Embarking on the quest for sustainable hybrid ferries

Ferry operators are moving beyond LNG in their search for new and greener fuels

Embarking on the quest for sustainable hybrid ferries
A view of the navigational bridge onboard Brittany Ferries’ Salamanca

By Justin Merrigan |

While the Covid-19 pandemic has somewhat compressed global ship orders, the ferry sector continues to see steady order activity as shipowners rise to the challenge of decarbonisation. As the rate of fresh orders for hybrid and zero-emission ferries increases, LNG has substantially moved to being an interim fuel. 

Take Stena RoRo’s latest E-Flexer as an example. Newly arrived in Europe from China’s CMI Jinling Weihai Shipyard for Brittany Ferries in February 2022, Salamanca is the first in the E-Flexer series to be delivered with LNG propulsion, but she is also ‘future-proofed’ and ready for conversion to alternative fuels, as and when they become available. This demonstrates that LNG is indeed seen as an interim fuel rather than the absolute solution. 

When better, lower-carbon options like e-methane or biomethane come on stream, Salamanca will be ready to run on them, according to Brittany Ferries. Santoña, Brittany Ferries’ next E-Flexer vessel, will also be initially powered by LNG when she starts service in 2023, but will also be capable of running on future fuels. Two hybrid LNG-electric vessels, E-Flexer 11 and 12, will also be joining Brittany Ferries in 2024 and 2025. They will add radical new hybrid systems to their LNG engines as that technology matures, allowing them to run near-silently and entirely emission-free while manoeuvring and in port. Brittany Ferries has designed all four of these new LNG-powered ships to be ‘fuel-agnostic’ so they can switch to these new fuels as they become available at scale.  

Brittany Ferries is also investing in the onboard technology required to use those future fuels, and it remains committed to these investments despite the significant twin headwinds of Brexit and Covid-19. “It’s actually our history that allows us to look to the future in this way,” says Frederic Pouget, Brittany Ferries’ ports and operations director. “Our shareholders are still the farmers who first founded Brittany Ferries. We are incredibly lucky to have such patient, far-sighted and long-term owners. They’re focused on the bigger picture, rather than short-term returns. In a different company we might have had to wait until these technologies were more commonplace and their cost had declined, but by then it would be too late.  

“This generation of ferries would have been built, and in service for years with more polluting technology. We’re lucky to work in a company and a culture where this kind of vision gets the investment it needs.” 

Around the coast, the Irish Sea’s Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (IOMSPC) celebrated the keel laying for its new ro-pax Manxman at Hyundai Mipo Dockyard in Ulsan, South Korea on 24 December 2021. Costing £78 million ($102.2 million) , Manxman is slated for delivery for the Douglas-Heysham service in spring 2023. The new ship will carry 949 passengers and have space for 4,950 square metres of freight and vehicles. Wärtsilä is supplying a range of power solutions for the diesel-electric/battery hybrid vessel, working closely with IOMSPC to develop a customised integrated solution based on its operating profile and customer-specific requirements. Scope of supply to Manxman includes four Wärtsilä 31 main engines, two eight-cylinder units and two 10-cylinder versions, the energy battery storage system, propulsion machinery, and electrical and automation systems, including the Finnish specialist’s Low Loss Concept. 

Guangzhou Shipyard International launched the first of the two 47,394gt double-ended ferries for P&O Ferries on 2 January 2022. The 230-metre vessel is the largest double-ended ferry ever built, as well as P&O Ferries’ biggest vessel to date for its flagship Dover-Calais service. The two diesel-electric, battery hybrid ferries were ordered in October 2019 at a cost of £130 million ($170.5 million) each, with an option for a further two vessels.  

Finland’s ABB is supplying the hybrid propulsion system to the pair, using electric power from an 8.8-megawatt battery pack and diesel generators. The vessels will use battery power when arriving and departing ports. A total of four 7.5-megawatt Azipod propulsion units, two at each end, will propel each ferry, giving exceptional manoeuvrability. Such a system is expected to reduce fuel consumption by 40 per cent. Wärtsilä will provide four 16-cylinder Wärtsilä 31s diesel engines. The new vessels are designed for carbon neutral sailings in the future on battery power alone once charging systems are installed ashore in the ports of Dover and Calais. The delivery dates for the first two are April and November 2023. 

Viking Lines’ new Viking Glory completed her five-week journey from Xiamen, China, to the port of Turku, Finland, on 6 February. She is the first cruise ferry in the world that uses ABB’s Azipod electric propulsion. After fitout over a period of three weeks the new vessel launched service on the Turku – Åland Islands – Stockholm route on 1 March.  

Spanish ferry operator, Baleària has ordered a zero-emission battery hybrid double-ended ferry for its Ibiza-Formentera route from Astilleros Armón. The new hybrid ferry will be able to carry 350 passengers and 14 trucks and will be a zero-emission vessel while entering and leaving port and manoeuvring. She will feature an onboard Test Lab for a pilot project to examine the use of green hydrogen propulsion on a ferry and will be equipped with a 100-kilowatt compressed hydrogen fuel cell, the largest currently in existence. Delivery of the 83-metre ferry is expected in time for the 2023 summer season. 

Norway’s Torghatten Nord has signed a contract with the Norwegian Public Roads Administration to operate hydrogen-powered ferries between Bodø and Lofoten from 2025. From October that year, two new yet-to-be-ordered, 120-metre-long hydrogen-fuelled ro-paxes will be deployed on the service between Bodø on the mainland and three islands in Lofoten involving an almost 100-kilometre open ocean crossing above the Arctic Circle on what is considered Norway’s most challenging ferry route. 

The two hydrogen-fuelled ferries will operate year-round and will daily require five to six tonnes of green hydrogen. As an additional operation safety requirement, they will also be able to use other fuels. There is a requirement stipulating that minimum 85 per cent of the two ferries’ energy consumption on an annual basis should be hydrogen, which should be produced with low greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, the new ferries will reduce carbon dioxide emissions on the Vestfjord route by 26,500 tonnes annually compared to today’s LNG-powered ferries.  

Virtu Ferries has purchased a newbuild high-speed ferry for the route between Mgarr, Gozo and Valletta in Malta. The €7 million ($7.7 million) investment indicates Virtu’s commitment to the Gozo route. Built by PT Cahaya Samudra Shipyard in Batam, Indonesia, Gozo Express has an overall length of 42.2 metres and a carrying capacity of 322 passengers on two decks and outside seating for 40 passengers on the upper deck. The newbuild craft is powered by four MTU 12V2000 M72 engines and four Rolls-Royce water jets and is capable of a maximum speed of more than 38 knots, and a service speed of 35 knots. Gozo Express will replace SES San Pawl and will operate alongside the SES San Frangisk.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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