Hybrid-powered electric cruise ship navigates Northwest Passage

A Norwegian company says it has navigated the first hybrid-powered cruise ship through the Northwest Passage using a combination of massive batteries and diesel engines.

Clean Arctic Alliance calls hybrid ship a good start, but industry needs to go further

MS Roald Amundsen near Greenland on its voyage toward the Northwest Passage in August. (Hurtigruten)

A Norwegian company says it has navigated the first hybrid-powered cruise ship through the Northwest Passage using a combination of massive batteries and diesel engines.

The company claims it's the first time a vessel of its kind and size has sailed the route.

Hurtigruten, a cargo, ferry and cruise company from Norway, designed MS Roald Amundsen.

The boat, which is named after Norway's famed polar explorer, completed a more than 3,000-nautical-mile voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, ending in Nome, Alaska, on Sept. 10. Nearly 500 people were on board.

"No one even thought it was possible a couple of years ago, including all the biggest cruise lines in the world," said John Downey, president of Hurtigruten's American division, about building a hybrid electric-powered cruise ship. 

"This had never ever been implemented before ... we're very proud of her."

A view of the battery room aboard the MS Roald Amundsen. (Hurtigruten)

The ship's hybrid technology involves four diesel engines and two large battery packs. Daily emissions from one single cruise ship can be equivalent to one million cars, said the company

The new system, combined with the design of the ship's hull, reduces the ship's emissions by about 20 per cent.

When the ship needs a boost of power, the captain has the option of drawing electricity from the battery packs rather than starting another engine, said Downey.

In some scenarios, like when observing wildlife, the ship can run solely off battery power for about an hour.

The ship also has energy recovery systems, such as using water that cooled engines to help heat the spa and pools. All grey water and waste is stored on board.

Pam Gross is mayor of Cambridge bay, Nunavut. The hamlet was one of the stops on MS Roald Amundsen's voyage through the Northwest Passage. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

"For this to be happening, it's really delighting to hear," said Pam Gross, mayor of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Located on the Dease Strait, the hamlet was one of the stops on MS Roald Amundsen's recent voyage.

"[I] hope it sets a precedent for other ships that are coming through," she said.

The community is still weighing the pros and cons of having cruise ships come to town, Gross said. 

A cruise ship went aground near Kugaaruk, Nunavut, in 2018. People are worried about emissions, pollution, oil spills and invasive species coming into their waters, said Gross.

"You know we want to ensure that our waters are being protected and our precious ecosystems underwater."

The route of the electric diesel hybrid MS Roald Amundsen through the Northwest Passage. (Hurtigruten)

Hybrid technology a step in right direction

The Clean Arctic Alliance calls the hybrid technology a good step if it's viewed as a "transition fuel" until technology advances to renewable forms of propulsion.

Just under half of the ships in the Arctic still use heavy fuel. The non-profit is campaigning to ban the use of heavy fuel oil from shipping in the Arctic, reducing pollutants including black carbon — an accelerator of climate change — said the alliance. 

It's not where we ultimately want to see shipping get to.It's got to go even further.- Sian Prior, Clean Arctic Alliance

"It's a move in the right direction. But it's not where we ultimately want to see shipping get to. It's got to go even further," said Sian Prior, the alliance's lead adviser.

 She said the industry is at least 10 years away from seeing battery-operated cruise ships.

Hurtigruten along with the Clean Arctic Alliance launched the Arctic Commitment in 2017 to phase out the use of heavy fuel in the Arctic.

"We think it's completely unnecessary for cruise lines to use [heavy fuel oil]. There's lots of alternative available," said Downey.

The company is investing in designing liquid natural gas and biofuel engine supports into retrofitting current ships and future builds.

"We're continuing to drive toward a point where ... we can eliminate carbon emissions all together. That is our ultimate goal, " said Downey.


Kate Kyle is a producer based in Yellowknife. Find her on Twitter @_kate_kyle


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