Battery-powered cruise ship sets new standards in propulsion

Battery-powered cruise ship sets new standards in propulsion
The Roald Amundsen uses a combination of MGO and batteries for propulsion. Image courtesy of Hurtigruten

“In my imagination I created an electric ship that could break through all kinds of ice, that nice and elegantly, fearful and irresistible, could sail through the Arctic oceans, straight to the Pole,” Roald Amundsen, Norwegian explorer.

In 1882, 10-year old Roald Amundsen, who would later lead the first expeditions to the Northwest Passage and the North and South Poles, had a vision for an electric ship. Fast forward 137 years and Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten has launched the world’s first hybrid-powered cruise ship, named Roald Amundsen after the explorer. This week, VPO Global visited the small Norwegian city of Tromso to get a glimpse into how Hurtigruten’s latest ship is setting new standards for fuel-efficient and cleaner propulsion.

Operating on a combination of marine gas oil (MGO) and batteries, the 20,889 GT Roald Amundsen is the largest hybrid vessel to date and demonstrates the advances in battery technology today.

CEO of Hurtigruten, Daniel Skjeldam. Image courtesy of Hurtigruten

The ship features two 627 kWh battery storage systems by Corvus Energy with a charge/discharge of 1.75 mWh. According to Hurtigruten CEO, Daniel Skjeldam, the rate of evolving battery technology will enable this capacity to be extended up to 7.1 mWh by 2021. Roald Amundsen will be operated largely on battery power in conjunction with one or more of the four engines in a peak-shaving mode, which according to Mr Skjeldam will deliver fuel savings of around 20 per cent.

The ship will be sailed by Captain Kai Albrigtsen, who first started his career at sea as a galley boy with Hurtigruten. Now, at 54 years of age, Captain Albrigtsen will sail the hybrid ship, which is strengthened to ice class PC-6 around Antarctica, the Northwest Passage, the coast of Norway, Greenland, Iceland and other hard reaching points with up to 530 passengers onboard.

Zero emission sailing is possible if utilising the battery power only, but both Captain Albrigtsen and Mr Skjeldam confirmed that battery capacity at the current time limits emission-free sailing to short timespans, largely when entering and leaving ports. “The purpose of the batteries is not to sail for as long as possible, but rather to assist the main engines and propulsion system to emissions as much as possible,” explained Mr Skjeldam. “Right now, it is about working the batteries in tandem with the engines.”

The ship features two separate battery rooms to maximise safety but also to enhance the current battery capacity. “The aim is to add battery capacity as it becomes available and make the effect of them as good as possible,” Mr Skjeldam confirmed. “There is a lot of development going on with batteries. The supplier of our batteries, Corvus Energy, has already said that in 2021 there will be batteries from them on the market that are significantly higher in effect. So not only can we increase the size of the batteries, but we expect to have an increase in effect in the years to come.”

Speaking exclusively to VPO Global, Mr Skjeldam informed us that he does not expect this ship or any other to sail only on batteries. “That is not in the glass bowl for battery technology. It is about finding a way to use the batteries that cuts emissions significantly. We are in a constant development – this ship will have more batteries in the future, all our ships on the Norwegian coast will have batteries and we are constantly enabling the battery technology to cut emissions as much as possible.”

Roald Amundsen’s battery room. The batteries are provided by Corvus Energy

The long-term sustainability of batteries, including manufacturer and disposal, is something to consider. When we questioned Hurtigruten’s CEO about this, he explained that the circular economy is very important to the company and they are always looking at the circular investments they do on sustainable technology. “We are in discussions with the battery suppliers to look at how they can transform their batteries into new ones once they have had their time. We have ongoing discussions with battery manufacturers on how they can be recycled into new ones,” he confirmed to us.

Alongside the development of batteries comes the demand for infrastructure for recharging. Shore power facilities on the Norwegian coast are sparse with just one station in Bergen, but Mr Skjeldam confirmed that Norway is aiming to develop ports to charge electric ships. Until then, the Hurtigruten CEO says that “there is no use in filling the ship with battery packs when there is no recharging available.”

In addition to using hybrid propulsion, Roald Amundsen features a state-of-the-art hull that benefits from wave piercing technology. Models of the hull design were tested in tanks with simulated wave heights of the areas the vessel plans to operate in. According to Hurtigruten, the tests demonstrated a significant contribution to fuel efficiency.  

Mr Skjeldam also proudly told journalists that “Hurtigruten has not used heavy fuel oil (HFO) for over a decade,” and recently announced the ban of all single use plastic onboard their ships. It is clear that the Norwegian businessman is committed to delivering cleaner shipping, but warns that, “You have to be willing to use some funds and investment due to the cost of making shipping greener.” While HFO and scrubbers may be a cheaper option, he believes that “simply discharging everything out into our oceans again” is not a responsible mode of operation and confirmed that the Roald Amundsen will utilise a “fully closed system where we can recycle and we will leave waste at fully equipped recycling facilities in port, instead of discharging into the sea.”

Speaking with us, Mr Skjeldam said that he hopes that the hybrid propulsion system onboard the Roald Amundsen and Hurtigruten’s plan for biogas powered ships will set a new standard for shipping. “We hope that other cruise lines will copy this peak shaving battery technology, and some will look into biogas too. We know that some operators are looking into LNG-powered cruise ships. We would also encourage them to look at biogas in order to create the market for this biogas product.”

Key statistics of the Roald Amundsen and sister ship, Fridtjof Nansen