The Vision of the Fjords is the first ship of its kind that can run completely on electricity

Carbon fibre plug-in ferry to clean up tourism in Norwegian fjords

A plug-in electric hybrid ferry made of carbon fibre has been unveiled by a Norwegian tourism operator hoping to clean up the sight-seeing business in the UNESCO-protected area of the west Norwegian fjords.

The ship, named the 'Vision of the Fjords', features a 749kW diesel engine, an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries, which allow it to switch between diesel-powered and completely emission-free modes. According to its operator, the Fjords, it is the first sightseeing ferry capable to run fully on electrical power.

“We ordered this ship based on the specific needs of the area, where we are actually travelling in,” explained Rolf Sandvik, director of The Fjords. “We are making a two hour and a half transit of an area within the UNESCO-protected Naeroyfjord, which we are marketing as one of the cleanest spaces in the world. Yet until today, we have been doing it using heavily polluting 1970s diesel ferries.”

The Vision of The Fjords was built by innovative family-owned shipyard Brodrane Aa, specialists in carbon-fibre vessels. Brodrane Aa is one of the few companies using carbon fibre technology to make commercial vessels, also being the first to have done so. It built its first carbon fibre ferry in 2002 and has since completed 50 projects. The lightweight material was key to enable the efficiency needed to allow the Vision of the Fjords to last on batteries long enough to navigate its course through the pristine area.

“Using carbon fibre allows us to substantially decrease the weight of the vessel, which directly translates into its energy usage,” explained Tor Oyvind Aa, Brodrane Aa’s CEO.

“For this ferry, the light material means that you can use less battery, you can use less diesel and still reach the speed that you want.”

In fast ferries, in which the shipyard specialises, the use of carbon fibre usually means a weight reduction of 40 per cent compared to an aluminium-based vessel. The weight reduction translates into fuel savings that see the vessel produce 40 per cent less CO2 emissions and 55 per cent less NOx emissions than their aluminium counterparts, Aa said.

The plan is for the Vision of the Fjords to use its diesel engine to reach the entrance into the protected area while cruising at about 20 knots. Once there, it would switch into the battery mode and decrease its speed to eight knots, not only to optimise energy consumption but also to comply with local regulations designed to protect the shores from erosion caused by the ships’ wakes.

“The diesel engine can be used either to directly power the vessel or to charge its batteries,” explained Arild Austrheim, head of projects and new building at Fjord 1, one of two stakeholders behind The Fjords. “We have also built charging stations in Flam and Gudvangen, where we can charge the ferry’s batteries in 20 minutes using fully renewable hydro-power.”

The power usage and distribution is managed by ABB’s Onboard DC Grid power distribution and control system.

“This is a typical example for the green wave that we are in now: using batteries in combination with the machinery, but also using DC distribution instead of AC that we are used to seeing,” said Jorulf Nergard, Head of Short Sea Shipping at ABB Norway. “The battery is a standard industrial battery, which is not delivered by ABB but we are using the same cells, even though, if we have bought these batteries today, we would have twice the amount of energy with the same weight, more or less, so the development is going forward very fast.”

The sleek impressive design of the ship was inspired by a mountain road winding up a hill – a very common sight in the area where the Vision of the Fjords will operate. This is not merely nature-reflecting aesthetics: the twisting ramp, through which the passengers access the ferry, is also intended to serve as an extended viewing platform.

“The tourists can walk on this ramp and not be on the back seat or in the back row when they are going through the most spectacular fjords of the west coast,” said Sandvik. “Everyone will have a front seat on this ship.”

The ship’s large panoramic windows and unobtrusive interior in dark colours have also been designed to enhance the viewing experience and draw all the attention of everyone aboard towards the beauty outside.

The Fjords hope to start commercial operations with the vessel in a month and are already thinking about ordering a sister ship, with the ultimate goal to replace all of its diesel-powered vehicles with completely quiet and non-polluting ones.

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