Watts in store for Argentina: a green ferry overhaul

by | 29th May 2024 | Ship & Boat International - News

Home News Watts in store for Argentina: a green ferry overhaul

The Delta Eco One can carry up to 22 passengers, though a larger, 60-pax version is also planned

The Paraná Delta is a fascinating ecological zone, located where the Paraná River meets the River Plate in Argentina. While most deltas empty into oceans, the Paraná Delta flows directly into the River Plate, a freshwater estuary, creating a unique ecosystem with a mix of freshwater and wetland habitats. As such, the Delta is a hotspot for biodiversity, supporting capybaras, giant otters, jaguars and numerous birds.

However, the Paraná Delta ecosystem faces various pressures from human activity. Until now, the residents of the delta’s island network have relied on lanchas colectivas, or diesel-powered wooden ferries, to get around. These boats have become a staple of the area, having been designed and produced for this region for 100+ years.

Now though, ferry operator Delta Argentina Uruguay is spearheading a project to replace these traditional vessels with a fleet of all-electric, aluminium-built passenger boats. The scale of the EcoLancha initiative is enormous, covering the construction of 174 newbuilds – and that’s just the start of the project’s longer-term goals for a cleaner marine sector in Argentina.

EcoLancha project partners include marine e-motor manufacturer Torqeedo and Buenos Aires-based Naval Electric, whose CEO and naval architect, Nicolás Fothy, designed the forthcoming e-vessel class. The prototype of this boat type, the Delta Eco One, underwent test runs on the Paraná River and River Plate in Q1 this year. Naval Electric and Torqeedo have previously worked together on electric boat projects in Argentina, though none quite as prodigious as EcoLancha.

“Electric vessels are very rare in Argentina, but this is a growing sector,” Fothy tells Ship & Boat International. Perhaps the groups’ most notable collaboration was on the E-Delta 650, a 6.5m day cruiser described as Argentina’s first 100% electric vessel. Launched in 2022, the E-Delta 650 has the capacity for six persons and a range of 35nm at 6knots, with a 10kW Torqeedo engine enabling a top speed of 12knots. “We observed that the [Argentinian] market did not offer specific boats for electric propulsion,” Fothy recalls. “Most were planing boats that sailed very badly at displacement speeds. So, we decided to make a hull with good displacement and speed efficiency, but also with good planing performance.”

The EcoLancha project is based on “three big goals”, Fothy explains. “First is the reduction of noise,” he says. “In the old lanchas colectivas, we measured noise levels of 100dB inside the boat, so passengers couldn’t have conversations when on the water. The second goal is the reduction of ambient air pollution, and the third is the reduction of coastal erosion caused by the waves: the older boats are producing big waves and, because there are more than 130 of these boats, moving 100km each day, they are constantly making these waves many times daily in the same rivers.”

The first two goals will be addressed by replacing the older diesel motors with new electric Torqeedo propulsion systems. “The third we achieved by making a very detailed design of the hull, verified by CFD trials,” he explains.

The 11.9m Delta Eco One was built domestically by Unidelta. The propulsive package includes two Torqeedo Cruise 12.0 motors and Power 48-5000 batteries, enabling a top speed of 9knots. The vessel will also feature roof-mounted solar panel technology, rated 1,100W, to capture power for the onboard equipment and air-con system.

Fothy adds: “We are also working with a boatbuilder which specialises in composite materials, called M Boats.”  This collaboration will see the production of a larger variant of the Delta Eco One, capable of carrying up to 60 passengers and powered by a single Torqeedo Deep Blue 100kW e-motor.

As Fothy concedes, EcoLancha constitutes a “big task” requiring cooperation and dialogue with multiple partners. For example, Naval Electric and Delta Argentina Uruguay are working with the Argentine Chamber of Boatbuilders (CACEL) and the Argentine Coast Guard to develop new national regulations for electric boat propulsion. “Also, we are participating in electric mobility discussions organised by our government, and with the Argentina Association of Electric Vehicles [AAVEA],” he says. “It’s about fostering a culture of electric mobility on the water in South America.”

This may prove a painstaking task, Fothy reveals: “Unfortunately, regarding legislation in Argentina, all the prototypes should be approved by our Coast Guard [aka Prefectura Naval Argentina], and this institution is not very proactive when it comes to creating electric propulsion regulations. So, our company is involved in providing as much information as they require and participating actively in the inspections. We are using European standards, such as the Technical Requirements for Inland Navigation Vessels, as a guide.”

Due to the dependency on these multiple bureaucratic organisations, Fothy estimates that the Paraná Delta fleet overhaul could take five to seven years to complete.



Length: 11.9m / Breadth: 3m / Depth: 1.5m / Draught: 0.66m / Max speed: 9knots / Passengers: 22 / Crew: 2

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