This Richmond company is building battery packs that can power ferries

With its lithium systems, Corvus Energy has established itself as a leader in energy storage for the marine industry

Corvus Energy develops lithium-ion batteries for ships

With its lithium systems, Corvus Energy has established itself as a leader in energy storage for the marine industry

In business, like life, timing can be everything. Late last decade, Corvus Energy co-founder Brent Perry and his partners were designing quiet-running electrical hybrid systems for the luxury yacht market. At the time, lithium battery manufacturers didn’t make anything larger than what was needed to power a car, and the global shipping industry was just starting to delve into fully electric and hybrid propulsion systems.

This opportunity prompted a game-changing pivot for the startup. “Three factors came into play,” says president and CEO Andrew Morden, who captained Richmond-based Corvus’s commercialization and is stickhandling an ongoing lawsuit against the company’s founders, who have since left to start a rival firm. “Our value proposition strengthened, lithium technology had advanced, and there became available incentives and subsidies in regions like Scandinavia to adopt propulsion technology to lower emissions in the marine industry.”

First deployed on tugboats to reduce emissions while idling, Corvus’s lithium-ion battery packs are now found in 50 projects worldwide, including ships, offshore drilling platforms and port operations. In 2011, the company used a $580,000 Sustainable Development Technology Canada grant to attract private investment and do a demonstration project in the key Norwegian market. Revenue grew from less than $150,000 that year to $6 million in 2015. Corvus, which has 50 staff and made this year’s Global Cleantech 100 list, recently completed its sixth ferry propulsion project for the northern European transportation firm Scandlines. In Norway, progressive policies like the NOX tax—a levy on nitrous oxide emissions that is returned to firms doing upgrades that will lead to reductions—have translated into steady business, prompting the company to open an office there in 2015. Corvus’s technology now helps propel two fully electric Norwegian passenger and vehicle ferries.

By comparison, Canada has been a slow adopter, but it’s coming around. Corvus recently installed battery packs for two Seaspan ULC cargo ferries sailing between Vancouver Island and the mainland, and the company is in talks with British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. “We’re seeing the first groundswell in North America, but the world’s shipping fleet is definitely heading toward hybridization,” Morden says.