To celebrate E&H Marine’s 10th anniversary, former editor John Thornton looks back on his time at the helm of the magazine.
When I was asked to contribute to this, the 10th anniversary issue of Electric & Hybrid Marine Technology International, my initial reaction – besides accepting without hesitation, of course – was that I genuinely couldn’t believe the publication was already set to reach its decadal milestone.
How could this be?! In my head, E&H Marine remains the young, pioneering outlier it was when the magazine launched in April 2013. It would be easy to launch this magazine today, when words like ‘sustainability’, ‘decarbonization’ and ‘net zero’ are de rigueur, but 10 years ago the electric and hybrid marine propulsion market was very much in its embryonic stage, and the requirement to develop environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuel propulsion was only just starting to gain traction.
Indeed, it felt like E&H Marine was waiting for the wider shipping sector to wake up to the impending reality and the very concept of the publication, which is a testament to the vision and foresight of those who launched it a decade ago. The same feeling abounded when Electric & Hybrid Marine Expo launched in June 2014, when the brightest and best from across the industry came together to network, connect and exchange ideas. The event has become a mainstay of the maritime calendar and one that continues to be a roaring success.
My first issue as editor was the October 2015 edition, but I initially began working on the magazine two years previously as assistant editor. And I still remember how intimidated I felt – a year later – when my then-editor, Dean Slavnich, commissioned me to write a six-page feature on marine battery technology (a topic that continues to pervade the pages of the magazine today) for the October 2014 issue.
At that point in my nascent career in B2B journalism, this was by far the most technical and complex topic I had been charged with writing about. I still recall struggling to wrap my head around not only the numerous lithium-based chemistries (LFP, NMC, LCO, NCA, LTO, LMO and so on) but also the capacities of the various (MWh!) energy storage systems being deployed in everything from car ferries and cruise liners to fuel supply tankers and container ships.
For someone who, until then, had written primarily about road vehicle propulsion systems, E&H Marine represented an entirely different level of scale. And given the sheer size of the vessels and the vast amounts of energy required to power them, I soon learned that the stakes in the maritime sector are naturally higher than in most others.
At no time was this made more apparent to me than following the publication of the October 2016 issue, which ran a feature (the cover story) on the importance of battery system testing to insure against thermal runaway during vessel operations. Not only did my choice of cover image receive several emails from unhappy readers who felt I had misrepresented what a battery fire on a ship would look like, but I was also very nearly on the receiving end of a lawsuit from one supplier who believed that we had copied the design of their energy storage system and set it on fire to illustrate the potential pitfall of a lack of testing. That was memorable, to say the least!
Although it wasn’t always plain sailing, my time as editor of E&H Marine proved to be a hugely educational experience that imbued me with a deeper appreciation and understanding of the challenges the maritime industry faced at that time when it came to embracing green propulsion. It also opened my eyes to the potentially game-changing benefits and opportunities such an embrace could hold – environmentally, operationally, financially – if only more governments, shipbuilders and operators were braver and bolder with their decision making and investments.
Never were the benefits of electrification in the sector more clearly recognized and celebrated than at the Electric & Hybrid Marine Awards, which I had the pleasure of co-chairing from 2014 to 2019. In fact, the awards at Electric & Hybrid Marine Expo 2019 in Amsterdam were my final act as editor before moving on to new pastures later that summer.
I still look back with immense pride on what we achieved with those awards every year. From assembling the jury panel of some 20-30 maritime journalists to judge the entries, and putting together the voting pack, to ordering and ensuring the trophies were pristine (not to mention shipping them!), and creating the scripts and video montages that showcased the winning entries, the work that went into the awards was no mean feat. Much like the magazine and the expo, there was nothing quite like the Electric & Hybrid Marine Awards, and there still isn’t. Here’s to another 10 years of E&H Marine!