Local ferry owner SKF is electrifying its fleet to support Kiel’s ambitious target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050
A major port on the Baltic and one of Europe’s busiest hubs for passenger ships, Kiel wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. To advance these ambitions, the city wants to reduce the carbon footprint of its public transportation, including its commuter ferry operations.
Underpinning the government’s decarbonisation efforts, German tow and ferry firm Schlepp-und-Färhgesellschaft (SKF) has moved towards electrifying its fleet. In August, it began operating the new hybrid-powered ferry Gaarden on the Kieler Fjord, and has ordered four fully electric ferries.
Measuring 32.40 m by 8.80 m, Gaarden is the first plug-in hybrid ferry on the German Baltic Sea coast and, as such, a landmark for the region. Operating as a cycle and pedestrian ferry within the waters of the fjord, the drive train allows it to be powered by generators or batteries within the precincts of the city, lowering CO2 emissions.
Designed for hard work and reliability, the ferry plies the fjord for up to 12.5 hours a day, running a maximum of five 2.5-hour loops. It has a capacity of 300 passengers.
After six months in operation, SKF says Gaarden has done everything expected of it, operationally and sustainably, and the group has since placed orders for four more ferries with the vessel’s builder, the Netherland’s Holland Shipyards. “Gaarden fulfilled its duties and SFK is confident about extending the contract as originally intended,” says SFK chief executive Ansgar Stalder.
And in the next step of a total renewal of SFK’s fleet, fully electric Düsternbrook will start work on the fjord shortly. Effectively a prototype for the three sister ships, all-electric Düsternbrook, at 27.4-m long and 6.50-m wide, will have a capacity of 140 passengers and 60 bicycles.
Holland Shipyard won the contract for Gaarden – and, as it turned out, for four more ferries – after a hard-fought Europe-wide tender among 13 shipyards that was effectively a trial for the design.
The hull of Gaarden is designed for a service speed of 11 knots an hour with minimum water resistance and maximum reliability. “Ferries require one characteristic first and foremost – [they must] sail like clockwork,” says Holland Shipyards.
Batteries and generators were provided by EST-Floattech, a Netherlands- based supplier doing a thriving business in battery technology. In mid-February the group was contracted to deliver 1,260 kWh of battery energy for a Swedish electric ferry destined to start work in Gothenburg in 2022. The power will enable the vessel to operate on fully electric propulsion for up to eight hours a day.
From the first, it was important that Gaarden and subsequent vessels in the fleet can be easily repaired and maintained – that is, without using drydocks which, Holland Shipyard points out, may be far away from the ferry’s area of operation.
Also, the interior was designed to accommodate commuters and tourists, with comfortable seating, a food and drink kiosk and large deck-to-ceiling panoramic windows for sightseeing.
“The ferry will not only transport passengers from A to B but is also equipped for tourist day trips in the Kieler Fjord,” Holland Shipyard points out. The outer part of the fjord, with sandy beaches, is popular with visitors and leisure sailors.
Further underlying SFK’s green credentials, Gaarden will be progressively joined from early 2022 by three sister vessels as SFK works to comply with the city’s determination to be CO₂-free by 2050. Contracts for the construction of the three newbuilds were signed in mid-January, with the first two due to be delivered in February and May 2022 and the third in early 2026.
The vessels will go a long way to meeting the city’s clean-air targets. Although not strictly a fjord, according to geologists, the Kieler Fjord is an ecologically important 20-km long, 7-km wide inlet of the Baltic Sea on the eastern side of Schleswig-Holstein. The city of Kiel forms the terminal of the Kiel Canal that is one of the busiest artificial waterways in the world.
The waters require robust ferries. According to maritime risk management consultancy Risc-Kit, storm surges can spring up in certain conditions, particularly nor-nor’easterly winds, and make for rough sailing. In August 1989, a storm damaged marinas and other infrastructure, with other floods following in 1995, 2006 and, most recently, Storm Axel in January 2017.
