ANACORTES — A new Anacortes company hopes to design and manufacture components for electric maritime vessels out of Skagit County.
The company, called LAVLE, is a joint venture between Anacortes marine engineering company Ockerman Automation and Tokyo-based technology company 3DOM.
Ockerman specializes in the design and implementation of propulsion and control systems aboard ships, while 3DOM produces energy storage technology.
Together, they aim to combine 3DOM’s battery technology with Ockerman’s marine engineering to help create cost-effective, low-emission electric marine vessels.
The partnership between the two companies developed over the past year, and the joint venture was finalized this past summer, LAVLE General Manager Liz Stout said.
The company is headquartering at Ockerman’s office in Anacortes, with additional locations in Japan and Virginia. LAVLE will provide services in the defense, renewable energy and marine transportation markets, CEO Jason Nye said.
The company chose to headquarter in Anacortes over Seattle because of its proximity to shipyards and the city’s rich maritime tradition, Nye said.
Should the company accomplish what Nye hopes, it could bring hundreds of jobs to Skagit County.
“LAVLE represents exactly what we’re trying to attract here,” said Sean Connell, director of business development for the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County. “They’re environmentally friendly and innovative.”
The company hits three of EDASC’s main focus points — the maritime industry, clean technology and advanced manufacturing, EDASC CEO John Sternlicht said.
The use of batteries in the marine industry is a relatively new development in the United States, Nye said.
The technology was pioneered in Scandinavia, where electric boats such as the Norwegian ferry Ampere have saved about 260,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year.
The advancement of this technology in the U.S. has largely been held back by a lack of confidence in the available batteries, Nye said.
“There has to be a trust in the technology,” he said. “You can’t just pull a boat over to the side of the road if something goes wrong at sea.”
Earlier batteries were big, heavy and had safety issues, Nye said. They were known to overheat and catch fire.
That’s where 3DOM’s technology comes in. The company is in the process of manufacturing a separator to prevent a battery from overheating. LAVLE has a global patent on the separator in the maritime and defense markets, Nye said.
3DOM plans to build batteries with this technology. Nye said LAVLE is currently working toward getting 3DOM’s batteries certified for use in the U.S. marine and defense industries, which could take about a year or more.
LAVLE established a laboratory in collaboration with Old Dominion University in Virginia to help speed up the certification process, Nye said.
The batteries are currently manufactured at 3DOM’s Japan location, but Nye said he hopes to create a battery plant in Skagit County. The plant would create 200 to 300 jobs, he said, but LAVLE is still shopping around for a location with competitive electricity rates.
The company has leased a facility near Skagit Regional Airport for a fabrication facility, Nye said, where it will package 3DOM’s batteries for installation in ships. The company will hire 15 to 30 people to man the facility, he said.
In the most recent industry advancements, marine battery companies have developed new approaches to packaging existing battery technologies, said Andy Stewart, the associate director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center.
If LAVLE’s separator is commercialized, Stewart said it could be a big deal for the maritime industry.
However, he said the technology has not been vetted by the academic community.
The move to fully electric vessels is the biggest tech advancement on the horizon for the maritime industry, Stewart said. It has been sought after by researchers and companies alike for the many environmental and economic benefits it would bring.
Electric maritime vessels run cleaner and quieter, their maintenance is simpler and they reduce the risk of fuel spills, he said.
LAVLE plans to focus on creating batteries for large, short-range vessels such as ferries and tug boats, which are currently large greenhouse gas contributors, Nye said.
“The (Washington) ferry system is our largest contributor to Co2 emission in transit,” Stewart said.
In 2017, the state Department of Transportation reported that its ferries division used about 15 million gallons of fuel.
Hybrid and entirely electric marine vessels will not only save fuel, but will run quieter because they have fewer moving parts, Nye said.
The state Southern Resident orca task force highlighted reducing the noise of the state’s ferry fleet as a priority. The vessels’ noise has been shown to disrupt marine life migration routes and the orcas’ ability to hunt for food, Stewart said.
“Acoustic noise is the biggest maritime impact to the environment,” he said.
Fully electric boats will also have more flexibility in layout, he said. Batteries are much more versatile and could eliminate the need for a large engine room.
But making change in the maritime industry is difficult, Stewart said.
“By the time you get a (battery) chemistry that’s available today into a boat, you’re almost guaranteed to have a better technology out there,” he said.
If a company such as LAVLE can succeed, Stewart said the benefits will extend outside the maritime industry.
A battery that could store energy generated by wind and solar on an industrial level could unlock the potential of renewable energy, Stewart said.
“Big industrial scale batteries that are useful for ships will have big impact elsewhere, he said.