By Robert Poirier

PortsToronto, owner and operator of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is converting the airport’s Marilyn Bell I passenger/vehicle ferry to electric power. This innovative retrofit represents a unique technological advancement in the airport’s fleet as the vessel will be the first 100 per cent electric lithium-ion powered ferry in service in Canada. Originally to be completed by the end of 2020, work was delayed to 2021 due to work stoppages related to COVID-19.

The vessel’s propulsion system will be entirely powered by battery and fueled by 100 per cent Bullfrog Power renewable electricity, enabling the electric-ferry to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the airport’s ferry operation. In addition to operating more efficiently and eliminating related air emissions, the retrofitted vessel will build on the airport’s award-winning Noise Management Program, as it will operate far more quietly, dramatically reducing related noise in the surrounding community.

As part of PortsToronto’s sustainability program, a phased approach to greening the airport’s ferry operations began in 2018 when the Marilyn Bell I was converted from diesel to bio-fuel, which resulted in the reduction of approximately 20 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions last year. The electric-powered ferry is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with ferry operations by 530 tonnes, significantly reducing the airport’s carbon footprint and setting the organization on a clear path toward achieving PortsToronto’s overall emissions target.

In compliance with PortsToronto’s Sustainable Procurement Policy, three Canadian companies that share PortsToronto’s vision for sustainable operations have been selected to collaborate on completing the ferry retrofit. As developers of the winning concept and proposal, 
St. Catharines-based CANAL Marine are the prime designers for this project. On board as the project naval architect is Concept Naval, Quebec-based naval architects and marine engineers, recognized for their innovative and customized solutions in Canada’s shipbuilding industry. PortsToronto has also engaged Nova Scotia-based E.Y.E marine consultants to assist with the implementation of the project.

“CANAL is proud to be delivering the first completely zero-emission Ro-Pax ferry in Canada,” said Shawn Balding, commercial director at CANAL. “This is an important step in the evolution of the marine industry made possible by maturing advancements in energy storage and power and propulsion system design.”

The airport’s ferry operation not only transports passengers, airport staff and essential supplies to and from Billy Bishop Airport, but serves as a vital link for City of Toronto service vehicles to gain access to the Toronto Islands. The conversion of the airport ferry to electric power is one of Billy Bishop Airport’s key capital projects and will cost approximately $2.9 million.

Robert Poirier was the chair of the PortsToronto board of directors from August 2015 until April of 2021. He is also a board director at Metrolinx.

[This article originally appeared in the July/August edition of affiliate publication ReNew Canada.]

Featured image: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport’s Marilyn Bell I ferry will be converted to electric power, eliminating all related GHG emissions and significantly reducing noise impacts. (PortsToronto)


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