MSC Cruises: In pursuit of clean energy

While the maritime industry awaits the release of the International Maritime Organization’s revised greenhouse gas strategy in mid-2023, MSC Cruises is trialling an innovative new technology onboard its latest ship. Michele Francioni tells Jon Ingleton more

MSC Cruises: In pursuit of clean energy
MSC World Europa is one of the most environmentally advanced ships at sea

According to MSC Cruises, its new MSC World Europa currently is the most efficient ship in its fleet, generating 46 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger per day than an average vessel delivered 10 years ago. And MSC Cruises believes that its own analysis indicates the newbuild to be the best performing large cruise ship, from an emissions point of view, in the world. 

These impressive results represent just a fraction of what MSC Cruises expects to achieve in the medium term. While it’s only one of a series of innovations the brand is trialling, the pilot solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) onboard MSC World Europa could be a key to unlocking significant environmental sustainability gains in the future. 

A SOFC is an electrical conversion device that generates electrical energy directly from fuel oxidation. It also generates another form of energy too. “The system operates at a temperature between 700C and 800C, so in addition to generating electrical energy, it also produces thermal energy,” says Michele Francioni, senior vice president of MSC Cruises. “We’re not capturing it during this test, but when scaled, it would make a significant additional contribution to our power requirements.”  

SOFC systems offer numerous advantages, one of which is that they can work with several different fuels. “It’s a fuel-neutral system but we opted to power it with LNG because we have a plentiful onboard supply on MSC World Europa,” says Francioni. “We will likely also test it with a bio-LNG, but we don’t have any current plans to try it with other fuel types, as they are not yet available. But our future aim is to scale up SOFC powered with green fuels such as hydrogen or methanol.  

The system ticks boxes across every metric MSC Cruises measures, with safety and maintenance being two key criteria. “The SOFC performance has been excellent, and we haven’t seen any signs of safety or maintenance issues,” says Francioni. “The fuel is very stable and there are also no moving parts, so we don’t foresee any difficulties with maintenance.” 

Perhaps the only disadvantage of the SOFC system is the slow start-up time, but the system is designed to run continuously as it supports the hotel load which is always required. “Aside from one stop-start test, we’ve been running the system continuously at maximum power throughout the trial,” says Francioni.  

Although MSC Cruises is only a few months into the test, the SOFC is already easily meeting the line’s expectations. “We’ve operated the system continually and it’s delivered a steady output even better than our forecast 150-kilowatt return,” he says. “Obviously this is a tiny fraction of the energy we need but we are confident that the system can be scaled up on future newbuilds.” 

Plans are also underway for the company to consider a proton-exchange membrane fuel cell as an alternative solution to SOFC on ships sailing for MSC Group’s new luxury brand Explora Journeys. Whichever way it goes, MSC Cruises’ commitment to investigating and deploying new energy technologies will benefit the business, the wider cruise industry and the planet. 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.

Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
10 May 2023