenance and fishery patrols by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.