New Norwegian battery hybrid ferry Vision of the Fjords has been described by its operator and its builder as “world leading” and “probably the greenest sightseeing experience ever created”.
The Fjords – a new ferry operation which is co-owned by transport operator Fjord1 and Flåm AS, which promotes tourism opportunities in the Flåm area, to the north east of Bergen – owns the 40m passenger ferry, which was delivered by shipbuilder Brødrene Aa in June.
Its dual-fuel solution allows it to run diesel engines up to the entrance of the UNESCO-protected Nærøyfjord, where it then switches to battery power. The batteries will be charged from shore at each stop.
Rolf Andrew Sandvik, managing director of The Fjords, explained the background to the ferry project. “One million visitors come each year to the Nærøyfjord basin. They are coming for clean air and clean nature – and we are running pretty old vessels.”
The Fjords was established in January 2015 and became fully operational in May. It is based on the total leisure and tourism traffic in the Norwegian fjords from Fjord1 and Flåm AS. It has eight vessels in addition to Vision of the Fjords, leased from Fjord1 and other operators.
Mr Sandvik added: “People said that we were not very environmentally friendly. We acknowledge that we have to renew the fleet with renewable clean energy and propulsion systems, and we want to overhaul the entire company and its profile. Seasight [Vision of the Fjords’ class] is the first step towards what we want to become in the future. It is our company’s vision.
“We realise that we are very small in global terms so we have to make environmental friendliness and sustainable operation our business. We compete for visibility and Vision of the Fjords represents something new. We operate in very vulnerable areas and we have to think about the environment.”
Indeed, Vision of the Fjords has met The Fjords’ ambitions and targets. Mr Sandvik said: “With Vision of the Fjords we feel that we have challenged the maritime industry to think of solutions that were not just off the shelf when it came to building a new ship. We want to give our guests a total experience and a smaller environmental footprint. We want to excite people and we really think we will be able to do that with the new ship, which has made people think differently.”
Four shipbuilders bid for the contract, and The Fjords chose Norwegian shipbuilder Brødrene Aa. “We had four shipbuilders, and one of them said that this vessel concept was possible,” explained Mr Sandvik. The vessel is innovative in lots of different ways, from its machinery to its structure.
The design of the innovative superstructure was inspired by the old roads zig-zagging up mountains to get to a higher point as easily as possible, explained Torstein Aa, naval architect at Brødrene Aa.
“Now that we have seen the finished product, we feel that our work has really paid off. We worked very hard not to compromise on the design. During the design process we asked ourselves questions such as “what is the story we want to tell?” and “what do we want to design?” We tried to think of the project less as a ship and more as if we were creating space for people to have a good sightseeing experience.”
Mr Aa said that the specification the shipyard had been given for the vessel included large, rounded windows and a large outdoor area in which to move around, a comfortable interior with a relaxing atmosphere, and reduced noise and vibrations. “This is all key to creating a good sightseeing experience as, most importantly, the design was to be an experience in itself.”
Mr Aa said that the Seasight shape is one of the most radical designs the shipyard has ever come up with. The yard soon realised that the sculptural shape provides a number of benefits. It encompasses three panoramic lounges, and passengers are able to move all the way up to the top of the vessel, which is wheelchair accessible. Different ramps are at different levels, so nobody blocks anyone else’s view. And there is over 200m of front row viewing space.
He added: “The interior brings nature into the passenger areas. Relatively dark colours are used which bring focus to the view outside. Matt surfaces soften the interior and create less visual noise. We have tried to make a dynamic but comfortable space with a Scandinavian, contemporary style.”
He explained that the hull has a low wake that creates almost no waves. This translates to fuel efficiency, as the vessel requires less energy to move. Mr Aa said that this, together with the hybrid electric drive and the use of lightweight materials, means that the vessel offers “probably the greenest sightseeing experience ever created.”
The 40m vessel, which has capacity for 400 passengers, will be travelling between Flåm and Gudvangen, which is approximately 20 nautical miles. It will operate for half the trip at a speed of 20 knots using the main engines. For the other half of the trip it will travel at 8-10 knots using the batteries only. The batteries will be charged from shore at each end stop, and can also be charged by the diesel engines when they are operating.
