A growing number of ferry operators are making the move to hybrid – or fully electric – engines, with smaller cruise lines starting to follow suit. As the technology continues to develop, could traditional bunker fuel soon be consigned to history and where does progress still need to be made? Andrea Valentino looks into this industry trend.

In January, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) was part of a coalition of environmental and global shipping groups calling for a prohibition on the carriage of non-compliant marine fuels when the global 0.5% sulphur cap takes effect in 2020. “Unless a ship is using an approved equivalent compliance method, there should be no reason for it to be carrying non-compliant fuels for combustion on board,” the organisation said in a statement.

The 2020 Global Sulphur Cap promises to provide substantial environmental and human health benefits as a result of the reduced sulphur content of marine fuels used from 1 January 2020. At the same time, the cap will significantly increase ships’ operating costs, and it is already proving to be a key driver in getting operators to think more creatively about how their engine rooms operate.

While this is welcome news, cruise ship operators soon may not need to use petrol at all, especially with the rise of sophisticated new technology, including hybrid engines and onshore power systems. Their colleagues in the ferry industry are already leading the way, and there is every sign that cruise ships may follow the same path.

Ferry good

One of the most exciting developments is the increasing popularity of hybrid engines. Rather than relying wholly on petrol, these new systems enable captains to switch between traditional fuel and clean electricity. Although the technology is in its infancy, ferry companies have rushed to go green.

M/V Copenhagen, owned by Scandlines, is the second of two new hybrid ferries on the Rostock-Gedser route, for example. In the UK, shipbuilder Ferguson Marine has built a £12.3-million diesel-electric hybrid ferry for CalMac Ferries to use on its routes in the Hebrides, while Wightlink’s new flagship ferry for the Fishbourne- Portsmouth journey will use dieselelectric hybrid batteries.

Some companies have even pushed to go fully electric. In December 2016, Fjord1 and Havyard Group signed a contract for the construction of three such ferries. The first of these vessels is slated for delivery in May, and the remaining two towards the end of the year. Other ferry companies have followed suit. The Ampere, run by Norled, emits nothing and glides between the Norwegian villages of Lavik and Ytre Oppedal in almost complete silence.

These impressive statistics help explain the rush to switch technology: the environmental benefits of electric and hybrid engines are just too enormous to ignore. After all, Scandlines says that its new hybrid ferries can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 15%. For its part, the Ijveer, a Dutch hybrid ferry based in Amsterdam, has helped reduce particle emissions in the area by as much as 40%.

Nor does all this green goodness mean operators have to dig too far into their wallets. “Having a complete battery system will clearly save you on fuel costs,” said John Roger Nesje, vice-president of power electric systems at Rolls-Royce, in a recent interview with Ship Technology. At the same time, the reliability of hybrid engines also promises to save operators money on maintenance.

According to research in Norway, it would be profitable to transform 70% of current ferries into electrical or partially electrical ferries. – Pekka Moilanen, Siemens Finland

Positive experiences

There is evidence to suggest this move towards hybrids will only gather pace. “Other Nordic countries have had good experiences with electric ferries,” noted Pekka Moilanen, sales director at Siemens Finland on the company’s Global Weblogs page. “According to research in Norway, it would be profitable to transform 70% of current ferries into electrical or partially electrical ferries.” Nor is progressive Scandinavia the only place experimenting with cleaner ferries: New York is just one of the US cities looking into using hybrid engines.

Can this enthusiasm extend to the cruise industry? There is good reason to be optimistic. After all, smaller cruise vessels are already being fitted with hybrid engines. Hurtigruten is due to launch two hybrid vessels over the next 18 months, making it the first cruise line to embrace the technology. Designed for cruises to the Arctic and Antarctic, the ships will have full electric propulsion for up to 30 minutes, potentially reducing fuel consumption by 20% and cutting CO2 emissions by 6,400t a year. Other operators are not far behind: in December 2017, Ponant announced the first ever hybrid-cruise icebreaker.

Whether larger cruise companies follow suit depends partly on the success of another green technology: onshore power systems. After all, electric engines can only work if there are places to recharge them. Once again, ferry companies are speeding ahead. K Line Offshore, a Norwegian operator, already boasts an onshore power system at its base in Bergen, while the Marseille and Kiel ferry terminals seem set to go the same way.

There are signs cruise operators are moving in the same direction. Earlier this year, Carnival Corporation announced plans to expand its onshore power facility at Long Beach, building on its success by equipping 40% of its fleet with the technology. For its part, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises plans to build two new ships in the HANSEATIC nature and HANSEATIC inspiration, which are kitted out with the latest onshore power technology.

Meanwhile, operators continue to introduce clean liquefied natural gas (LNG) to their engine rooms, a shift that seems likely to intensify in light of CLIA’s announcement on high-sulphur fuels. In January, P&O Cruises started work on a second LNG-based cruise ship, while Carnival announced similar plans at the end of last year.

Whether this will turn into a longer term trend remains to be seen. After all, as the ferry industry has shown, vessels can comfortably run on hybrid or fully electric engines alone. Though fullscale electric cruising remains a distant prospect, cruise companies have certainly started a journey that may see all types of fuel – LNG or not – kept safely on shore.