Understanding the New LNG Cruise Ship Trend
Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International
It’s official: LNG (liquefied natural gas), known as the cleanest burning fossil fuel, is the next big thing in cruise travel. Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited now each have new ships powered by the fuel variety on order to make their fleets more environmentally friendly and boost efficiency.
Of course, this isn’t the first time cruise ships have made an effort to go greener. When Royal Caribbean was corporately introducing Celebrity Cruises’ Millennium-class ships and Royal Caribbean International’s Radiance-class ships (Radiance of the Seas pictured above), for example, they were touted as gas turbine vessels. Gas turbines are essentially the same as an airplane’s jet engines used as generators to produce more efficient velocities with reduced emissions compared to traditional diesel generators, which still remain a pillar in the cruise industry.
However, gas turbines require special fuels that, as world economics changed since the early 2000s, proved cost prohibitive over time. This has even prompted the replacement of such gas turbine technology with traditional diesel.
Now LNG is on the rise, particularly because more stringent International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations are calling for lower sulfur emissions, and, of course, it’s also the right thing to do to protect the destinations, some more fragile than others, that cruise ships sail to. In fact, newer hybrid engines are even capable of accepting multiple types of fuel including LNG as well as oil like Carnival Corp.’s new AIDAprima. So, even if economics prove challenging for one fuel source, they can still run on another.
But the future seems to favor LNG exclusivity as Carnival Corp. was first to jump on the bandwagon, ordering a current total of seven ships that will be fully powered by the fuel. The first will come online for its AIDA Cruises and Costa Cruises brands in 2019, and more will follow for Carnival Cruise Line and P&O Cruises by 2022.
The company stated, “Pioneering a new era in the use of alternative fuels that reduce air emissions, these new ships will use LNG to generate 100 percent of the ship's power both in port and on the open sea – an innovation that will significantly reduce exhaust emissions to help protect the environment and support the company's aggressive sustainability goals.”
Meanwhile, the two new Icon-class ships just ordered for Royal Caribbean International are anticipated to be powered primarily by LNG when they launch in 2022 and 2024 but will adopt the hybrid approach to also be able to burn distillate fuel when the other type is unavailable. Additional environmental initiatives are in play as the line will also start testing fuel cell technology on an existing Oasis-class ship in 2017 and on future Quantum-class vessels.
This is a continuation of Royal Caribbean’s other environmental efficiency initiatives, which have already included air lubrication, which reduces hull friction, and AEP scrubbers, which help clean exhaust. Royal stated, “The switch to LNG provides further momentum for the technology, which has begun making significant inroads in the maritime industry.”
What remains to be seen is if Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited and other cruise companies will follow with their own LNG ships.
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