LNG and battery-powered ferries are fast-growing elements of the newbuild orderbook, while hydrogen and LPG are some of the latest fuel initiatives
The boom in orders for new ferries continues but the pattern has changed. Most of the large European-based ferries have been committed with deliveries starting this year and stretching as far ahead as late 2022. These will enter a changing nucleus, with more newbuilds set to use LNG fuel.
Owners are still cautious. Scandinavia leads the way as there are several LNG refuelling options to choose from on fixed routes in this area. There is a reluctance to switch entirely to LNG propulsion until the absolute reliability and infrastructure is more advanced. Localised short crossing ferries are the first to adopt full LNG power for fast catamarans while more conventional smaller ropaxes are adopting hybrid batteries and biofuel solutions. Diesel still plays a large part in owner thinking.
Many owners still see LNG as a transitional fuel which is why local, shortsea catamarans is seen as a good testing ground. Some owners are receiving subsidies from port authorities in the quest for greener solutions which is a powerful inducement to change future thinking. Hydrogen fuel will be introduced for the first time by Norway’s Norled. The latest green fuel initiative being studied is providing LPG on vessels. Negotiations are currently underway for its potential and application for new orders.
When orders are placed owners sometimes hedge their bets on the choice of propulsion. More owners are specifying ships as LNG ready but will not necessarily proceed until they can be certain the infrastructure chain is in place for bunkering provision to cover ports served.
The engine builders are often in a race against time. Owners often keep their final decisions on propulsion until much later after ordering ferries. Enquiries are increasing for refining existing engines on currently serving ferries and there will be a demand in retrofitting for gas provision over the next few years.
With more fuel choices there is increasing competition against the big two providers of Wärtsilä and MAN Diesel & Turbo. Caterpillar is one of latest to adapt existing engines with two models now offering dual-fuel solutions. The Caterpillar MaK models are now providing a new generation of dual-fuel flexibility and high efficiency. The most successful to date is the M43C model which will be supplied to 10 Stena roros under construction in China and will use LNG or methanol as the second fuel choice.
In terms of changing trends new ferry orders have been placed by South Korean and Japanese owners in domestic yards.
Such is the accident records of some of the Asian nations that the message of change has been heeded and yielded work at local yards. This centres on new designs from overseas companies such as Austal Ships. The whole ferry scene is one of great change, much to the benefit of the environment and passenger comfort in the future.