As It Happens

Norwegian cruise line to use dead fish to help power ships

A Norwegian expedition company is turning to rotten fish to help reach its ultimate goal of operating "emissions-free" cruises — but is that just a pipe dream?

Hurtigruten says it's converting at least 6 of its vessels to run partly on biogas

The Hurtigruten ship Nordnorge approaches Honningsvag, Norway, in June 2011. (Heiko Junge/EPA)

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A Norwegian expedition company is turning to rotten fish to help reach its goal of operating "emissions-free" cruises. 

Hurtigruten, which operates a fleet of 17 cruise ships in mostly Arctic waters, aims to convert six of its vessels by 2021 to be partially fuelled by biogas generated from the decomposition of organic waste from the fishing and forestry industries.

"We operate a lot around the poles. We've seen climate change happen in front of our eyes," Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"For us, it's about making a positive impact to this industry, about changing the way we operate."

The decision comes at a time when cruise lines are under scrutiny for their effect on the environment.

A 2017 report from German environmental group Nabu found that a mid-size cruise ship can emit as much particulate per day as one million cars. The massive vessels keep their engines running 24 hours a day, even while in port, in order to power what are essentially seabound hotels, often complete with spas and restaurants. 

Modified ships run by biogas and LNG

Hurtigruten prides itself on being different, says Skjeldam, noting that the company shuns heavy fuels, bans single-use plastics and invests in environmentally friendly technology. 

The company's ultimate goal, he said, is to become carbon neutral. 

But that's easier said than done.

Two of the Norwegian shipping company's cruise ships, the MS Nordnorge, left, and MS Nordkapp, right, are pictured in Paradise Bay in 2005. (Franz Gingele via Scanpix/Associated Press)

The ships will run at least 15 per cent biogas, with the rest coming from liquefied natural gas (LNG), often hailed as a cleaner fuel.

But a University of Manchester study in April found reductions in carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions gained from LNG are negligible when when you factor in the full life cycle of the fuel — from refining and transportation to actual combustion.

Skjeldam says the ships will also have batteries, and will be able to operate for extended periods of time only on electricity. 

First step 

But Skjeldam says 15 per cent biogas is just the first step.

The company aims to eventually operate on 100 per cent biogas as it becomes more available, and ideally, affordable.

Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam says his cruise ship company aims to operate emissions-free cruises. (Rune Kongsro/Hurtigruten)

"There is enough raw materials out there to fuel the ships, but you need customers who are willing to pay extra for the biogas to get the industry up and going, and then the suppliers will be able to effectivize the product chain to be able to make more of this very, very green biogas," he said.

"I definitely think that the customers of the future will ... demand that their cruise line of choice is operating much more sustainably than today."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Katie Geleff. 

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