Over the last years, the University of Malta’s Department of Industrial Electrical Power Conversion within the Faculty of Engineering was involved in the design and building of prototype electric boats under the supervision of Prof. Joseph Cilia. The initial project involving a typical Maltese Luzzu was carried out in 2008 with the principal aim of introducing this electric means of sea transportation to replace the existing tourist boat, which presently runs on internal combustion engines.
The boat is fully equipped and certified to the required standard for commercial use. The University is interested in leasing the luzzu to a tourism operator to put into practice this clean technology and help in the conservation of Maltese natural heritage.
Ms Borg treated the sea as an extension to land, with thirteen towns/cities – Kalkara to Valletta, Valletta to Sliema, each demarcated by its set of borders – that surround this coastal area. The project reflected on the lack of use of the island’s natural resource - the sea - as a means of transport in the daily commute.
To this end, it included a number of electric luzzu trips, offering a circular route around each harbor. These included several pick up / drop off points, so passengers were able to look from the sea on to the island’s no man’s land areas, while experiencing a narrative performed live by Miriam Calleja.
The first technical results of the research work were presented in the International European Lead acid battery conference in 2008 and the paper was awarded the best technical paper award. The interesting results show that wireless data transfer and internet communication can provide an efficient way of controlling any fleet of battery equipment in both commercial and industrial environments’.
The state of charge is an example of a parameter which gives the most useful information to the user as this indicates the remaining autonomy of the equipment. The position and speed are also useful if the BMS has an onboard GPS.
The second set of information is critical and hence from this data a set of alarms are usually generated. Having these alarms on the device itself only might not be enough, as this data should reach the service person in charge of the batteries. This necessitates the need of additional hardware that is able to communicate with a PC, Ipad or mobile through a wireless link.
The simplest is through the use of an RS232 or USB cable which is cumbersome and inefficient. Bluetooth and Zigbee communication are more commonly used with Bluetooth picking up much more due its widespread use in equipment. Wi-Fi provides a good option and is a common type of communication equipment usually available in any commercial and industrial premises.
The use of GPRS is also very attractive especially if the battery is monitored via the internet. For the boat the GPRS had to be used in order to monitor the fleet however while on boat the vessel Wi-Fi communication can also be used to view the battery data.