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Salamanca | Brittany Ferries’ LNG Pioneer

Salamanca Fast Facts

Current Name: SalamancaPrevious Names:
Shipyard: China Merchants Jinling Shipyard (Weihai) Co., Ltd. [CN], 269IMO Number: 9867592
Current Operator: Brittany FerriesCurrent Route: Portsmouth - Bilbao/Cherbourg
Length Overall: 214.5mBeam: 27.8m
Passenger Capacity: 1015Vehicle Capacity: 2,705 lane metres of freight
Tonnage: 41,716 GTSister-ships: Santona, Galicia (part-sister), Stena Estrid (part-sister), Stena Edda (part-sister), Stena Embla (part-sister), Cote d' Opale (part-sister)

A key focus of Brittany Ferries over the past decade has been reducing atmospheric emissions from its ferries.  In addition to fitting exhaust gas cleaning scrubbers to many of its vessels, the company has also been investigating the use of cleaner fuels.  

One such fuel is Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), which Brittany Ferries has been investigating for many years.

Why a Gas Powered Ferry?

LNG is well proven as a fuel in shipping and has been in use by the industry in one form or another for around 40 years with an excellent safety record.  A number of ferry companies already have LNG powered vessels in service.  These include Fjord Line, Tallink, and Viking Line while a number of other operators have LNG ferries on order.

Tallink's LNG powered MEGASTAR. Image: Tallink Silja.
Tallink’s LNG powered MEGASTAR. Image: Tallink Silja.

The key benefit of LNG over fuel oil is its reduced emissions into the atmosphere.  LNG burns cleaner than diesel and emits almost zero particulates, sulphur, or nitrogen oxides.  Carbon dioxide emissions are also reduced by up to 20 percent.  However, while LNG combusts more efficiently (resulting in almost no visible funnel emissions) it is a less energy dense fuel and so requires more storage space and slightly larger engines to deliver the same amount of output as diesel.

Despite its shortcomings, not least the fact that LNG is still a fossil fuel, Brittany Ferries says that LNG remains the best choice to “reduce the environmental impact of the ferry industry today”.  

Brittany Ferries has a long history with LNG. While SALAMANCA is the first Brittany Ferries LNG-fuelled vessel to be delivered, the company also developed two other ferries which would have used the fuel.  The first of these, PEGASIS, was never built, while the second, HONFLEUR, was cancelled due to severe delivery delays and financial difficulties at the shipyard.  

One of SALAMANCA's two LNG bunkering stations. These are located on either side of the ship at main vehicle deck level. Image: Brittany Ferries.
One of SALAMANCA‘s two LNG bunkering stations. These are located on either side of the ship at main vehicle deck level. Image: Brittany Ferries.

The shipyard group which built SALAMANCA, China Merchants Industry, already had significant experience in building LNG vessels prior to starting construction of the ship.  Likewise suppliers such as Wartsila and the marine architect Deltamarin are leaders in the technology.

More to Come

SALAMANCA is the first of four LNG powered E-Flexer ferries ordered by Brittany Ferries to be delivered.  The second, SANTOÑA will be a direct sister to SALAMANCA.  The third and fourth, which will replace NORMANDIE and BRETAGNE in service, will be slightly smaller and also incorporate electric hybrid technology.  As with GALICIA, these are being delivered by Stena RoRo as part of a long-term charter arrangement.  

According to Frederic Pouget, Brittany Ferries ‘ Ports and Operations Director, the company’s ownership model allows it to focus on long term goals such as emissions reduction rather than short term returns:

“It’s actually our history that allows us to look to the future in this way,”

“Our shareholders are still the farmers who first founded Brittany Ferries. We are incredibly lucky to have such patient, far-sighted and long-term owners. They’re focussed on the bigger picture, rather than short-term returns. In a different company we might have had to wait until these technologies were more commonplace and their cost had declined.”

“But by then it would be too late. This generation of ferries would have been built, and in service for years with more polluting technology. We’re lucky to work in a company and a culture where this kind of vision gets the investment it needs.” 