The energy storage system, with batteries from LG Chem adapted for maritime use by Zem, has a total capacity of 576 kWh-825V DC. Arild Austrheim, Fjord1 head of projects and newbuilding, said: “The electricity on shore is 100 per cent from hydropower and produced locally. A manual plug is used to connect the vessel to the grid. It charges for 20 minutes and is easy and fast to connect.”
Mr Sandvik added: “There is a lot of hydroelectric power available in the area where we are travelling. The region is one of the largest producers of hydroelectric power in Norway and it is only using 10 per cent of it. This means that 90 per cent of this power is being exported without benefit to the community.”
The arrangement on Vision of the Fjords consists of a direct coupled diesel engine with a propeller PTO/PTI (power take off/power take in). This can disconnect the engines using the same electric generator for electric propulsion, or if needed disconnect and charge the diesel engines direct to the batteries even if no power is being put onto the propulsion system. The batteries are split into two sections, with one on each side of the vessel, and there are two plugs on shore, one for each side.
Mr Austrheim called the vessel “world leading.”
Vision of the Fjords uses a lightweight version of ABB’s Onboard DC Grid, the power distribution system which manages and controls the power between its diesel engine, propeller and charging station. The onboard DC allows the generators to run at variable speeds, making the engines much more efficient and leading to fuel savings.
Mr Austrheim explained that one of the biggest challenges of building Vision of the Fjords was that there are no class rules governing the use of batteries in this particular kind of vessel. “This was challenging, as it was not easy to anticipate what the requirements might be. We [Fjord1] had some knowledge of the likely requirements from previous battery conversion projects, so right from the start we put in extra safety measures.”
He told Passenger Ship Technology about these measures. “We knew, for example, that battery explosions would be an issue, so even before we knew that this was a requirement we included panels that would open in the event of high overpressure inside the vessel.
“We also put in additional fire-fighting equipment, on top of what we expected to be the minimum requirement. These were things that are not costly if you know about them early on in the project.” He said that finding out three weeks prior to delivery that what had been added was not sufficient was a different story, and could mean redesigning or reconstructing areas of the vessel.
He added that class-approved vessels with batteries were all constructed in aluminium or steel, but not in carbon fibre – the innovative material out of which Vision of the Fjords is constructed. “Battery hybrid vessels had not been built in carbon fibre before, and it was not obvious how to adapt the existing rules. This was one of the main discussions we had with class.”
The use of carbon fibre brings additional benefits. Brødrene Aa is a specialist in using this material, and described its benefits. Its low weight but high strength lead to reduced fuel costs, reduced CO2 and NOx emissions and reduced maintenance costs. Norwegian ferry operators recognise the benefits and the material has started to dominate the Norwegian fast ferry market. Vision of the Fjords is the exception to this, as it is not a fast ferry.
Commenting on the use of carbon fibre, Mr Sandvik told Passenger Ship Technology: “I had only ever worked with steel ships – cruise ships and oil tankers. I was not even close to imagining that carbon fibre could be used in shipbuilding, in this capacity and of this strength. It was an eye-opener for me.”
The Fjords has ambitions to grow. It currently has eight vessels, some of which are very old. “We hope to begin a project with Fjord1 to transform the propulsion systems on some of the ferries. Some of them have main engines for which the manufacturers have stopped producing spare parts, so we have to do something.”
He said the company was considering battery conversions. “We are thinking about how to utilise the older fleet with greener technology, and so we are looking at liquefied natural gas [LNG] and batteries.” He said that the challenge of supplying LNG was the narrow roads into the fjords. “We are talking about it in general terms. It would be a very interesting project for the future,” Mr Sandvik commented.
He summed up the Vision of the Fjords project saying: “It has been a challenging year for many people. A lot of hard work was involved for everyone working on the project. The result is floating today. We hope to set a new standard in the fjords in Norway.”
|Vision of the Fjords|
|Main engines||2 x 749kW|
|PTO/PTI||2 X 209/150kW|
|Side thrusters||4 x 30kW|
|Battery capacity||2 x 288 kWh|