MSC Cruises and Chantiers de l’Atlantique are working on a new prototype of LNG-powered cruise ship
MSC Cruises is wasting no time in “looking at all sorts of options and a whole range of ship types” when it comes to carbon reduction and zero-carbon ship design, says Bud Darr, executive vice president of maritime policy and government affairs at MSC Group.
Owning a fleet of both cargo and cruise ships gives the company unique scope to test various solutions and share its experiences. For example, biofuel from waste cooking oil is currently being used for bunkering its cargo vessels calling in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “While there are some technical implications, we are comfortable with a 30% blend,” says Darr. “We are rather confident that we have trialled this successfully, so we can take it to the next step.”
Although MSC Group’s next step may not be to use biofuel in its cruise ships, the fuel is certainly part of the overall cruise conversation, which also highlights LNG “as a powerful tool in the arsenal”.
“It is a mistake to say that we need to look for one solution; it will take a combination of things,” says Darr. “The greatest promise is with solutions where we can take the existing designs built with some future proofing and use a -drop-in fuel. For example, in the case of our first LNG newbuild, MSC Europa, this could mean using drop-in biomethane or synthetic LNG.”
Darr adds: “We’re also designing our future ships with the potential for adding batteries later. We intend to accommodate that as part of the mix in future deliveries as it becomes more viable.”
Another solution being trialled as part of that mix is a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC), which will be installed on MSC Europa to produce electricity and heat using natural gas. “It’s an interesting possibility,” comments Darr. “Fuel cells have some real challenges with scale [for large cruise ships] at the moment but they have been applied successfully in quite a few smaller applications.”
The technology operates at a very high temperature and offers an electrical efficiency of up to 60%, explains Darr. He adds that an SOFC could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 30% compared with a conventional LNG engine.
MSC Cruises is also focused on making the process of converting fuel into power more efficient so that its ships need less fuel in the first place. Hydrogen, for example, solves the carbon issue but has a density problem in that it requires four times more volume to store in liquid form than a conventional fuel. This could be potentially overcome with fuel cells or a new type of engine.
“I think the future of lower density fuels could be improved by the way we convert the fuel into power,” says Darr. “Manufacturers are not only improving the efficiency of the engines we are using now, but also making sure that they are as adaptable as possible for future fuels. They are also working on other conversion devices.”
What’s clear, says Darr, is that shipowners like MSC Cruises cannot sit back and wait. “We have to push the envelope. I think there has been a palpable shift with the public wanting more to be done. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) goal of achieving a 50% carbon reduction from a 2008 base by 2050 is an enormous challenge for the whole shipping fleet. We have to start seeing zero-carbon ships very soon. Some put that at 2030, which I think is a reasonable goal.”
This January, MSC Cruises embarked on the next stage of attaining this goal by signing a memorandum of understanding with Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard for the development of a prototype class of four LNG-powered cruise ships. The companies will also develop another prototype ship class where they will explore opportunities such as wind power and other advanced technologies.
“The future will depend on shipowners taking risks in a very uncertain environment,” says Darr. “The legacy our generation leaves behind could be really, really good,” he says. “However, environmental issues are not going to turn on a dime, even when we do find one or more solutions to take our fleet forward.”
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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