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Fording the fjords

Zero-emission by 2026? Easier said than done

Entering force from 2026, Norway’s zero-emission zones will be regarded as a pilot study for cutting ship emissions everywhere in the world. So, how exactly will they do it?

The West Coast of Norway features some of the most incredible scenes of natural beauty in the world, which drives tourism to the country from all around the world. Many of these tourists arrive on massive cruise ships; these carry upwards of 3,000 people, and the geography of Norway’s fjords means that these vessels can be admitted without limitation into some of the most unspoiled locations.
At two of them, Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, cruise vessels ply the length of these routes, sometimes several at a time. This is lucrative from a tourism perspective; but ecologically, the vessels are disastrous – spewing sulfur, NOx and CO2 which blanket the fjord in smog. Meanwhile, monster diesel gensets fill the fjord’s waters with noise pollution.
In response, in 2016 the Norwegian Maritime Directorate instituted a law which would make this illegal. From 2026, they declared the Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord global 0% emission zones – an ordinance which, barring some carbon-capture technology of unheard-of effectiveness, would make it practically impossible to burn fossil fuels there.
None of shipping’s other carbon emissions zones will be as stringent as this one, but it will be useful for the rest of the maritime industry to keep an eye on the solutions being implemented here.

The Future is here

A new generation of small passenger ferries have been built to cater for a small portion of tourism at the fjords, mostly with the intention of displacing bus tours which generate congestion and pollution. Each small vessel can carry around 400 passengers, and the most recent two – Future of the Fjords and Legacy of the Fjords – are powered by battery installations. Both vessels feature carbon fiber construction by Norwegian shipyard Brødrene Aa, but demonstrating the quick development of battery tech, Legacy houses 2.0MW in the same footprint as its predecessor, Future, which has 1.8MW.
All-electric propulsion is zero emission, and nearly noiseless, meaning that all that can be heard from the fore half of the vessel is the trickling of water against the bow. While there is massive hydroelectric power generation capacity in the area, actual distribution here is almost nonexistent.
Thus, in order to charge their vessels, ferry operator The Fjords has installed a floating docking station with 2.4MW of battery capacity, which can charge up each ferry in 20 minutes, and spend the rest of the time drawing a trickle of electricity from the nearby grid infrastructure to charge itself.

Bigger fish to fry

Of course, to accommodate the same number of tourists as before 2026 would necessitate a veritable navy of such vessels. Larger-scale solutions will almost certainly need to be considered.
A series of Hurtigruten polar cruise vessels, MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen, support some 530 passengers and 150 crew. Each features two 627kWh battery packs, and are designed to operate in hybrid configuration, with the battery packs performing load-levelling duties and sparing some 20% of CO2 emissions in everyday operations.
Although these vessels can spend a short period of their operating time using all-electric, this cannot be sustained for long, and certainly not long enough to manage a journey up and down Gierangerfjord. But Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam has predicted that with current rates of battery development, 7.1 MWh from the batteries will soon be possible. This would certainly make it possible to perform a chunk of the fjord voyage with zero emissions.
Careful application of hydrogen is another option. There are means of creating this in an intelligent, sustainable fashion; unused windfarm capacity could be used to electrolyze water and generate hydrogen, for example, or indeed, excess hydroelectric power from Norway’s fjords.
Norwegian Electrical Systems (NES), based in Bergen, will fit a 3.2MW fuel cell on a cruiseferry currently being designed by Havyard Design for shipowner Havila. Emissions from a hydrogen fuel-cell system are effectively nil, no more than clean water vapor.
“…for larger vessels and longer routes batteries will not have enough power or capacity,” said NES technical VP Torbjørn Haugland early last year. “Here, we need to look at other solutions, and fuel cells are part of this solution.”