The European ferry industry has embarked on a path to a future without emissions. Electric and hydrogen boats are planned.
In just a few months, passengers in Stavanger, Norway, will take a revolutionary ferry that produces no greenhouse gas emissions. His name is Medstraum (“go with electricity” and “electricity” in Norwegian) and will be the first high-speed vessel in the world to run exclusively on electric power. In Stavanger, it will replace the diesel ferry, which currently transports people to the surrounding islands.
If the test run goes well, similar vessels could soon operate in other cities. “We are having a very exciting time. We are now completing and preparing the vessel, “ said Mikal Dahle, project manager at Columbus AS in Stavanger, Norway, and coordinator TrAM projectwhich develops a catamaran ferry.
TrAM project visualization
Medstraum is an example of new and sustainable modes of transport that will change urban transport. In the EU, transport emissions account for around 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions and are a major cause of urban air pollution.
In addition, most people use the road in urban areas where they are traffic jams have become a huge problem and cost an estimated € 110 billion a year in Europe. “Waterways are underused so far and can be a great alternative.” explains Virginia Seurat, vice president of Seabubbles, a hydrogen-powered ship.
Our water transport must also be much greener to us by 2050 fulfilled EU target to reduce transport-related emissions by 90 %. For example, existing high-speed vessels are usually powered by fossil fuels and produce significant emissions.
“Traveling by (regular) fast ferries is much more harmful than airplanes.” Dahle remarked. “Proper reduction of CO2 emissions is one of the main challenges for coastal vessels.”
Reassessment of electric boat production
Dahle and his colleagues at the TrAM project are addressing this challenge through a new design and manufacturing process for zero-emission electric vessels operating in coastal and inland waterways. Costs are still an obstacle, as the construction of these vessels is more expensive compared to diesel vessels, but should be more affordable thanks to the new approach.
“The aim is to develop and validate a methodology for the design and manufacture of (electric) vessels that will reduce overall costs by 25%,” states Dahle. “We want to enable the wider market to invest in zero-emission vessels.”
Their new approach is modularisation, where the ship is divided into different functional parts, such as the hull and the passenger part, which are further subdivided into individual components, such as batteries and electrical equipment in the power module.
The idea is that a new vessel can be designed and built by combining existing modules, instead of starting from scratch, making the process simpler and more cost-effective. “Some (parts) are standardized, such as boat seats, so we can choose exactly what we need for the boat, at a relatively low cost, because it is produced in certain volumes,” Dahle explained. “Then other things need to be adjusted for each ship, such as the hull shape and engines.”
New electric vessels are already leaving
The Medstraum is the first vessel to be built using this approach, and its aim is to demonstrate its feasibility. The vessel is made of light aluminum, which reduces energy consumption and allows easy recycling after use and contributes to the circular economy. The vessel will be able to carry approximately 150 passengers at speeds of up to 42 km / h and will make 16 round trips a day. The ferry’s battery will be charged at every stop in Stavanger.
Dahle and his colleagues will use the same approach to develop the other two ships. One will be used to transport people or goods on the Thames in London, the other will be navigated by inland waterways in Belgium and will therefore need to be adapted to different purposes and environments. A London vessel must sail at a higher speed and have a greater capacity than, for example, a vessel in Stavanger, while a Belgian vessel must comply with specific local rules and regulations.
A “flying” hydrogen-powered ship
Thanks to another team working to reduce the environmental impact of water transport, passengers in the city could soon use “flying” water taxis. Associate Vice President Seurat has developed within Seabubbles project the first zero-emission waterfoil to glide over the waves, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and battery.
“The aim is to offer citizens new solutions that will be a step forward in terms of the green way of life.” said Baptiste Arribe, Seabubbles’ director of strategy in Annecy, France.
The “flying” ship Seabubbles on a test cruise on Lake Geneva.
A futuristic-looking vessel made of composite fibers can operate in two different modes and has been developed for waterways, lakes and sea areas. When traveling at speeds below 12 km / h, the wing wings retract and the ship moves like a normal vessel. At higher speeds, the wings extend and the fuselage rises 60 cm above the surface, which allows a smooth ride even in turbulent waters. “Traveling is a great experience for people, because there are no waves or noise,” Seurat explains.
The “flight” mode also has environmental benefits. Compared to normal operation, it consumes 35% less energy, as gliding on the wings reduces the area of the ship submerged in the water, and thus friction.
Charging instead of refueling
During the development of the prototype, the team originally planned to power the vessel with electricity from solar panels and hydroelectric power plants. However, they later decided to switch to hydrogen propulsion, given that the ship could travel a greater distance on a full tank than on a single charge. Refueling would also take less time; it only takes a few minutes to refill the hydrogen and the ship will last approximately two and a half hours.
The newest Seabubbles is still powered by electricity, but it is produced using a hydrogen fuel cell. It also contains a battery that is charged from the fuel cell during the voyage to provide additional power when needed, for example when accelerating. Artificial intelligence is used to optimize the use of energy between the battery and the fuel cell to make the ship as efficient as possible. “We combine new approaches in energy and (state-of-the-art) technology with our control system,” describes Seurat.
Production of the first Seabubbles ships
The first Seabubbles ships are currently being assembled at a shipyard on the shores of Lake Annecy in France. In a few months, they will be available to European customers and later to the international market.
Vessels that can carry up to 12 passengers are of particular interest for private services, which can use them as a shuttle service for waterfront hotels or as quiet vessels to transport visitors through a nature reserve that will not disturb wildlife.
Although these ships could also be used for public transport, costs remain an obstacle. The EU’s commitment to support the widespread deployment of clean hydrogen technologies by 2030 however, it should facilitate the wider use of Seabubbles technology. “In the beginning, we need the support of governments to build an overall hydrogen infrastructure.” adds Seurat. “Then everything comes together and I think we can transform the field of mobility.”
The research referred to in this article has been funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon magazinewhich is published within the EU and focuses on research and innovation.