Bigger, better, greener for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Michele Witthaus spoke with Harri Kulovaara, the company’s executive vice president of Maritime and Newbuilding about its latest environmental strategy developments

Bigger, better, greener for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Royal Caribbean has removed all single-use plastic items from its dining venues

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

For Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL), which has just welcomed the world’s largest cruise ship to one of its brands, it is more important than ever to make a commitment to environmental sustainability in its shipbuilding programme. However, for Harri Kulovaara, the man behind many sustainability firsts in the cruise industry, ensuring that every aspect of this ship – Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas – and all other planned newbuilds comply with or exceed regulatory requirements is simply business as usual.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Symphony of the Seas’ design is the exceptional focus on energy efficiency, says Kulovaara. The many initiatives making Symphony of the Seas a green ship include an efficiently designed hull, propeller, engine and onboard systems. The ship also has an air lubrication system that uses air bubbles to reduce the resistance between the hull and the ocean, thereby increasing fuel efficiency. 

“Considerable efforts have been made to reduce the amount of energy consumed compared with sister ship Allure of the Seas, built only a few years earlier,” explains Kulovaara. “Another area is how we are using the waste heat in the exhaust generate electricity and to supply hot water and steam to the laundry.”

Symphony of the Seas also has a built-in multi-stream exhaust gas cleaning system, otherwise known as an advanced emission purification (AEP) system. “AEPs work by spraying exhaust fumes with a fine water mist within the ship’s funnel,” says Kulovaara. “As the water mist combines with the sulphur dioxide in the exhaust, it causes a chemical reaction and removes approximately 98% of sulphur dioxides, as well as 30-40% of total particulate matter.”

Royal Caribbean International has promoted onboard sustainability by using only LED or fluorescent lighting, which emits the same amount of light but reduces both the amount of energy consumed and heat produced. Plastic straws, stirrers and picks have been replaced with paper straws and Forest Stewardship Council-certified bamboo alternatives as part of the company’s long-term strategy to minimise or eliminate single-use plastics across the fleet.

“Everything and anything that can be recycled onboard, is recycled, repurposed, donated or converted from waste to energy,” says Kulovaara. The ship has shredders, bailers and compactors, as well as crushers for glass, light bulbs, tin and aluminium.

With each new class of ships, RCL strives to improve energy efficiency by at least 20%. Both Symphony of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas are part of Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis Class, and each of them is almost 25% more efficient than sister ship Allure of the Seas, which debuted in 2010 and was the most energy-efficient cruise ship in service in her day. “We invest millions in new technologies to ensure we are taking the necessary steps to reduce our impact on the environment,” comments Kulovaara. “Less energy means less emissions and of course reduced fuel costs.”

To attain these ambitious targets for efficiency, the company puts a lot of effort into cultivating good partnerships with providers of onboard equipment. “RCL works closely with the shipyards that build our ships and some of our main trade partners to ensure that we are always pushing the envelope with the application of new technology,” says Kulovaara. “This is becoming even more important as regulatory and societal expectations of our environmental performance are increasing. When designing a new ship today, we have to anticipate what the world will look like 20-30 years from now and search for solutions that will allow us to meet these future requirements.”

One of RCL’s cannier collaborations in recent years has been its partnership with high-profile advocacy organisation the World Wildlife Fund, which is part of its efforts to achieve sustainability targets by reducing its environmental footprint and raising awareness about ocean conservation among guests. 

Kulovaara believes environmental stewardship in the cruise industry is more crucial than ever, following global developments of the past couple of years. “Our principal challenge as an industry will be to reduce our environmental impact and minimising the emissions to the air will be the most important. With the United Nations’ Paris Agreement on climate change, we will have to reduce our carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared with present levels. This will require new technologies as well as new types of fuels, in addition to what more we can do on energy efficiency.”

So how does the company plan to achieve these daunting goals? “For us, this is a continuous journey and we believe the next big step will come with Royal Caribbean International’s Icon Class of vessels due for delivery in 2022 and 2024,” says Kulovaara. “These vessels will emit at least 40% less carbon dioxide than Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas.” 

Half of this will come from the switch from oil fuel to LNG, a fuel which Kulovaara admits still presents some obstacles to the supply chain going forward. “LNG is a cleaner fuel source; however, there have been concerns with LNG availability at ports around the world,” he explains. “By planning into the future, we are confident that by Icon’s debut in 2022, the supply and infrastructure will be in place to support the cleaner fuel.” 

Kulovaara predicts that the use of LNG as a fuel will also enable the company to meet future demands for significant reductions in local air emissions, principally nitrogen oxides and particulates. “Our aim is to have near-zero impact on the local environment when we are in port.”

The search for greener fuels doesn’t stop there. “Looking further into the future also allows us to challenge ourselves to find new energy uses that are safe, reliable and more efficient,” says Kulovaara. “We believe that fuel cells will play a role in our industry in the future. The technology is still not mature for marine application, but we believe that by taking some first steps and working with suppliers, we can positively influence the development for the future. The Icon Class will have a fuel cell installation, a first in the cruise industry.” 

It will also add to the list of firsts that have shaped Kulovaara’s long career of innovations in the shipbuilding business.

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Michele Witthaus
By Michele Witthaus
11 February 2019

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