Electric Container Ships Are Stuck on the Horizon

Batteries still can’t scale up to power the world’s biggest vessels


3 min read
Illustration: Anders Wenngren
Illustration: Anders Wenngren

illustration of container ship Illustration: Anders Wenngren

Just about everything you wear or use around the house once sat in steel boxes on ships whose diesel engines propel them from Asia, emitting particulates and carbon dioxide. Surely, you would think, we can do better.

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A photo shows separated components of the axial flux motor in the order in which they appear in the finished motor.
INFINITUM ELECTRIC
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The heart of any electric motor consists of a rotor that revolves around a stationary part, called a stator. The stator, traditionally made of iron, tends to be heavy. Stator iron accounts for about two-thirds of the weight of a conventional motor. To lighten the stator, some people proposed making it out of a printed circuit board.

Although the idea of replacing a hunk of iron with a lightweight, ultrathin, easy-to-make, long-lasting PCB was attractive from the outset, it didn’t gain widespread adoption in its earliest applications inside lawn equipment and wind turbines a little over a decade ago. Now, though, the PCB stator is getting a new lease on life. Expect it to save weight and thus energy in just about everything that uses electricity to impart motive force.

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