Northern Xplorer to Build World’s First Zero Emission Hydrogen Powered Cruise Ship

Norwegian cruise venture Northern Xplorer (NX) and Portuguese shipbuilder West Sea have signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) for the construction of the world’s first zero-emission cruise ship. The vessel’s design features ABB’s fully electric propulsion system, including battery and hydrogen fuel cell technology that will enable to it to sail emissions-free in the Norwegian fjords and further afield.

Photo: Multi Maritime

West Sea sims to build the 250-passenger vessel at its facility in Viana do Costello north of Porto for expected delivery at the start of the 2025/2026 cruise season.

“As a shipbuilder focused on advanced vessels and high quality, we very much look forward to working together with Northern Xplorer. We’re proud to be taking a lead in building such an innovative and technology advanced vessel of a high standard that will have minimal impact on the environment,” said West Sea manager Vitor Figueiredo.

“This is a new milestone on our journey towards emission-free cruising. Having approached yards worldwide for tenders, we’re delighted to be embarking on this exciting project with West Sea. They are a modern, professional yard with a good track record. It’s great to be here at SMM for the signing alongside our technology partner, ABB, whose expertise has been key to developing the concept of this pioneering vessel,” said Rolf André Sandvik. founder and CEO of the recently established Norwegian cruise venture Northern Xplorer.

NX and ABB are currently in dialogue with multiple sub-suppliers for vessel systems. “We haven’t made any final decisions yet because we want to go with the newest technology as it becomes available. Where possible we also aim to select the most sustainable materials available in the market,” Sandvik said.

Harnessing the power of H2

The ships will be powered by a combination of type-approved hydrogen fuel cells and batteries charged with clean shore power when in port. “ABB, with whom we are cooperating, is already well advanced in the collaborative development of fuel cell systems, and has wide experience in integrating energy storage. Operational efficiency and safety have been our top priorities, with full redundancy built in. This combination, together with Azipod® propulsion units, ensures excellent energy efficiency while substantially cutting noise and vibration, improving passenger comfort and minimizing disturbance to the marine environment,” says Sandvik.

The only by-product of burning hydrogen is water, which can in turn be reused on board. The NX ships will not be spending long periods at sea, reducing the space required for hydrogen storage. Sandvik says they did not consider using any other kind of cleaner fuel derived from fossil sources, such as LNG.

One key challenge for NX is that maritime regulations addressing hydrogen-based propulsion systems are not yet in place. “Using the IMO’s alternative design procedure we can absolutely solve this challenge with the support of forward-leaning class associations and the Norwegian Maritime Authority, which is very results-oriented,” says Sandvik. He adds that the ships will obviously be in compliance both with all the relevant international codes, including SOLAS and Safe Return to Port (SRtP) regulations, and class notations for passenger ships to ensure safe operations at all times.

The LOI is an important step toward creating a new paradigm in the cruise industry and to meet Norway’s brave decision to ban fossil fuel-powered ships from its world-heritage fjords from 2026. “Discerning travelers want to cruise with a clean conscience, and with this ground-breaking green ship we aim to cater to that strong demand,” Sandvik said.

Sandvik previously commissioned the hybrid-electric sightseeing vessels Vision of the Fjords (built 2016) and Future of the Fjords (built 2018) in his former role as founder and CEO of tourism company The Fjords. Constructed by specialist Norwegian shipbuilder Brødrene Aa, both vessels won the ‘Ship of the Year’ award during maritime trade fair SMM in Hamburg in their respective delivery years.

“That was an exciting project in its time and a world-first enabling pollution-free journeys in Norway’s UNESCO-listed Nærøyfjord. With NX we’re taking take things to the next level,” he said.

Source: Northern Explorer

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