The need to be energy efficient is fuelling the booming ferry market and driving the rapidly growing use of alternative energy, while the trend to use Chinese yards to build vessels is gaining momentum
Both the current and future ferry fleet are being dominated by the theme of energy efficiency and a rapidly increasing number of these vessels are being fuelled by alternative power.
The ferry orderbook stood at a healthy 241 vessels (fast ferry, ropax, passenger ferry, roro and train ferry types) as of April 2018, according to data from BRL Consultants. Many of these ships will be fuelled by battery power or LNG fuel, and the ferry market is also examining other means of alternative power, including hydrogen and methanol. This transition to cleaner energy is due in part to the upcoming 2020 low sulphur deadline, coupled with increasingly strict local regulations on emissions (in certain regions) and the drive to be as energy efficient as possible to save fuel costs.
Norway is a major influencer and driver of technology trends within the ferry market. Its ambitious politicians and government institutions now dictate that many ferry routes must be either low emission or emission free. This has led to a surge in battery hybrid and pure battery ferry newbuild orders and deliveries. And where Norway goes, other countries will follow.
Interestingly, battery power has now leapfrogged LNG to become the most popular form of alternative power for ferries in Norway.
Naval architect firm LMG Marin managing director Torbjorn Bringedal told Marine Propulsion: “Natural gas is still of interest out of Norway, but Norway is now more interested in battery power. All inland ferry connections are controlled by the state and/or local counties and they are all looking for ways to improve their carbon footprint. LNG is not as effective in this respect as battery power, so all focus is now on battery and hydrogen.” Indeed, the goal is for the whole Norwegian ferry fleet to ultimately become fossil free.
Fuels of the future
For many of reasons outlined above, there is now a large push to create a hydrogen ferry. Norway’s National Road Administration’s aim, to create a fossil-free fleet, is behind a programme to develop a hydrogen ferry that will go into operation in 2021. Three groups, consisting of ferry operators Norled, Fjord1 and Boreal, are creating a hybrid ferry design utilising 50% hydrogen mixed with a plug-in battery system. The winner is expected to be announced in Q3 this year. LMG Marin is also taking part in the hydrogen contract bid.
Mr Bringedal said: “Hydrogen will be used on the really demanding routes to remote islands over the longest fjords and at quite high speed. Hydrogen combines well with batteries, as batteries smooth the loads for a hydrogen system.” He explained that hydrogen has a longer life span if used with batteries, as fuel cells are on constant power while the batteries can take on the variable loads.
Projects such as this will open the doors for other hydrogen-powered ferries. As Mr Bringedal said “The technology for hydrogen is there, but we cannot get further unless we start applying it in ferries and gaining experience.”
He said that hydrogen use would become a trend within the ferry market. “You need one project and then other projects will follow in Norway and out of Norway - a bit like with LNG,” he said, noting that LNG use was developed in Norway in state-subsidised ferry projects and then realised all over the world.
Hydrogen would also be a good possibility for high-speed ferries. LMG Marin is involved in a study looking at using fossil-free high-speed solutions which could involve batteries, hydrogen or a combination of both.
Mr Bringedal said: “I believe that hydrogen might have even bigger potential in high-speed ferries as the energy density is so high.” In contrast, if only batteries are used, a reduction in speed or longer time in harbour might have to be accepted. “These can be avoided if hydrogen is used, but this technology has to be taken one step further than with a car ferry, as all the systems need to be optimised for a very low weight [needed for a high-speed vessel],” he said.
The other challenge is that batteries and hydrogen require electric propulsion, which has not been used in a high-speed ferry before. Such a system is “quite heavy and voluminous”, so work is needed to optimise its weight.
While Norway is a leader when it comes to hydrogen, companies in other areas are also investigating the use of hydrogen to power ferries. Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) is “actively” working on a hydrogen ferry project.
The Scottish ferry owner’s director of vessels Jim Anderson told delegates at a panel discussion about electrification, at Interferry’s annual conference in October last year: “We are actively working on a hydrogen ferry project and have done a cost model capex and it can be done.” The company started the project in 2010 and has been working on it with partners including Ferguson shipyard.
“We are very hopeful we can build a hydrogen vessel - we can look to do that with the excess of renewable electrical power [in Scotland] at the best tariff, this economic model works. The challenge is the new technology, but it is very possible, and we are looking to do it.”
He said the biggest challenge is storing the fuel, which would “take up a lot of space on the vessel”, which would also need to bunker every second day. The company needs to look at how to build this into the timetable.
Aside from hydrogen, methonal is also of interest to the ferry market. Stena Line’s Stena Germanica was retrofitted in 2016 to run on methanol – the first vessel in the world to do so. And methanol is a possibility for Stena to use in the future on its newbuilds and existing ships, Stena RoRo managing director Per Westling told the audience at the Ferry Shipping Conference (Shippax) last year.
On the subject of methonal fuelling, he told delegates at a session about how the ferry industry will look in 2025: “Our experience is very, very good, it is a very clean fuel and the technology really works, it is a dual-fuel engine which is extremely flexible.”
The Methanol Institute is keen to push the use of methanol as a marine fuel and its chief operating officer Chris Chatterton singled out ferries as being a strong candidate.
He said “Shortsea shipping, ferries, inland waterways and workboats – all sectors that have flirted with LNG as a fuel – are all potential markets for methanol. The environmental argument is irrefutable: unlike LNG which addresses the SOx/NOx/PM emissions problem, methanol is liquid at atmospheric pressure and offers a future pathway to a low- and zero-carbon emissions profile.”
