Sleek new hybrid-propulsion ferry keeps Norway’s fjords clean and quiet

Picture the Norwegian fjords: Beautiful tree-covered mountains. Snowcapped glacier peaks. Crystal-clear water. Noisy diesel engines spewing air pollution.

Hey, wait a minute. One of these doesn’t make sense!

Actually, it made so little sense to the tour-ship operator called The Fjords located, not surprisingly, in the Norwegian fjords that the company challenged the maritime industry to think differently. And with good reason.

Diesel engines were hurting this World Heritage Site

Western Norway is famous for its fjords, which are beautiful deep water-filled valleys that were carved by glaciers and have steep green mountains on either side. In fact, the Nærøy fjord where The Fjords operates its tourist ferries is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the unspoiled beauty of the waterways, mountainsides, and wildlife. The problem, however, was that the areas were becoming increasingly difficult to protect because of their popularity with tourists, who previously arrived to view them by diesel-powered ferries.

A few years ago The Fjords management began discussing ideas with the shipbuilding company Brødrene Aa in Hyen, Norway, to see if it would be possible to build a sightseeing ferry that could carry hundreds of passengers with absolutely minimal impact on the environment. The discussions led to the decision to design a hybrid diesel-electric propelled tourist ship with a catamaran hull which would eliminate both the noise pollution and diesel emissions when in the pristine fjords.

A key challenge for the entire project was to keep the weight of the ship as low as possible. Therefore, lightweight carbon fiber was chosen as the main material of construction and the design crew even chose to drill holes into certain parts of the doors to shave kilograms off the total weight count. Before long, ABB was involved in several important parts of the project, including the drives for controlling the hybrid-electric propulsion system.

Besides weight, space was also a challenge

If you’ve ever examined a catamaran hull, you know that space is very limited. Therefore, when it came time to specify which drive to use for motor control, both the weight and footprint had to be at an absolute minimum. Working in close cooperation with ABB Marine, as well as with Brødrene Aa, a traditional industrial drive was considered but it was decided that it might be both too big and heavy. Instead, the solution agreed upon was the compact liquid-cooled HES880 drive, which is based on the successful ACS880 technology. The HES880, a heavy-duty specialized drive able to withstand harsh operating environments, is designed for both hybrid-electric vehicles and marine applications, making it a natural fit for the new ferry.

The result of this collaborative project is the Vision of the Fjords ferry which entered service earlier this year on the magnificent Nærøy fjord between Flåm and Gudvangen. The sleek vessel has a 749 kW hybrid-electric power train that switches between diesel power and an emission-free electric mode when cruising. This means tourists can enjoy the scenery without any emissions and in almost complete silence, with the batteries being charged both while in port and when sailing.

The external design of the vessel, which essentially gives every tourist the best seat in the house due to a series of ramping structures, was inspired by the ‘switchback’ or ‘Z-shaped’ mountain roads which go up the side of the fjords. The catamaran has capacity for 400 passengers on the 32-km long Nærøy fjord journey.

Pioneering work also welcomed by environmentalists

Besides the tourists and the ship operator, environmental groups as well are happy with the hybrid-electric development. Jan Kjetil Paulsen of the Norwegian environmental watchdog Bellona calls the traditional cruise industry in the Norwegian fjords ‘a paradox’ because of the diesel exhaust smoke which previously could lie thick over the most popular locations. He has stated that Vision of the Fjords is an important step towards what he sees as the next revolution in the marine industry – electrification of the maritime fleet.

ABB Drives is proud to have been involved in this pioneering work carried out in close cooperation with ABB Marine in Norway and Brødrene Aa. This was certainly a case of getting ‘out of our comfort zones’ for all parties involved but the success that the project has achieved, and the worldwide notice that the Vision of the Fjords tourist ship has received, has certainly made it all worthwhile. The vessel was awarded Ship of the Year 2016 by the maritime magazine Skipsrevyen. The award was announced during the SMM Hamburg exhibition in September 2016.

Going forward, new areas of application for the HES880 drive are being identified all the time, especially in the tough and demanding marine, deck-machinery, offshore and mining sectors. As stated, a key benefit of this drive is its ability to withstand vibrations and shocks that are inherent in these kinds of operations. Further growth in maritime applications will also likely be stimulated by the fact that the drive will soon be granted marine-type certification from some of the world’s leading classification societies.

We at ABB are happy to have played a small but critical role in supporting both the environmental and technical advances of the Vision of the Fjords project. This will give important, visible and lasting benefits to tourists and visitors to these beautiful sites for years to come. You might want to check it out for yourself – both for the quiet, clean ride of the hybrid powertrain, as well as for the magnificent beauty of the landscape!

Photo credit: Sverre Hjørnevik

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About the author

Teemu Ronkainen

I started at ABB in 1999 in development of ACS600 variable frequency drives. Throughout the years I have worked in various positions in R&D, sales and product management. Since 2010 my role has been sales manager for HES880 drives, targeting to speed up the electrical vehicle business at ABB Drives. Collaborating with vehicle and machine OEMs and learning about the most recent vehicle technology is a part of my current job that I enjoy very much. My off-duty activities include couching my son’s ice hockey team. I also enjoy playing ice hockey and other team sports myself.
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