Kiwi startup turning heads toward electric

New Zealand engineering startup ZeroJet powers what it describes as the world’s lightest electric jet boat, turning eyes to the marine industry’s pollution problem with zero emissions, zero pollution, zero noise solution.

Co-founders Neil Mans and Bex Rempel aim to replace 10,000 internal combustion outboards with electric propulsion within five years – resulting in an emissions saving equivalent to removing 1.5 million cars off the road.

ZeroJet’s unique electric jet propulsion system is half the weight of a traditional outboard motor, resulting in faster and lighter boats, while also creating a zero emissions alternative to standard motors. The ZeroJet system will accelerate time to market for boat manufacturers and create new revenue streams for boat builders and resellers who want to tap into the emerging environmentally conscious market.

“The vast majority of outboard motors are diesel or petrol powered, pumping pollution directly into marine environments. ZeroJet’s electric jet tenders offer a zero emissions option for an industry that’s lagging in innovation efforts to become more environmentally responsible,” says Mans.

Internal combustion engines discharge a number of harmful substances, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter.

“If you run a new 5 HP four-stroke outboard for one hour, you produce the same amount of nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon pollution as if you were driving 38 new cars at 95 km/hr for the same length of time,” says Mans.

The company’s first MVP, built in 2019, was applied to a three metre-long tender and resulted in the lightest jet boat on the market at just 70kgs, doing speeds of 25 knots and leaving petrol outboards of equivalent size behind in their wake. It recently developed a partnership to supply electric jet propulsion

systems to NZ-based tender manufacturer Offshore Cruising Tenders, through which they are already offering pre-sales.

“We use a highly efficient motor, about the size of half a loaf of bread, which means lighter, faster boats. Every boat builder we’ve spoken to and consulted with has jumped at the idea, giving us the confidence to look to scale globally in 2021, which would enable us to make even more of an impact in our total addressable market – 95% of which currently relies on petrol or diesel,” says Mans.

ZeroJet is the culmination of five years of working on electric jet propulsion by Mans and Rempel. The pair originally founded Voltaic Jetboards in 2016, through which they spent more than two years developing high-performance electric jetboards.

After creating the world’s fastest and smallest jetboard under Voltaic, which reached speeds of 70km per hour on water, and impressing heavyweights in the jet pump world with tiny electric jets that could produce over 140kg of thrust, the pair turned their focus to boats, targeting the 350,000 outboards (under 30 horsepower) sold annually.

In 2020, ZeroJet raised its second round of capital with investment from K1W1, Impact Enterprise Fund, Icehouse, NZGCP and Arc Angels, and were accepted into Startmate’s accelerator program. Looking to 2021, the startup looks to triple its current addressable market by scaling up its technology to accommodate boats up to six metres.

“There’s been a very positive response to sales here in NZ so far and we are excited to expand upon the momentum. Our eyes are on Europe, which is currently leading the way in terms of regulations to support more environmentally-friendly marine technology,” says Rempel.

While electric engine technology is making significant progress in motor vehicles, led by companies such as Tesla, there is a gap in the technology when it comes to boats, Mans explains.

“The automotive industry uses sophisticated methods to reduce pollutants, such as exhaust gas recirculation and catalytic converters. The outboards currently on the market do not have any comparable systems, even new ones.

“This is why the level of harmful nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon emissions is dramatically higher than cars. Though there are far fewer outboards than cars, their pollution is substantially out of proportion.”

Mans’ background as a mechanical and high-precision engineer enabled him and Rempel to gather a small but experienced team of engineers, all of whom previously worked alongside Mans at Buckley Systems building high-precision electromagnets for particle accelerators.