Monthly Archives: January 2019

Sustainable Shipping goes Commercial


Renault-Neoline. A sailing cargo-ship, due to be in commercial operation by 2020

Last March I posted a blog about the great success of the Ampere, the first regular passenger ferry using battery electric propulsion, rather than diesel engines. It achieved 95% reduction in emissions and an 80% reduction in operating costs. In that blog I argued that it was likely that short routes, such as the Dover – Calais, would probably switch from diesel to renewables before longer, ocean going routes. However a new partnership between the car maker, Renault, and ship building start-up Neoline are planning a predominantly wind powered regular Trans-Atlantic service, due to start operating in 2020.

The picture above shows what they are proposing. It is quite a large roll-on roll-off ship, capable of carrying 478 cars on two decks. Most of the time while at sea it would be entirely sail powered. For manoeuvring in port and times of slack wind a diesel engine is planned. I would like to see Neoline replace this diesel with a hydrogen fuel cell engine. However, even with the diesel engine, emissions are forecast to be 90% lower than conventional ships as essentially this is a new iteration of a sailing ship, although no doubt with smart computer controlled sails.

I have on this blog written about several experimental hydrogen fuel cell ships. Now construction is just beginning on what will be the world’s first regular commercial hydrogen fuel cell ferry. It will be a 70-foot long catamaran, capable of carrying 84 passengers, and will commence operating in San Francisco Bay sometime later this year, initially on a three month trial basis. It will carry sufficient hydrogen for two full days operation.

Combining the sail powered ship designed in France by Neoline and the hydrogen fuel cell ferry under construction in California seems to suggest the path to a truly sustainable global shipping technology. Predominantly wind powered, but with clean hydrogen fuel cell technology for manoeuvring in port and as back up for when the wind is not strong enough. How long will it be before these technologies replace diesel on the huge bulk carriers that criss-cross the planet’s oceans. That would improve local air quality in ports, cut carbon and other emissions, and be quieter and so less disruptive to whales and dolphins, and it might also be considerably cheaper than dirty old diesel. What’s not to like?