The Story 

Every story of brevity starts with a frivolous dream and the story of Aditya began in a city far into the urban localities of India, inside God’s Own Country, when Sandith Thandasherry decided to build a replacement for the fossil fuel-powered boats which he realized would pose a great risk for the maritime industry in the future. The aim was to build a carbon-neutral boat that was safer for the environment, marine, and animals with eco-friendly sailing.  

On the other side of the story, the Kerala State Water Transportation Department was looking to construct boats for efficient transport in the waterways of Kerala. And the biggest obstacle that they were facing was not water, noise, or sound pollution caused due to the diesel or petrol boat but the high operating costs. The technical group suggested a solar electric boat as the best solution to counter all these problems.  

Shipping directly contributes to 1.7% of the total greenhouse gas emissions hence replacing petrol or diesel with solar directly benefits the cause. The ease of transport – absolutely no noise, no smell of diesel or petrol and the significantly lower OPEX is one of the few main reasons why a solar boat was suggested.  A 75-passenger ferry which will run on zero fossil fuels with a very negligible operating expense was required by the government and this is where our vision to create the world’s first solar electric ferry coincided with the government’s aim to reduce the operating costs while traveling carbon free through state waterways merged.  

We at Navalt wanted to construct efficient solar electric boats. And we had experimented with creating several boats in the beginning which went on to bag awards and prizes but failed commercially. And after several trials and errors, when the Kerala government approached us with this project, we found the perfect opportunity where our asset would be heavily utilized.  

Technical Challenges  

The vision had its ups and down, but we kept moving forward despite the problems. Once we began building the boat Navalt faced five main technical challenges which are discussed below.  

  • The weight of the boat was required to be reduced from 35 tons to 17 tons, so we used Fiber Reinforced Plastic (FRP) instead of steel and wood.  
  • The drag in the boat caused the hull was required to be reduced from 45KW to 15 Kw, an inefficient hull design will lead to the usage of more power than required, hence it was made sure that the hull was designed keeping in mind the need to reduce drag in the boat.  
  • The cost of power was required to be reduced which was achieved by employing both grid charging and solar panels which bought down the mechanical power to ₹ 3/unit which is an efficient drop of ₹ 35/units for mechanical power while using a diesel boat.  
  • Marine-grade batteries were required to be used for the boat with clearance, as they were more likely to reduce any risk of accidents while traveling on the boat. 
  •  A large vessel that would be able to carry 75 passengers was required and that was the challenge. Hence, we designed Aditya, keeping in mind the additional space required for attaching solar panels. Taking into account the need for a large vessel, we designed a boat that would easily carry 75 passengers, with enough and more space for solar panels, and would also allow driving in an energy-efficient manner.  

After three years – a year of designing, six months of mould making, fifteen months of construction, and three months of testing Aditya was inaugurated on 12th January 2017. As the first solar boat in the country, we were required to conduct a variety of additional tests as well, and finally, we launched the boat on January 5, 2017. It was officially opened to the public by Central Power Minister Sri Piyush Goyal and Kerala Chief Minister Sri Pinarayi Vijayan. 

Performance and Savings 

Aditya reduced the daily energy cost of operating a 75-passenger ferry boat from 8,000 rupees (at 75 rupees per litre of fuel) to 200 rupees (at a grid rate of 7.5 rupees per unit). 

In the first year of its successful operation, Aditya transported 3,65,000 people across backwaters and traveled 22,500 km without a single drop of fuel, saving 34,800 liters of diesel. This eliminated 92.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 8 tonnes of harmful emissions. 

If a diesel boat was to run a distance of 1,25,000 km with 20 lakh passengers it would use 1.9 lakh liters of diesel for its operation. The pollution and Operating expenses would also be considerably high. On the other hand, six years of Aditya’s successful operation, having covered the same distance and passenger count has saved the same amount of diesel, and pollution caused by 509 tonnes of CO2 was avoided with 200 lakh rupees saved on operating costs.  

Recognition 

In the year 2020, Aditya went on to win the Gustave Trouve award for the Best Electric Ferry in the world and bagged many awards for its performance later on. Today, the Aditya is a fantastic illustration of how technology has resolved a genuine issue with public transportation. This discovery by Navalt has revolutionized the water transport industry. It has also paved the way for other start-ups and companies to address similar real-world issues in public transportation. Other state governments and foreign nations, inspired by Aditya’s success, are attempting to create viable public transit concepts that can be sustained by subsidy revenues. 

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