Brittany Ferries explores zero-emission, sea-level ferries

Concept using the WIG design for the future “flying ferry” (courtesy Brittany Ferries)

Posted on June 16, 2021 at 6:53 PM by

The maritime executive

Brittany Ferries, which operates passenger ferries between England, Ireland, France and Spain, is exploring the potential of a new form of high-speed, sustainable and more efficient ferry called the Sea Glider. The company, the concept that combines a hydrofoil and flies like an airplane, but categorized as a ship, could offer the comfort and convenience of a ferry at significantly increased speeds.

Building on ground-effect vehicle (WIG) concepts advanced by Soviet and German engineers in the 1960s, a Boston-based start-up REGENT (Regional Electric Ground Effect Nautical Transport) is developing a modern, all-electric vehicle , WIG which could become zero-emission flying ferries according to Brittany Ferries. REGENT expects the first commercial passengers to travel on smaller electric boats by 2025.

Brittany Ferries has signed a letter of intent with REGENT, which could produce gliders with a capacity of 50 to 150 passengers that could sail between the UK and France by 2028. The company said the Seagliders would combine the convenience of passenger ferries with the comfort of hydrofoils, the aerodynamic efficiency of hovercraft and the speed of aircraft. With the potential to connect existing ferry ports, the craft is expected to fly at speeds of up to 180 mph – six times faster than conventional ferries – with a battery-powered range of 180 miles. The journey from Portsmouth to Cherbourg could be completed in as little as 40 minutes.

The design works by exploiting a concept well known to pilots: ground effect. It is the cushion created by the high pressure air trapped between the wings and the ground or water during low altitude flight. Sea gliders are therefore akin to a hovercraft with wings rather than a skirt. Brittany said she believes it to be a very efficient mode of transportation, capable of moving large loads long distances at high speed. Energy will come from batteries rather than fossil fuels. Flight safety comes from redundant propulsion and flight control systems, with next-generation sensors that automatically detect and avoid traffic at sea.

“Seaglider is an attractive and exciting concept, and we look forward to working with REGENT in the months and years to come,” said Frédéric Pouget, Director of Ports and Operations at Brittany Ferries. “We’re especially happy to contribute now, because it means we can integrate real-world challenges and potential applications into business thinking at an early stage. We hope this can contribute to commercial success in the years to come. Who knows; this could be the birth of the ferries that cross the Channel.

REGENT says it is working on different sizes of sea gliders for passenger transport, which all work on the same principle. After leaving the port, the boat climbs on foils, isolating the passengers from the discomfort of the waves. In open water, it takes off, straddling the air cushion to its destination. Wing-mounted propellers provide the thrust needed to take off at low speeds, while electric motors regulate the airflow over the wings while straddling the air cushion.

Brittany Ferries and REGENT both noted that there are many technological, practical and regulatory steps that will need to be taken to make this concept a reality. However, both companies say caution should not stand in the way of developing a promising concept that already has a history in military applications and small pleasure craft operating around the world.

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