The race to electrify boating is certainly on…although everyone is vying for position before the market materializes. Flux Marine is partnering with Pure and Zin in an attempt to upgrade some of our waterways’ most gas-guzzling outboards to cleaner, quieter, battery-powered ones, and the company has just raised $15.5 million ahead of a planned summer shipping date.
The boating world’s transition to electric is slow for many reasons, but seems as inevitable as the electrification of land vehicles. Boats are such big investments, are used so differently than cars, and are so much more power-hungry physically that it’s not quite as easy to switch.
Flux says they have developed both comfort and efficiency with a new take on the traditional rear outboard.
“We took a breakthrough design approach that places the electric motor above the waterline for scalability, but doesn’t use legacy combustion outboard parts,” CEO Ben Sorkin told TechCrunch. “Our lower unit was designed in-house to accommodate a belt drive, incorporate a closed-loop cooling system with active feedback, and reduce hydrodynamic drag.
“Electric motors (electric machines) are generally designed for peak torque, which is determined by geometry and magnetics, and continuous torque, which is determined by thermal management. Because a boat is subjected to high drag forces from water, the key is to design power electronics and a thermal management system to get continuous torque as close to peak torque as possible,” continued Sorkin. “The end result is a lighter, more efficient overall propulsion solution.”
They’re also designing the battery packs, which of course is a double-edged sword: they’ll be good, but you can’t just go out and grab a car battery to add a few more miles to the range. (Actual range is so dependent on hull, weight, and speed that it’s impossible to predict, but it’s somewhere in the 40-70 mile range.)
The benefits of electric conversion in general are so obvious they hardly need to be repeated: cleaner, quieter, greener, easier to maintain and potentially better performance.
The downside is primarily cost: Flux intends to offer its engines for $4,000 to $12,000 including the battery pack, depending on whether you want a 15hp equivalent (one person in a dinghy) or 40hp (a couple people in an aluminum rowboat) or 70 hp (a few people in an aluminum rowboat, but faster). A 100 hp equivalent is also planned.
Of course, that limits the number of people who can afford to go green, but boating is an expensive hobby to begin with. If you want to hit the water for two bills, get a paddleboard — a hull and motor will set you back a few thousand dollars, unless you buy the seaweed-encrusted one from that guy on the dock.
Pre-orders opened last year and Sorkin said the company is on track to deliver its first engines this summer, hopefully in time for boating season. Lead times should shorten as they scale next year, he added. In-person demos will be available in Rhode Island (where the company is based and just got a fat tax credit) and Connecticut.
The $15.5MA round was led by Ocean Zero, with participation from Boost VC, Winklevoss Capital and previous early investors.