How it Works

SALAMANCA will take on LNG from a shoreside facility at Bilbao, which has been specifically constructed for the purpose by Spanish oil giant Repsol. The cryogenic tank used to store the fuel at Bilbao has a capacity of 1,000 cubic metres and will store the fuel in liquid state at -160 degrees centigrade. This reduces the volume of the fuel by a factor of 600.  A similar facility will be built at Santander ahead of the introduction of SALAMANCA’s sister-ship SANTOÑA onto the Portsmouth – Santander route in 2023.

The LNG refuelling points on SALAMANCA are located at main vehicle deck (deck 3) level, with one on each side of the ship.  SALAMANCA is not just restricted to bunkering from shoreside facilities, however. 

During her 10,322 nautical mile delivery voyage from China, SALAMANCA bunkered from LNG road tankers and a bunkering ship, as well as the shoreside terminal at Cartagena.  The LNG tanks, which are located below the vehicle decks, will store the fuel in liquid form until it is required by the engines.  Once required, the fuel will be returned to gas state in a vaporizer before being passed to the engine.

An illustration of how SALAMANCA's LNG fuelling system works. Image: © Bertrand Crispils, courtesy of Brittany Ferries.
An illustration of how SALAMANCA‘s LNG fuelling system works. Image: © Bertrand Crispils, courtesy of Brittany Ferries.

Training

LNG vessels have to comply with strict additional safety standards called the IGF code.  In order to meet these standards, Brittany Ferries has had to make a significant additional investment in training.

The company has invested heavily in training and in creating a “gas culture”.  Brittany Ferries’ in-house LNG expert Bertrand Crispils joined the company a decade ago after spending much of his career at sea on gas carriers before moving into LNG production.  He says:

“We’ve made a huge investment in training,”

“You don’t operate an LNG ship in the same way as one that runs on conventional fuels. There’s a different culture on LNG ships and incredibly tight safety procedures. That’s why they’re safe.”

“LNG is a complex product, and to manage it you need to expand your expertise into areas such as thermodynamics. But our staff have responded amazingly to these new challenges, and have really welcomed the chance to expand their experience and their competence.”

As part of its investment in training, Brittany Ferries has acquired an advanced virtual refuelling simulator.  This allowed staff to familiarise themselves with SALAMANCA’s refuelling operations a year before the vessel arrived.  The simulator is also mobile, and so can be used onboard the ship if required. 

SALAMANCA is expected to refuel much more frequently than other merchant ships which run on LNG, such as gas carriers.  While these often only take on fuel every three weeks, SALAMANCA will refuel twice a week.  This means that Brittany Ferries expertise in LNG refuelling operations should develop very quickly according to Bertrand.

Future Proofing

SALAMANCA takes on LNG from Europe's first shoreside bunkering facility at Cartagena in Southern Spain. Image: Brittany Ferries.
SALAMANCA takes on LNG from Europe’s first shoreside bunkering facility at Cartagena in Southern Spain. Image: Brittany Ferries.

A key consideration in the development of SALAMANCA was that LNG is often seen as a “bridge fuel”.  While considered to be a cleaner alternative to diesel, LNG is far from perfectBrittany Ferries itself concedes that while LNG is the best choice today, it is “likely to be superseded by better, lower carbon options in the future”. With this in mind, SALAMANCA, like the other E-Flexer ferries, has been future-proofed for future upgrading to use e-fuels such as e-methane.  E-fuels are produced using renewable electricity and carbon taken from the air.  

SALAMANCA takes on fuel from a bunkering tanker during her journey from China to Spain. Image: Brittany Ferries.
SALAMANCA takes on fuel from a bunkering tanker during her journey from China to Spain. Image: Brittany Ferries.

Some other  possible future fuels for SALAMANCA are bio-LNG, synthetic methane, ammonia, and hydrogen.  However, the use of these fuels is not yet commercially viable as they are not available at scale.  Brittany Ferries calls this ability to switch to cleaner fuels in future “fuel-agnostic”, and it should mean that the vessels will get cleaner as they age.  SALAMANCA is particularly ready for these future technologies as she can already run on either gas or liquid fuel.  Her engines can also switch seamlessly between fuel types if required.

