By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Some 12.5 million boats are registered in the United States, and a growing number — about 5 percent now — run on electric propulsion. They all also use batteries to power such things as communication and refrigeration. A pair of Rhode Islanders has started a business to meet the energy demands of boaters without their having to rely on fossil fuels.
Anthony Baro, owner of Providence-based E2SOL, and Chris Fagan of Newport-based Fagan Design Build Studio first met a few years ago when they were both working on an Aquidneck Island project. Last April, they founded PowerDocks LLC, looking to find a niche in the growing marine electronic propulsion industry and to help better protect the environment. The duo has filed patents for their ideas.
“With no fossil-fuel generation, we’ll eliminate noise and environmental impacts,” said Baro, a Bristol resident who graduated from Roger Williams University in 1984 with a degree in mechanical engineering. “Our floating docks will generate their own power, store it and distribute it.”
In 2011, marine electronic propulsion was a $2.6 billion industry. Baro said the industry is projected to reach $6 billion by 2023.
The company’s autonomous renewable-energy charging stations could be placed in various waterways, in the ocean and on marina slips. Similar to land-based renewable-energy sources, PowerDocks would be user-friendly systems that draw on batteries storing energy to power pleasure boats, oceanographic research, military operations, and commercial applications such as aquaculture.
PowerDocks, with assistance from a Maryland-based marine construction company, is building a pilot unit for the Navy. The platform will be featured in August at the Annual Naval Technology Exercise at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport.
Other PowerDocks products, such as charging stations for recreational crafts, are expected to be launched in this spring and fall, according to Baro.
A sailor himself, Baro said the idea for PowerDocks was born from his need to recharge the sailboat he moors in Bristol. He said the idea is to encourage the boating community, marinas, defense contractors and the military to switch from fossil fuels to renewable-energy resources.
Charles Thangaraj, assistant professor of engineering at Roger Williams University, is leading the research end of the partnership, which includes several maritime companies.
Earlier this year, the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation awarded PowerDocks and Roger Williams University a $29,554 “Innovation Voucher” to help fund the development of these floating energy sources.
Baro, managing principal and founder of PowerDocks, said marinas usually operate at 80 percent to 85 percent capacity and if they could repurpose empty slips into power-generating facilities, these businesses could increase profitability. He said another application of PowerDocks is electrical outlets for aquaculture operations to increase filtration of water and improve the health of the shellfish and/or seaweed being grown.
These aquatic docking stations could also provide power, communication and docking services to unmanned aerial, surface and underwater vehicles, according to Baro. Fagan and Baro also envision various floating residential power dock structures to deal with climate change and flooding, and larger offshore structures that incorporate wave energy.
The small innovation company is headquartered at the UMass Dartmouth Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship on Martine Street. It also has space on Broadway in Newport.
“Everybody wins,” Baro said. “Businesses save money and could make money. Sustainable power is generated, and the environment is better protected.”