Norway-based manufacturer to open Bellingham facility
The maritime industry has historically been a vital part of our regional economy. So, it makes sense that Corvus Energy, a Norway-based manufacturer of zero-emissions maritime battery technology, would choose Bellingham for its new U.S. manufacturing facility.
On June 1, 2022, Corvus Energy began modifications to its new facility, located at 300 Harris Ave. in Fairhaven, for which it has a three-year lease with the Port of Bellingham.
As a leading supplier of battery energy storage systems for marine applications, Corvus is poised for rapid growth as the marine industry accelerates its adoption of decarbonization technology to meet global targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The journey to Bellingham
It was about three years ago that the Port of Bellingham’s director of economic development, Don Goldberg, took a business trip to Norway to learn about the future of the marine industry.
“Norway probably leads the world in maritime technology,” Goldberg explained. “Clearly, it has the most electrified and hybrid vessels in the world.”
In fact, this relatively small nation was the first to produce an all-electric, zero-emissions vessel, a car ferry, in 2014. Today, Norway operates close to 40% of the world’s battery-powered ships.
Goldberg’s trip was organized by the Washington State Department of Commerce and Washington Maritime Blue, a member-based nonprofit based in Seattle focused on growing maritime business and technology in our state while simultaneously keeping sustainability and oceans in mind.
Goldberg toured Corvus Energy’s new facility during his trip, but he wasn’t exactly new to the concept of hybrid vessels. The port already leases property to All American Marine, a leading manufacturer of vessels with hybrid-electric propulsion systems.
“They just built and launched the first hydrogen ferry in the world here about a month ago,” Goldberg said. “My interests in Norway were to potentially recruit companies that would want to bring their technologies to the U.S. to take our maritime industry into that next generation. Part of that is electrification.”
Goldberg and Corvus kept in touch during the pandemic. It was about six months ago that the Fairhaven facility became available, so Goldberg reached out. Corvus considered multiple locations in Washington state and Texas.
“Besides offering them the perfect building, we’re also very close to their facility in Richmond, British Columbia,” Goldberg said. “But we also sold them on the fact that about half the ports in the United States are located in Washington. We’re also one of the biggest international trading states, and we have the biggest fleet of ferries in the country. So, it made a lot of sense for them to be here.”
“We’re also here because the governor of Washington state is very supportive of green technology,” said Mariella Deltcheva, Corvus Energy interim chief operating officer and plant manager.
Although Corvus is planning for extensive sales efforts in Texas, the company wanted its manufacturing efforts to remain near its existing research and development facility in Richmond, just a 45-minute drive for senior staff.
Corvus Energy got its start in 2009, when an automotive battery expert and a naval architect began working on a plan to make hybrid ships in a Richmond garage. By 2011, Corvus had accomplished its first marine installation, a hybrid tug. The world’s first hybrid offshore support vessel followed in 2012, and then the first hybrid thousand-passenger ferry in 2013. After the company accomplished the first hybrid fishing vessel in 2015, growth skyrocketed. Because Nordic countries are ahead of the United States and Canada in the adoption of maritime hybrid technology, Corvus’ headquarters expanded to Norway in 2015.
Corvus would like to see a similar expansion here in the U.S. Its new manufacturing facility will enable Corvus to compete for and sell products to the federal government in compliance with the Buy America program.
“We also are looking at expanding into the Asian market,” Deltcheva added. “Having a location on the West Coast that we can ship from is a benefit. Also, some of our raw materials come from Asia, so this location is good for logistics.”
A tremendous amount of collaboration has gone in to getting the company here.
“Internally at the port, the real estate department and our economic development department worked very closely,” Goldberg said. “We were also successful getting a very competitive grant from the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund. They’ll have $250,000 that will be used for improvement of the building and hiring workers in Washington state.”
The company is already off to a great start, because the Harris Avenue building is already a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified green building, including being powered by solar energy.
Big dreams for the U.S. market
Building a range of battery storage systems is just the tip of the iceberg for Corvus Energy. Its work includes the full life cycle of battery systems — including integrating battery energy storage systems into vessels; monitoring efficiency, function and maintenance; finding second homes for the technology after upgrades; and even battery recycling.
“Our internal corporate goal is to have operational readiness by the end of Q4,” Deltcheva explained. “We will be engaging throughout the process with local contractors. We have a big milestone to get certification with ISO (International Organization for Standardization), and all of our products have to be certified by class for marine applications by many third-party organizations for safe use on a ship.”
Some existing research and development staff based in Richmond and a couple key hires will supervise the certification processes, since they are already familiar.
“When we are close to the end of that process, then we will begin hiring and training more local staff. Depending on orders, we’ll start with two to four new employees and grow to about 10 in three to four months,” Deltcheva said. “When orders reach full capacity, we’ll need about 20 people per shift, with 80% to 90% local staff.”
Corvus will begin by manufacturing its top selling product, the Orca Energy System. These versatile battery energy storage systems are appropriate for shore charging and a wide range of marine vessels, including ferries, cruise ships, yachts, tugs and fishing, merchant and offshore vessels.
As demand grows, operations will expand to include additional battery energy storage systems lines.
“It will depend on what the market calls for,” Deltcheva said. “To accommodate further growth, we can add buildings onto this one or move to a larger location.”
Corvus has already begun taking orders for U.S. production.
Continuing challenges and benefits for business owners
“We are limiting ourselves on recruitment right now,” Goldberg said, “because we have a childcare and housing crisis, and so we are being mindful that we’re not bringing companies in that directly compete with existing businesses for employees. We know that housing prices went up almost 30% here last year, while income went up only about 3%. That has put real pressure on the workforce.”
Goldberg’s position includes working to help solve these issues at federal, state and local levels. He chairs the Washington Economic Development Association’s Committee on Worker Housing and works closely with the Washington State Department of Commerce. Other port staff serves on committees and boards with organizations such as Whatcom Housing Alliance that focus on affordable housing and worker housing.
“Regardless of politics, most agree we are in this crisis together and we need to address and deal with it now, or we will see companies leave the area,” Goldberg said. “But we also know we have an energy cluster here, and so we’re focused on future energy-positive jobs for the region and the world.”
Goldberg believes that the transition toward green energy will benefit not just the maritime industry, but all of our business sectors.
“We’re trying to support our existing clusters by bringing green technology here that will help bring them into the next generation,” he said. “Higher education, manufacturing, health care, forestry, agriculture — every sector can benefit.”
“We’re extremely excited to have Corvus Energy here, as a leader in this industry, having supplied half of all battery technology on ships right now,” Goldberg added. “But we’re also excited about the other associated companies that may be interested in coming here as well. We fully expect that like the rest of their business around the world, Corvus will continue to grow very rapidly, and in the next few years, we’ll expand them into a much larger facility.”
“We are all excited with the new positioning of our company,” she said. “It is an exciting time for us, and hopefully for other companies, to see the U.S. choosing the path toward zero-emission solutions. There is so much potential in this part of the world, and we hope to be part of that.” ■