A specialist in sustainably powered vessels, Holland Shipyard has a packed orderbook of a dozen fully electric or hybrid ferries. As well as the three ferries for SFK, the group is building two fully electric, double-ended, vehicle and passenger ferries for Boreal, which operates in Norway’s Agder province. Measuring 48.9-m long by 29.80-m wide, the ferries were designed by Wärtsilä and will enter service in H2 2021.
Holland Shipyard walks the talk; not only does the group build climate-virtuous ferries, in late 2020 it delivered a fully electric new dredger to Royal Smals, a family owned Netherlands-based dredging specialist, and will later this year start work on the retrofit of a vessel to run on hydrogen fuel cells.
Clearly, Holland Shipyards and its client SFK look to a cleaner, better future for the ferry industry.
Isle of Man’s new flagship takes shape
The design phase of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s first new flagship ferry in a quarter century is moving forward steadily despite interruptions caused by the pandemic.
The launch of the vessel, already christened Manxman, is on target for 2023, according to chief executive Mark Woodward, on what will be a red-letter day for a company that claims to be the oldest continuously operating passenger shipping company in the world.
The Steam Packet Company celebrated its 190th birthday in 2020, a year after being bought by the government for £124M (US$175M) in order to secure the sea link for islanders. The Isle of Man Government will underpin the cost of the new ferry. The precise cost has not been revealed but the group’s 2020 business plan estimates capital expenditure of a minimum £70M (US$99M) for the ropax and a new fast craft.
Manxman will replace Ben-My-Chree, a 125.0-m long, 23.4-m wide diesel-powered vessel built by Rotterdam’s Van der Giessen de Noord and first put into service in 1998. According to the company, the ferry is “undoubtedly one of the most reliable vessels in the company’s history.”
“The vital phase of designing the external and internal features of Manxman is the longest,” Mr Woodward says in a blog in late January. “This is where some of the most important decisions are made, including the development of a 3D drawing of the vessel.”
The two biggest decisions have already been made, however. The 132-m long vessel will be built by Hyundai Mipo, one of the most automated shipyards in the world, and powered by Wärtsila’s four-stroke W31 engine that was chosen primarily, says the ferry company’s operations manager James Royston, for its frugality and reliability.
“The engine’s diesel consumption is on average around 8% lower than similar-sized engines available on the market,” he says in a recent release. Indeed the Guinness World Records describes the W31 as “the world’s most efficient four-stroke diesel engine.”
Wärtsila will supply two eight-cylinder and two 10-cylinder versions of the engines. First released in 2015, to date Wärtsila has sold – or has on order – more than 100 of these engines, the group tells PST.
The Steam Packet Company was also looking for versatility for the ferry which will connect the island with England on the Heysham-Douglas route. “In terms of system integration and operational optimisation, we will be able to run a variety of engine combinations to ensure they are always running as close to their most efficient,” Mr Royston adds. Further details about the hybrid propulsion system, which will include energy storage batteries and waste heat recovery, will be provided when the full package has been completed.
As well as the propulsion, the Finnish manufacturer will also deliver in late 2021 a variety of other systems such as electrical, automation, energy storage, transverse thrusters, ultraviolet water ballast management system as well as a navigation system with a new console design.
The company is not apologising for taking its time over the design phase. “A problem that costs £1 (US$1.40) to rectify on paper may cost £100 (US$140) at build stage and perhaps £1,000 (US$1,400) to rectify after build,” explains Mr Woodward.
In an insight into the complexity of building a flagship passenger vessel, the company estimates that some 100 people are developing the detailed design, working closely with naval architects, engineers, the classification society and the Isle of Man Ship Registry as the flag state. And at different times between 2,500 and 10,000 people will be involved in the construction.
A vital link with England, the Steam Packet Company employs about 300 staff, nearly all of them Isle of Man residents. Like most other ferry operators, the company has suffered from the pandemic. Although there have been few cases of Covid-19 on the island, at the time of writing only Isle of Man residents are allowed to travel providing they follow self-isolation rules and the borders remain closed to non-residents.
By the time Manxman is launched in 2023, those restrictions will hopefully be long in the past.