Western Norway is renowned for a network of natural fjords that connect communities in four counties. These fjords make long-distance travel possible between remote locations via car ferries. A major issue for shipping companies operating car ferries is the ever-rising diesel bill. The average car ferry in Western Norway uses about 264,000 gallons of diesel each year. The Norwegian Ministry of Transport is also concerned about the 570 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 15 tons of nitrogen oxide emitted per car ferry each year. These concerns led the Ministry to host a competition among international entrants to create a low-emissions and fuel-efficient car ferry. Siemens and Fjellstrand won the competition by developing the ZeroCat battery-electric ferry.
The ZeroCat will start service across Sognefjord in 2015 on the E39 with stops at Lavik and Oppedal. This 240-foot ferry is a catamaran with two hulls built from aluminum panels. The ZeroCat uses a 1,000 kWh lithium-ion battery that can be recharged in 10 minutes during layovers. The limitations of electrical grids in Lavik and Oppedal are sidestepped by using chargers with rechargeable batteries that can rebuild energy reserves while ferries are en route. Siemens and Fjellstrand were able to reduce vessel weight by 50% through clever design along with lightweight components. This ferry still offers capacity comparable to diesel-powered vessels with space for 120 cars and 360 passengers.
Comparing existing ferries with the ZeroCat reveals solutions to nagging problems with operating costs and emissions. A standard ferry creates 1,500 kW at maximum power while the ZeroCat has a maximum output of 800 kW. The average speed of a fjord ferry is 10 knots, which means that maximum output of 400 kW is sufficient for daily operation. Siemens and Fjellstrand note that crossings at 11 knots (155 kWh) and 13 knots (201 kWh) would still allow low-cost transportation across Western Norway. The ZeroCat could be introduced on all ferry routes that last up to 30 minutes based on a presentation given during the design competition. Shipping company Norled has been granted the operating contract for the ZeroCat through 2025.
The Ministry of Transport was concerned with efficiency, cost of operation and aesthetics when judging entries in last year’s design competition. A network of 20 transport firms currently runs 150 ferries across 100 routes throughout Norway. The national government kicks in 50% of transportation costs, placing a premium on reducing costs going forward. Judges from the Ministry of Transport challenged dozens of design teams to create a car ferry that reduces energy consumption and emissions by 20%. The ZeroCat was the most successful among the entrants at achieving efficiency gains (40% of judging points) and reducing operating costs (60% of judging points).
We often focus on passenger vehicles when considering hybrids, alternative fuels and electric drive systems. This focus often leaves car ferries, garbage trucks and construction machinery on the blurry periphery. The reduced emissions created by diesel in commercial vehicles are offset by the amount of diesel used as well as length of operation. Siemens, Fjellstrand and the Norwegian Ministry of Transport demonstrate that commercial vehicles can be turned green with a little creativity. State, regional and national governments throughout the world must follow suit to bring all methods of transportation in line with efforts at lowered emissions and reduced energy consumption.