Red Funnel has been spinning several plates this year – from beginning construction of a £10M (US$14M) ferry to launching its latest catamaran, Red Jet 7, and trialling a new biofuel
The UK-headquartered, Isle of Wight ferry operator has hired UK shipyard Cammell Laird to build its first dedicated freight roro ferry, Red Kestrel. The keel-laying took place at Cammell Laird’s yard in June, with the vessel scheduled for delivery in Q2 2019.
At 74 m in length, it will provide 265 lane metres of roll-on/roll-off freight capacity and will carry up to 12 passengers.
To minimise the environmental footprint, the hull shape has been designed specifically to reduce wash and a propulsion package has been selected to make it highly fuel efficient, while meeting the latest Tier III emission regulations. The use of azimuth thrusters supplied by Rolls-Royce will also make the ship highly manoeuvrable.
Red Funnel chairman Kevin George told PST the reasons for building the ferry. “We have been successful in developing our business overall – and we are the largest freight carrier to the Isle of Wight with 53% of the market. The nature of the market is that there are peaks and troughs, and by season and day of week and time of day we have found for those peaks we are capacity constrained.” He said an example was on early morning sailings from the UK mainland to the island freight capacity was full on most peak sailings, so the operator needed more capacity.
Solving capacity constraint
“Also, we have other times when we are capacity constrained for cars, like at the start of school holidays when lots of people want to travel.” Therefore, rather than make an investment in a full vehicle roro ferry (to join the three Red Funnel already has), Mr George said it was decided that a more cost-effective investment would be in a smaller vessel made “as simple as possible”, with space for 12 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).
“This give us a huge degree of flexibility,” he explained. “It is of benefit for times that are really busy for car traffic, as we can take up to 12 HGVs off our current roro vessels and put them on the freight ferry.” By removing the HGVs, the mezanine decks on the roro ferries can carry 100 extra cars per sailing.
The ferry operator has limited the ferry to 12 passengers (drivers of the HGVs) as this “makes a huge difference” in terms of accommodation offered. “We can provide a rest area more tailored to what freight drivers want than a full normal offering for customers.”
The ferry operator initially thought it would purchase a secondhand vessel rather than build one. “But finding a vessel in an acceptable condition and the costs associated with making it compliant to UK regulation took us to the point where it was more cost effective to have a new one built.”
Therefore Red Funnel looked for a yard that had both design and build capability,” ideally experienced in relatively small roro ferries and supporting the general theme of supporting British shipbuilding – but driven by normal criteria of cost quality and delivery,” explained Mr George.
Red Funnel looked at a number of yards across Europe but decided that “in terms of meeting criteria, Cammell Laird came to the fore”.
On top of its new ferry contract, Red Funnel welcomed Red Jet 7 to its fleet in July this year. Sister to Red Jet 6, delivered in 2016, the company’s latest Red Jet was built by Wight Shipyard, which also delivered Red Jet 6.
Mr George said the company would turn its thoughts to renewing some of its fleet in the mid-2020s. “We are actively watching what happens in terms of technology development in propulsion, because although several years away, we need to start thinking about this as it is a huge project.”
Positive biofuel trial
In terms of alternative fuel, the company recently trialled a biofuel consisting of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and Mr George said the initial results were positive.
But despite the push within some parts of the ferry sector to use alternative power, he expressed caution. “We are monitoring [renewable sources of power] closely but because reliability is such a fundamental part of our service offering we are fairly reluctant to get involved with technology that does not have some degree of maturity.”
Which in part explains why, when Cammell Laird shipyard started construction in June this year on Red Funnel’s new roro ferry Red Kestrel, the operator chose to stick with conventional diesel, due to emerging technologies being a “long way yet from maturity”.
Mr George said “We have no desire to be at the leading edge of technology and reliability is more important to us.”
However, despite exercising some caution when it comes to using alternative power, the company has been exploring using a biofuel based on HVO. Earlier this year, Red Funnel trialled Green Biofuels’ Green D+ fossil-free fuel on its ropax fleet of ships, operating between Southampton and the Isle of Wight.
Green D+ fuel is formulated by Green Biofuels using a patented performance additive to HVO renewable diesel. The HVO is produced by Neste in Europe from waste and residue materials (for example, used cooking oil and waste fats from the food processing industry) as well as plant oils such as palm oil and rapeseed oil. The waste oil is recycled back into fuel, eliminating the dangers of inefficient and often dangerous disposal, or its re-use in the food chain.
The aim of the trial – which powered the main engines and onboard generators – was to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr George explained that the emissions monitoring involved using pure marine gasoil (MGO), a 50:50 mix of MGO and Green D+ and 100% Green D+.
He said the “beauty of HVO is that it is a direct replacement for diesel and can be mixed with diesel.” The trial showed the use of HVO had led to no degradation in the engines of the ferries.
Red Funnel is still analysing the emissions results, but Mr George said “Without question, emissions were dramatically reduced”.
He added “It is very early days and HVO is quite expensive at this point, but I think if there was mass production of it, it would be economically more viable than it is at the moment.”
He highlighted the importance of carrying out the trial. “While we had been reassured this fuel would work, we wanted to test it ourselves and initial indications from an emissions perspective are very encouraging. It is now an economic case of how to go forward with it.”
Kevin George (Red Funnel)
Kevin George was appointed chairman of Red Funnel Group in January 2018, having spent the four previous years as the ferry operator’s chief executive. An engineer by training, he has over 30 years of experience in the transport sector and roles have spanned senior management within companies including British Airways and Monarch Airlines. In December 2015, he was appointed chairman of industry body Discover Ferries.