He highlighted the availability of methanol at port locations globally.
LNG still at forefront
Despite the focus on new alternative power like methanol and hydrogen and that fact that battery power has overtaken LNG in the Norway ferry market, LNG is still very much in demand to power ferries. Mr Bringedal said: “In Europe, LNG is really going to be used as a fuel. We are seeing more and more interest in it and more tenders coming out now for bunkering operations.”
LMG Marin is itself working on a design for a dual-fuelled gas ferry for Italian ferry operator Caronte & Tourist. The 133 m double-ended ferry will have capacity for 290 cars on two vehicle decks, and 1,500 passengers. The propulsion will be based on a gas-electric system using three dual-fuel engines. It is being built at Turkey’s Sefine shipyard and will be delivered in September this year.
An upcoming trend in the ferry market could well involve a combination of LNG and batteries. Norwegian operator Fjord1 converted its ferry Fannefjord from an LNG-fuelled vessel to an LNG-battery hybrid ferry. The converted vessel went into operation in May 2015 and proudly claims the title of being the first passenger ferry to use a combination of pure gas and battery power. LMG Marin designed the concept.
Mr Bringedal commented: “Using LNG and batteries together has very good benefits. The reduction in the fuel consumption of Fannefjord is impressive. The batteries take out the variable load which mean that the gas engines, which are quite vulnerable to dynamic loads, are running under ideal conditions.”
Including newbuilding orders, there are more passenger ships in the LNG-powered fleet than any other type of vessel. Sister title LNG World Shipping’s review of LNG-fuelled ships worldwide, which breaks the fleet into four segments, shows that as of 1 May 2018 there were 41 such passenger ships in service, compared to 40 a year ago, and 42 on order, up from 32. There are 22 LNG-fuelled ferries on order, with the orderbook for these ferries stretching to 2020.
In terms of vessel numbers, the passenger ship total of in-service and on-order vessels is 24% greater than the next largest segment, tankers and bulk carriers.
Building in China
Aside from alternative fuel, another upcoming trend in the ferry market is the emergence of China as a builder of ferries. Booked up European shipyards and the lower cost of building vessels in China are drivers of this trend. Indeed, Chinese shipyards claim the second largest chunk of the global ferry orderbook with 37 ferries, according to BRL Consultants’ data. It is only just beaten by the USA, which has 41 ferries on its orderbook.
Major European ferries being built in China include Viking Line’s new LNG-fuelled ferry at Xiamen Shipbuilding, and Stene RoRo is building four gas-ready ropax at AVIC Weihai Shipyard Co, Ltd in China.
Both projects highlight the trend for building passenger vessels in China with the co-operation of European naval architects and suppliers. For example, Finland-headquartered Deltamarin has designed Viking Line’s newbuild and has inked a contract with Xiamen Shipbuilding for engineering and construction support services. Deltamarin has used its consultancy services to support Xiamen in streamlining its production, so that it is suitable for building ropax vessels. It is also involved with the building of Stena Line’s vessels, being built by AVIC Shipyard, providing both design services for the vessels as well as shipyard consultancy services.
Ferry investment boost in UK and Asia
The UK and Ireland ferry industry is gearing up for growth with more than £1Bn (US$1.3Bn) of investments announced for new ships, port and service facilities in the next four years, according to figures released by Discover Ferries at the start of this year.
Discover Ferries members are: Brittany Ferries, Caledonian MacBrayne, DFDS, Irish Ferries, Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, MBNA Thames Clippers, P&O Ferries, Red Funnel, Stena Line and Wightlink.
Discover Ferries director Emma Batchelor said the figures reflected the sustained popularity of ferry travel. “More than 39M passenger journeys* are made by ferry to UK islands, the Isle of Man and Ireland, France, Spain and Holland [a year],” she said, “and those sustained numbers are enabling ferry operators to invest with confidence in new ships and new routes…In the next four years the scale of this investment will see another step change in service for travellers.”
Investment in the ferry industry is also expected to grow in Asia, driven by increased demand for a newer, safer and more energy-efficient fleet. As an example, the Philippines Government is planning to implement a requirement to replace older passenger vessels as a means of improving the safety of operations. The initiative is expected soon, and the age of vessels is expected to be 25-years old and above. Once passed, it is expected that the Government will give ferry operators about three years in which to meet their obligations under the mandate.
Philippines ferry operator 2GO head of shipmanagement Eduardo Dela Cruz told Marine Propulsion: “The market is growing, the demand for better ships is there, and there is pressure from regulators, class and the Government to modernise and upgrade fleets.”
*figures from Ferrystat compiled by independent research agency, IRN Research, based on returns supplied by Discover ferry operator members
Ferries entering service in 2018:
Ferries entering service in 2019:
Brittany Ferries’ new £175M vessel Honfleu will delivered in 2019. The ship will be built in the Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellshaft shipyard in Germany and will be powered by LNG. Four engines feed electric generators and two electric propulsion motors.
Stena Line's four new LNG-ready ropax vessels, which are being built at the AVIC Shipyard in China, will be delivered during 2019 and 2020, with Stena having an option on a further four vessels as part of the overall contract.
Torbjorn Bringedal (LMG Marin)
Mr Bringedal gained an MSc in naval architecture and marine engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 1991. He has worked for LMG Marin since 1994, with experience spanning the design of naval ships, offshore vessels and passenger ships. He was project manager for the first series of gas ferries designed by LMG Marin, which were built by Aker Yards (now Vard). He became managing director at LMG Marin in 2013.