BlogFerry News - Ferry Industry NewsFerry News | Local and International Ferry NewsLocal (NI) ferry newsPort News

Could EU funding pave the way for Belfast electric ferries?

Ports of Stockholm has announced that it has made a joint application with the ports of Belfast, Gent, and Lübeck for EU grant funding. Ferry operator Stena Line is also involved with the project. The overarching goal of the funding application is to significantly reduce air pollutant emissions within port areas.

This is to be achieved by tuning ports into “multi-modal nodes” and through research within fields of electrification and development of alternative fuels. The four ports are all part of the EU’s Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

STENA FLAVIA at Stockholm Norvik Port. © Stockholms Hamnar
STENA FLAVIA at Stockholm Norvik Port. The ship is expected to be replaced by the re-built STENA MERSEY (as STENA BALTICA). Image: © Stockholms Hamnar

According to Thomas Andersson, CEO Ports of Stockholm:

“The trend is moving towards a port being not only a loading/unloading hub, but also functioning as a strategic node for multi-modal transport, electrification, digitalisation and automation. This new collaboration is aligned with this development and provides us as ports with greater possibilities to drive innovation and revenue for nearby urban nodes, such as Stockholm,”

Stena Line Involvement

The announcement follows Stena Line confirming that it intends to place an order for its first electric ferry by 2025. Stena Line is a big customer for both Belfast and Stockholm ports.

STENA ELEKTRA is expected to be the first large zero-emission ferry in operation. The project is a collaboration between Stena Line, Stena RoRo, Stena Teknik, and others. Image: Stena Line.
STENA ELEKTRA is expected to be the first large zero-emission ferry in operation. The project is a collaboration between Stena Line, Stena RoRo, Stena Teknik, and others. Image: Stena Line.

Stena Line is one of the additional alliance partners in the EU application for investment in electrification and battery-powered shipping. Niclas Mårtensson, Stena Line CEO and member of the Government Offices of Sweden’s Electrification Commission states:

“Electrification is an important part of our journey to achieving fossil fuel-free shipping and we are already operating services with a hybrid ship. We plan to launch an entirely battery-powered ferry by 2030 at the latest and an important prerequisite to succeed in this is the possibility to charge our ships, work vehicles at the quayside and our customers’ vehicles with green electricity of sufficient capacity,”

Stena Elektra is a fossil-free vessel, battery powered vessel that Stena Line plan to bring into service on the Gothenburg-Frederikshavn route by 2030. Video © Stena Line.

Belfast Harbour has not confirmed the specifics of their role in the project, but has been contacted for comment.

Stena’s Environmental Commitment

Stena Line has set itself a target of zero CO2 emissions by 2050, in-line with international ambitions. Last year it was announced that Stena Line had already met the IMO’s emissions target for 2030, some 10 years early. The company recently announced its ambition to order at least two new battery-electric “Stena Elektra” ferries by 2025 for its Gothenburg – Frederikshavn route.

The Stena Elektra announcement coincides with the launch of the Port of Gothenburg’s TranZero initiative to cut CO2 emissions in the port area by 70% by 2030. Stena Line is a partner in this initiative along with Volvo Group and Scania. The company expects to have both Stena Elektra ferries in service by 2030. The will be the first large fully battery-electric ferries in the world.

An extract from Stena Line's "A Sustainable Journey17/18" highlighting some of the measures to make the E-Flexer class more environmentally friendly and efficient. Stena Line
An extract from Stena Line’s “A Sustainable Journey17/18” highlighting some of the measures to make the E-Flexer class more environmentally friendly and efficient. Stena Line

In partnership with fellow Stena Sphere members Batteryloop, Stena Recycling and Stena Rederi; Stena Line is also working on quayside power banks. These would be able to deliver the high current required to charge ferries quickly without a surge in demand on the local power grid. The ferry operator is part of a two-year project part-financed by the EU’s Innovation and Networks Executive Agency to look at opportunities to reuse lithium-ion batteries from the transport and automotive industry for energy storage in ports

Last Generation of Conventionally Powered Stena Ferries

Stena Line has also invested in five new E-Flexer vessels which are based on current technology. The first three E-Flexer’s have been deployed on the Irish Sea. Two of these, STENA EDDA and STENA EMBLA, allocated to Belfast. Stena’s vessel purchasing division, Stena RoRo, intends for E-Flexer to be its last generation of conventionally-fuelled ships1. In line with Stena’s “Stenability” ethos of flexibility, E-Flexer was designed with further lengthening or shortening and a range of retrofit options in mind.

E-Flexer Future-proofing

The E-Flexer design allows for future retrofitting of the ships with batteries. These could potentially be used either while alongside or while at sea, though the series is also designed to allow for retrofitting of shore power connections. The company is already testing battery-hybrid technology onboard STENA JUTLANDICA which was retrofitted with batteries in 2018.

Stena Line's STENA JUTLANDICA is fitted with a battery back which allows her to run on battery power for part of the journey between Gothenburg and Fredrikshavn. Image: Stena Line. Photographer: Ann-Charlotte Ytterberg.
Stena Line’s STENA JUTLANDICA is fitted with a battery back which allows her to run on battery power for part of the journey between Gothenburg and Fredrikshavn. Image: Stena Line. Photographer: Ann-Charlotte Ytterberg.

Other solutions for propelling E-Flexer have also been developed. This includes increasing the number of main engines from two to four. The four engine design also allows for diesel-electric propulsion in place of conventional diesel-mechanical 2.

