If you’ve ever spent time writing poetry about container ships chugging in and out of harbors, the words “nimble” or “fast” are unlikely to enter your artfully written words. And if your (admittedly increasingly esoteric) poetic slant is more like an air travel persuasion, it’s likely that the word “affordable” wasn’t in your lexicon. boundary layer is working on a series of electric hydrofoils and wants to rewrite a book of transportation-focused poems, one stanza at a time, with nimble, fast-loading, standard high-speed transport container ships, with the goal of halving the cost of traditional air travel at comparable speeds.
The company raised $4.8 million from Low carbon capital, Fifty years as well as Soma Capital, and already has $90 million in advance orders from ferry operators for its 220-seat electric passenger ships. Passenger ships are just a launching pad before the company reaches its true goal: the freight market. I spoke with Boundary Layer CEO and founder Ed Kearney, who told me that these first ships are the launching pad for a $100 billion air travel market with a high-speed hydrogen-powered container ship.
“We applied to Y Combinator and got accepted. In an interview, we told partners that if we were hired by Y Combinator, we would come to the Bay Area and build a hydrofoil container ship that carries one container,” says Kearney. He told me that the Y Combinator team called it bullshit. The team rolled up their sleeves and got to work. “We showed up with some hand tools in luggage, no workshop, nowhere to live, and began to build. Ten weeks later we managed to build this hydrofoil. We spent $150,000 on this, which is exactly what YC gives you. We parked in front of the demo center and it made some impression.”
It’s easy to see how; the company’s prototype ship – and the video it released to showcase it – looks pretty slick:
The problem with hydrofoils, of course, is that you need a lot of energy to lift the ship’s hull out of the water, and this gets more difficult the heavier the ship gets. The world’s largest cargo ships can carry around 24,000 containers at one time. Needless to say, these behemoths aren’t going to accidentally lift their hulls out of the water – but that’s also not something the company competes with.
“The is a physicist [of hydrofoiling] very much like an airplane. The lift to drag ratio you get with modern hydrofoil wing materials these days is about the same as a traditional aircraft. Thus, the amount of energy required for a vehicle to have the same takeoff weight is also comparable. Also, the thrust you need depends on your speed,” explains Kearney. “The plane is moving at 500 knots – we are going 40 – but they still need 12 times the power. In a nutshell, the way we solved this problem was that you took a smaller vessel, you became very sensitive to weight, and you need a large amount of energy. This means we need large fuel cells and batteries.”
The company’s vision is not to replace conventional shipping, freight rates – that would be crazy; The cost of sea freight is incredibly low, which is why about 90% of all goods consumed in the world are delivered this way. The company told me that local trucking, which takes a container the last few hundred miles of a journey, can be more expensive than a 6,000-mile sea trip.
“We will make container ships, but we do not compete with container ships. We air travel replacement. Think about the components and other items they ship by air. They are already paying very high freight rates of $2-$3 per kilo,” Kearney explains. “Inter Asia is the most interesting market for us because it is the largest market in terms of air travel. These customers already have very valuable items that need to be delivered quickly, and we can offer them an alternative to air freight that is half the price and comparable in travel time.”
Of course, every day of the week an airplane will overtake a ship at sea, but Boundary Layer believes that the high speed and use of standard containers makes it competitive. The bottom line is that container shipping can make shipping an order of magnitude more efficient. A Taiwanese manufacturer can fill a 20-foot or 40-foot container with whatever it needs to ship, load it onto a truck, transfer it to one of the high-speed Boundary Layer container ships, then load it onto a truck in North Korea and take it to an assembly plant. All this can happen without unloading and reloading the container, which can be locked and sealed for the entire journey. The company claims that there are significant inefficiencies in air shipping, even if the goods are on pallets.
If you really want to know why container commerce is such an advantage, there is an incredible eight part podcast series it will make you freeze for hours. One for transport lovers. In any case, back to the boundary layer…
“We have three Fortune 500 companies as launch partners — one in electronics, one in automotive supplies, and one in electronics,” said Kearney, who has so far declined to name the companies but says those the three partners have letters of intent (LOIs) worth $26 million and additional pre-orders for passenger ferries around the world worth $60 million: “Passenger ferry customers will be announced soon, but they are all over the world, including the Mediterranean, United States and also the Caribbean.”
Boundary Layer created a video to show off their passenger ferry:
The company attaches great importance to the fact that its vehicles have zero emissions.
“All of our ships will be zero-emission and will eventually be powered by electric motors. The passenger ferry will only have lithium-ion batteries powering the electrical system,” says Kearney. “For a container ship, we need a range of 1,500 nautical miles. Batteries really allow you to travel about 100 nautical miles, so we use liquid hydrogen for cargo. This will give us even 10,000 nautical miles if you want very large tanks. The electrical system between the passenger ferry and the cargo ship will be identical. The difference lies in where the electricity comes from.”
Credit: techcrunch.com /