Smooth Sailing? Advancing Ship Electrification Technology

April 20, 2024 by Jake Hertz

Infineon Technologies and HD Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering will work together to develop electric marine engines using energy-efficient semiconductor devices.

Maritime technology plays a vital role in global transportation and trade. However, the maritime industry faces significant challenges due to its environmental impact, including air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. There has been an increased focus on transitioning toward sustainable shipping practices, energy-efficient technologies, and stricter environmental regulations to mitigate these impacts and ensure a healthier planet.

Infineon Technologies and HD Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering (HD KSOE) have joined forces to decarbonize shipping technology using energy-efficient power semiconductors. This article will examine the environmental challenges posed by the marine industry and explore how Infineon and HD KSOE’s joint venture could overcome these challenges.


Concept design of HD KSOE’s LH2 carrier

Concept design of HD KSOE’s LH2 carrier. Image used courtesy of Infineon


The Status Quo of Maritime Technology

Marine transport serves as the pivotal element of global trade, handling 80% of goods by volume. However, as markets expand, shipped goods escalate rapidly, raising concerns over emissions, particularly around ports. 

In maritime technology, the ship's propulsion system contributes significantly to its operation, efficiency, and environmental impact. Conventional marine engines are fueled by heavy fuel oil and marine diesel oil. These systems combust fossil fuels, releasing pollutants such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and greenhouse gases, including methane and carbon dioxide (CO2). While berthed, ships emit these pollutants into the port environment, adversely affecting the quality of life and health safety in port city populations. 


Schematic of a diesel marine propulsion system.

Schematic of a diesel marine propulsion system. Image courtesy of Chen et al.


Presently, ships emit nearly 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually, and projections show an upward trend. The International Maritime Organization warns of a potential 250% rise in CO2 emissions from international shipping by 2050. These statistics necessitate the adoption of cleaner and more sustainable alternatives in maritime transportation.


Electric Waves Approaching

Infineon Technologies and HD KSOE have collaborated to develop ship electrification (electric propulsion system) technology.  

An electrical propulsion system in a ship utilizes electric motors, power converters, energy storage systems, and control systems. The main power source in electrical propulsion systems for ships is typically high-capacity batteries or a connection to a shore power grid.  Electric motors convert electricity into mechanical motion, while power converters regulate voltage and frequency.

Energy storage systems store electricity, while control systems manage energy flow and motor operation. This integrated system offers precise control, high efficiency, and reduced emissions compared to traditional propulsion methods. By efficiently managing the flow of electricity, semiconductor devices minimize power losses and optimize energy conversion, thus increasing the propulsion system’s overall efficiency. Additionally, advanced semiconductor technologies contribute to reducing the size, weight, and heat generation of power electronics, further improving the reliability and performance of electrical propulsion systems in ships.


HD KSOE’s electric propulsion system

HD KSOE’s electric propulsion system. Image used courtesy of HD KSOE


HD KSOE, a global leader in shipbuilding, has spearheaded efforts toward eco-friendly decarbonized ship technology, focusing on electricity and hydrogen usage. Through this partnership, HD KSOE aims to leverage Infineon's expertise in power semiconductor technology to enhance the reliability and performance of marine vessels' propulsion drive technology. As part of the partnership, Infineon will provide technical assistance and share insights on semiconductor trends for marine applications, facilitating the development of energy-efficient power solutions for CO2-friendly propulsion drives. These power semiconductors will enable precise control of multiple power modules for more efficient system operation.


Sailing Toward Greener Future

Since maritime transport contributes nearly 2.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions and emits one billion tons of CO2 annually, the transition to electric ships is significant. By developing energy-efficient power solutions for eco-friendly propulsion drives, Infineon and HD KSOE’s partnership aims to strengthen the performance and reliability of marine vessels, contributing to environmental sustainability.