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Michigan Aims to Grow the Electric Boating Industry

The Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification has awarded $506,000 to six companies focused on boating electrification or charging infrastructure as part of its Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge.

A seating area on a boat surrounded by solar panels.
These six-person boats by Lilypad are powered by electricity generated from onboard solar panels, capable of generating 1,700 watts of power.
Submitted photo: Lilypad
Even the boating industry is innovating with electrification, and Michigan wants to lead the way in the development of electric watercraft and their charging needs.

The state has been conscious of supporting the entire mobility spectrum “in addition to automotive,” said Charlie Tyson, technology activation director at the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME).

The OFME recently awarded a total of $506,000 in funding to six companies as part of its Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge.

“Based on trends in the market, based on Michigan’s Great Lakes assets, we put together a grant program that can help to activate, to accelerate industry activity,” said Tyson.

The grant program aims to help local companies, but also those outside the state, “to work with our marinas, to help those companies that are deploying the boats, hire locally, pursue new customers,” Tyson explained. “And while doing that, we’re also taking steps toward reducing carbon emissions along the Great Lakes.”

Funding went to companies like Aqua superPower, which was awarded $111,000 to install high-speed chargers at marinas to enable the deployment of battery-electric powered boats. Similarly, Voltaic Marine Inc. was awarded $115,000 to develop the battery chemistry and propulsion system needed for an electric speed boat. Meanwhile, on the other side of the high-speed spectrum, Lilypad was awarded $135,000 to deploy a line of low-speed electric pleasure boats powered by onboard solar panels.

“It’s definitely very novel,” said Dana Lowell, co-founder of Lilypad. “I guess it’s a ‘gawker’ boat right now. A lot of people look at it and say, ‘What is that?’ and are intrigued by it. It attracts a lot of attention.”

Lilypad has used the funding to deploy two boats in the Traverse City region. The six-person boats can operate as long as the sun is shining and the onboard batteries are supplied. The solar panels generate about 1,700 watts of power, more than enough to supply the 1,100 watts the boat’s two electric motors require. The boats are available for rent. A two-hour window costs $150.

The Office of Future Mobility Electrification partnered with Traverse Connect, an economic development agency on Grand Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan, in an effort to grow boating electrification.

“They’ve really been spearheading a lot of this activity, more than just what we are calling the Fresh Coast Corridor,” said Tyson.

About 20 companies applied for the state grants, which were reviewed by a selection committee made up of public- and private-sector officials, from backgrounds like economic development, transportation, recreation, maritime activity and other areas. The state and Traverse Connect then made the final decision on grant awards.

Other companies awarded include Hercules Electric Mobility, which received $75,000 to develop boats with high-power electric motors. Arc was awarded $20,000 to conduct electric boat technology demonstration events. The Michigan Technological University was awarded $50,000 to be used by faculty and students to partner with utilities and marina operators to develop a playbook focused on electric boat range, optimal distance between chargers and more.

Michigan, known as a world leader in auto development and manufacturing, is also a natural fit for developing the electric boating sector. The state boasts more than 230 miles of shoreline with Lake Michigan. Michigan also includes more than 10,000 acres of inland lakes.

“We really want to harness the power of our freshwater assets,” said Tyson.

“There’s also transferable skill sets from the auto sector to maritime, to aerospace and others. That really positions Michigan well to be a leader in mobility,” he added.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.