Flexible by Design

The E-Flexer class was developed to be environmentally friendly, efficient, and flexible.  As a result, Brittany Ferries newest ships are not only kinder to the environment, but have the possibility of easy future modification built into their design.

In addition to allowing newer propulsion technologies to be fitted as they become commercially available, this also means that the vessels are designed to be modified to meet future requirements.  For instance, should Brittany Ferries require more capacity, SALAMANCA and her part sisters are designed with future lengthening in mind.  It is also possible to reconfigure the passenger accommodation in future, should it be required.

SALAMANCA taking on LNG bunkers from a road tanker. Image: Brittany Ferries.
SALAMANCA taking on LNG bunkers from a road tanker. Image: Brittany Ferries.

Brittany Ferries is also talking to a number of its ports (including Portsmouth, Plymouth, Ouistreham, and St Malo) about providing shoreside power and charging facilities.  Should these become available, SALAMANCA and her sister vessels can be upgraded to make use of these.  The two hybrid vessels ordered to replace NORMANDIE and BRETAGNE will already have shore-charging capability built-in.

Onboard Charging of EV’s?

A feature that Brittany Ferries is still working on is electric vehicle charging onboard SALAMANCA.  This is a challenging task on as the power required needs to be generated onboard. Modern ferries are specified with lower than traditional power outputs to reduce emissions and comply with current and future regulations.  

As ships like SALAMANCA have around half the engine power installed than on older ferries of similar size, there is not much spare capacity to generate the amounts of electricity required to charge current electric vehicles.  Brittany Ferries’ ambition, however, is that electric vehicles should be able to leave the vessel at the end of the crossing fully charged.

Looking after the environment

SALAMANCA isn’t just kinder to the environment than her predecessors due to the type of fuel she uses.  In common with other E-Flexer ferries such as GALICA, the environmental impact generally was a key consideration during the design of the vessel.  The main way that this has been achieved in the E-Flexer series generally is more fuel efficiency by design.

A new hull-form was developed from scratch for the E-Flexer series.  It is designed to cut its way through the water with the minimum of drag meaning that fewer and smaller engines can be used to propel the ship. This has the added benefit of reducing the overall weight of the vessel which increases efficiency even further.  This is similar to how modern aircraft use two engines rather than the four commonly used in the past.  

Brittany Ferries says that SALAMANCA has virtually no funnel emissions at sea due to the cleaner burning properties of LNG. Image: Brittany Ferries.
Brittany Ferries says that SALAMANCA has virtually no funnel emissions at sea due to the cleaner burning properties of LNG. Image: Brittany Ferries.

A special type of antifouling silicon hull paint is also used on the hull of the vessel.   This helps prevent marine life attaching to the hull, further reducing drag, but is also harmless to marine life.

Machine learning and real-time data analysis onboard help to optimise energy efficiency.  Navigational and berthing systems are also optimised to reduce the amount of energy required for each crossing.  The engines themselves are also fitted with Wârtsilä’s automation technology and are billed as having both the lowest gas and fuel oil consumption in the industry.  Unlike some LNG ferries, SALAMANCA also has auxiliary generator engines that run on LNG. This helps to reduce the emissions from the ferry even further.  

LED lighting is installed throughout SALAMANCA in order to reduce electrical load and thus the required power generated from the engines.  Variable speed alternators recover energy from the drivetrain, even at low speed, for use in the ferry’s electrical system.  This helps to further save fuel (by not requiring as much power from auxiliary engines) and reduce emissions.

Unlike many large ferries, SALAMANCA does not require stern thrusters and only requires two bow thrusters for manoeuvring.  This is due to being fitted with high lift flap rudders with twisted leading edges which give the vessel a high amount of manoeuvrability using the main engines which would be running anyway while the ship is at sea.  As a result, the amount of power required during port manoeuvres is reduced.  Manoeuvring in port is often the most energy intensive phase of a ferry crossing.

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.
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