Stena Line has yet to announce where its other two E-Flexer ferries will be deployed. These longer 240m long ships are currently under construction and will also be fitted with “cold ironing” capability. This means the ships can connect to the electricity grid while alongside rather than running onboard Diesel generators.

The two vessels that are now under construction are both 30% larger and more energy efficient than previous vessels. Mild Design / Stena Line.
The two 240m-long E-Flexer vessels that are now under construction are both 30% larger and more energy efficient than previous vessels. Mild Design / Stena Line.

Cold ironing means that 240m E-Flexer ships will be zero-emission when in port. Again, these ships will also be prepared for future conversion to battery-hybrid. As of the end of 2019, 15 Stena Line ships were already connecting to shore power while alongside in port.

Methanol

The company isn’t just focussing on the use of electricity and batteries to reduce its carbon footprint, however. Stena has also invested in alternative fuels. In 2015 STENA GERMANICA became the first commercial ship in the world to use Methanol-Diesel propulsion. One possibility suggested by the company is that longer-range versions of Stena Elektra could use bio or chemical methanol-powered engines to extend their range.

Stena Line's STENA GERMANICA is not only the worlds first ferry to be fuelled by Methanol, but also holds the world record for the longest ever ferry conversion. Stena Line.
Stena Line’s STENA GERMANICA is not only the worlds first ferry to be fuelled by Methanol, but also holds the world record for the longest ever ferry conversion. She was extended by some 52m in 2007 when still named STENA HOLLANDICA. Stena Line.

Unlike other fuels such as LNG, Methanol can be manufactured rather than solely extracted from the ground. When combusted, Methanol produces no nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, no sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions. It also produces very low particulate matter (PM) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

While STENA GERMANICA remains the only methanol-fuelled ferry in the Stena fleet, in part due to the current unavailability of bunking facilities, sister-company Stena Bulk ordered two brand-new methanol-fuelled tankers through a joint-venture during 2019, adding a third to the order last November.

What could the future look like for Belfast’s ferries?

So could all this mean for Belfast? As Stena Line’s busiest freight port, Belfast has been a long-term focus for investment by the company. While the Belfast – Liverpool route already has two brand-new ships, the tonnage on the Belfast – Cairnryan route is now 20 years old.

STENA SUPERFAST VIII swings off the berth at Belfast Victoria Terminal 4 (North) at the start of another routine crossing to Cairnryan. Copyright © Steven Tarbox.
STENA SUPERFAST VIII swings off the berth at Belfast Victoria Terminal 4 (North) at the start of another routine crossing to Cairnryan. Copyright © Steven Tarbox.

Stena Line had previously announced that they would replace the ships, STENA SUPERFAST VII and STENA SUPERFAST VIII with E-Flexers. This proposal was abandoned, however, after the present ships were purchased outright from Tallink a few years ago.

At the minimum it is likely that ferries using Belfast will be fitted with shore power connections in order to reduce port emissions. This would still fall well short of Stena’s environmental ambitions, however.

All-Electric or Hybrid Elektra?

Should Belfast get the necessary infrastructure to support them, it is quite possible that vessels based on the Stena Elektra project could be ordered for the route. These could also be hybrid vessels rather than pure electric depending on the available shore-side infrastructure. For example, Stena has looked at the possibility of using hydrogen fuel cells and/or methanol fuelled engines to increase range of Stena Elektra.

A rendering of STENA ELEKTRA. Image: Stena Line / Peter Mild.
A rendering of STENA ELEKTRA. Image: Stena Line / Peter Mild.

Full-electric operation would be dependent on sufficient power being available from renewable sources on both sides of the North Channel. That power would also need to be capable of being delivered within the standard turnaround time. This would be in addition to the power required for the vessels normal port operations.

Stena’s in-house technical solutions division Stena Teknik is also investigating the use of carbon capture and storage technology1. This could potentially allow Diesel engines to be used without emitting any carbon.

A new version of E-Flexer?

Another possibility could be a further development of the E-Flexer concept. A shorter 200m long version of the E-Flexer has already been developed3, and as mentioned previously, the series is designed to be equipped with a range of different fuelling and propulsion solutions.

The shorter E-Flexer is likely to be more suited to the traffic demands and sailing frequency on the North Channel route to Cairnryan than the 215m long version.

STENA EDDA arrives at the mouth of Belfast Lough. Stena Line.
STENA EDDA arrives at the mouth of Belfast Lough. The ship is presently on dry-dock relief duties on Stena Line’s Belfast – Cairnryan route. Stena Line.

Over recent decades traffic has declined on the North Channel. In the meantime, the central corridor routes from Dublin and diagonal routes from Belfast to Heysham and Birkenhead have grown ever more popular. However, there have been signs this year so far that traffic has started to return with companies avoiding Dublin. This is said to be due to the additional checks required to export to Great Britain.

Freight volumes through Warrenpoint are up 5% this year so far. Volumes through Belfast and Larne are broadly similar to last year post-Brexit.

References and Further Reading
  1. Shippax Info, 2019. Stena RoRo’s E-Flexer: The ultimate one size fits all. (March 19), p.18.[][]
  2. Shippax Guide 20, 2020. Yes We Can! Talking to the Stena RoRo team. (December 20), p.92[]
  3. Shippax Guide 20, 2020. Yes We Can! Talking to the Stena RoRo team. (December 20), p.92[]

Steven Tarbox

Steven is a former retail professional and a ferry writer and photographer. He created NI Ferry Site as a web design project in 2014 to be a news and information source for everyone with an interest in ferries, with a particular focus on Northern Ireland. Steven is the editor of the website and looks after all of the technical aspects.
Back to top button
NI Ferry Site