Is Diesel Electric Propulsion right for your application?

by New member LPustiglione on ‎08-04-2010 10:57 AM

As a concept, diesel electric propulsion (DEP) is not new. Diesel Electric Systems have been in use to propel vessels for more than 100 years. Branobel launched the first diesel-electric ship in 1903, and since that day, diesel electric propulsion systems have evolved and today they can be found in all boat sizes and applications.  But how do you know when to utilize diesel electric technology for your vessel?


If we analyze marine construction over the last 3 years, we can see that investment in DEP vessels have doubled, while the construction of purely mechanically propelled vessels have slowed down. But what are the reasons for this growth?


Some of the benefits of the DEP systems are:


Effective design:

The ability to locate your generators in any part of the vessel independent of where the power will be used;

Smaller Engine Rooms:

Possibility to replace a big slow speed engine with multiple smaller generators;

Reduced Noise & Vibration:

No need for long drivelines;


Capability to share the power of one unit with multiple devices (main propeller, bow thrusters, hotel load, pumps, etc);


Generators can be reassigned to cover any machine downtime;


Depending on the application the DEP system can provide better fuel efficiency (mainly if there are requirements for long periods of low speed/load)


As a consulting/specifying engineer or marine architect, what are the applications or situations in which you recommend the use diesel electric propulsion? 

What other advantages or disadvantages do you see with Diesel Electric Propulsion? 

What are some rules of thumb you would advocate to suggest the utilization of DEP versus Mechanical Propulsion?

by Contributor Towboater
on ‎08-06-2010 01:35 PM

Lots of years on this one - diesel/electric marine. It was once said to be inefficient - efficiency loss through multiple changes of power mode (not the proper terms, but you know what I mean). Perhaps technology now has narrowed that gap? Additional (perhaps naive) questions:


1.) Is it fair to say that one could essentially have a 600 HP vessel one day, and a 1200 HP vessel the next day (or even the next hour) - based on vessel power need by simply adding/subtracting one or more gen sets from the mix - without messing with controllable pitch props etc?


2.) Do you know of any river applications of this technology - beyond the passenger excursion vessel that I am aware of on the Upper Mississippi?


3.) Where can one find further current information on this sans a pile of techo speak - to save filling up this blog?



by New member LPustiglione
on ‎09-17-2010 10:15 AM

Thank you for your question. To address the efficiency comment, diesel-electric propulsion (DEP) gives the user the ability to run appropriately sized generators based on the current demand when compared to a large engine driving a propeller. Considering that DEP vessels use multiple engines of different sizes, user can play this combination to allow the vessel to operate at its highest efficiency.


1. The power output comment is fair, but you will need a controllable pitch propeller to get the full benefits of the change in power. One of the benefit of the DEP in my view would be that when the vessel is idling during load operations, a small generator can be used to provide propulsion power plus hotel load.


2. I am not aware of river tow boat application in US. Most of the river applications with DEP systems I know are for passenger vessel applications.

Is any one else in this forum aware of a DEP system being utilized in the Inland Waterways?


3. The internet is a great resource to learn more about DEP. If you want to go deep you can check the "Maritime Electrical Installations and Diesel Electric Propulsion" book under the ABB website: . It has a lot of information and you may find all the answers you are looking for.

Hope it helps.

by New member Boatman57
on ‎03-31-2013 09:36 AM

I am a pleasure boat user with twin Cat 375 3208TA's

these dogs are nearing their need for a complete rebuild 

Would their be an attractive cost to benefit ratio with a diesel electric retrofit ?

(using the existing mechanical drive lines not a pod system)


by Herman Fernhout
on ‎05-19-2015 03:15 PM

a comment from the other side of the world here (in europe, Netherlands) it is beginning to become a common thing to (re)build your ship as a 'hybrid' one of the biggest suppliers is Hybrid Ship Propulsion with a lot of experience in building  cargo ship, tankers, tugboats and passenger vessels exclusive for inland waterway's.


About the Author
  • I joined Caterpillar in 2001 in the Extended Service Coverage (extended warranty) department of Cat Insurance (division of Cat Financial). I have always loved the water, ships, boats and the challenges of this industry and moved to Caterpillar Marine Power Systems (CMPS) in 2007. I was fortunate to be able to work at CMPS Headquarters in Hamburg, Germany for 2 years and now reside at our Marine Center of Excellence in South Carolina, USA. As the Marine Parts Manager for Cat Marine Parts I am able to work cross functionally with our regional product support teams, our extensive dealer network, customers and bring this knowledge and customer expectations to Caterpillar's incredible resources to design new and innovative product support solutions to meet our customer expectations. This gives me great pride and enjoyment to meet and exceed your expectations and promote the Cat Marine Brand.
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  • After around 10 years of good time in mineral & metal industry, the destiny has guided me through BMW, ThyssenKrupp to the Caterpillar station. At the moment I'm serving as a Six Sigma Strategy Black Belt in Caterpillar Marine Power System.
  • I joined the Caterpillar Team 2007 and worked in several positions most likely in Product Support. 2008 I passed the 6 Sigma Black Belt Training and has leaded various sales and process related projects. After the certification as a 6 Sigma Black Belt I joined the CMPS Product Support Team as a Global Marketing Representative.
  • A maritime academy graduate and a 17 year employee of Caterpillar with 25 years of marine experience, currently managing the Caterpillar Marine Power System Product Support Division representing all product health, product support, parts sales and distribution development activities for Cat and MaK brand marine engines.
  • Originally from Spain, I moved to Hamburg, Germany, in 2010 to write my Master’s Thesis in Industrial Engineering. Upon its completion, I had the opportunity to join Caterpillar Marine Power Systems as an intern at their headquarters. During this period, I supported, in various capacities, sales into the Cargo and European Inland Waterways markets, as well as Offshore Wind opportunities. I am currently working as a Junior Territory Sales Manager in the Europe, Africa, Middle East and CIS Sales Team.
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  • I have been involved in sales and marketing of Caterpillar marine products for almost 45 years including 10 years in the U.K. where I worked on North Sea oil and gas projects. For the past 35 years I have various roles within the marine business of Toromont Cat where I have assembled a portfolio of Caterpillar and MaK powered new construction and repower projects including ferries, Great Lakes bulk-carriers and self-unloaders, Coast Guard vessels and pleasure craft. I admit that my knowledge has come from a hands-on approach to engine sales by wearing coveralls and a hard hat rather than a business suit. I am based in Toronto and am an active member of the C.I.Mar. E. Great Lakes Branch and participate in SNAME Great Lakes/Great Rivers meetings in the U.S.
  • I ensure that our Cat global dealer network has the tools required to support our Propulsion Solutions products including our Cat Three60 Precision Control.
  • I have been at Caterpillar for nearly 31 years. All this time has been related to Diesel engines, with the first 23 years in Fuel Systems, the next 3 in the Engine Center, and the last 4 here in Hamburg, Germany, as the Worldwide Demand Manager for Marine and Petroleum MaK engines. In this role, I touch many areas, from concept to delivery, from shipyard to factory. I work with Dealers, Sales Managers, Customers, Accountants, and Order Processors, all the way to the factory floor. Those who know me know that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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