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Passenger Ship Technology

Passenger Ship Technology

Red Funnel prepares for biofuels and hybrid vessels

Fri 03 May 2019 by Gavin Lipsith

Red Funnel prepares for biofuels and hybrid vessels
Raptor-class ropax ferry Red Falcon is currently testing hydrogenated vegetable oil as fuel

After naming its first dedicated freight vessel in April, UK shortsea operator Red Funnel now outlines its plans for cleaner propulsion

Plying the short, 12-mile route between Southampton and the Isle of Wight, it might seem that UK ferry operator Red Funnel is immune to the challenges of the wider maritime industry. Its business is assured by the steady flow of traffic between island and mainland, commercial competition is controlled by licensing, and overcapacity is no concern. But when it comes to environmental impact, coastal vessels serving densely populated areas are on the front line. For Red Funnel, that fact is driving some deep investigations into environmentally friendly fuelling for its eight-strong fleet.

In April the company launched its first freight vessel, Red Kestrel. That might seem like a late move for a company that transports 53% of the freight moving between the Isle of Wight and the mainland. In fact, the decision was driven by rising demand for passenger transport, says operations director Mark Slawson.

“There were increasing periods during the year when we were becoming capacity constrained,” he says. “There’s demand for space but we can’t fit the people on. We did some analysis and the swiftest and easiest way to give us capacity, we concluded, was to take the freight off the ropax ships.”

Red Kestrel, which came into operation in May, has capacity for 12, 44-tonne trucks. That move frees up the operator’s Raptor-class ropax vessels Falcon, Eagle and Osprey to carry more passengers – an additional 34 CEU each by bringing into play the mezzanine decks.

“The test confirmed that HVO is a drop-in fuel that can be used at any ratio; the impact on emissions – SOx, NOx and CO2 – was dramatic”

The speed at which Red Funnel brought Red Kestrel into operation – it is just 14 months since the project began and the build, at UK yard Cammell Laird, was completed in a mere nine months – meant that simplicity was of the essence. The double-ended ferry features twin enginerooms fore and aft, each with a Cummins main engine and auxiliary. The company opted for direct drive propulsion, although Mr Slawson notes that diesel-electric and even hybrid configurations were considered.

Chief engineer Aidan Bannon in Red Kestrel's fore engineroom

“We wanted to add capacity fast and that gets complicated quite quickly,” he says. “In terms of hybrid propulsion, I think we’re too near the cutting edge of technology at the moment.”

The company is, however, considering hybrid propulsion for when its Raptor class needs renewal. The oldest, Falcon, was built in 1994, then stretched in 2004 and had two new lounges added to its superstructure in 2014. Renewal is on the horizon, but not imminent, says Mr Slawson.

“I said to our board a while ago that when we need new ships, you need to give me a five-year run at it. We need to set the requirement, we then need to design the thing and build it. That will take five years.”

The time will be needed to explore an expanding range of propulsion options. Red Funnel has already been running a project looking at hybrid propulsion for the new Raptors. The pace of change in hybrid technologies – especially battery power density – is changing rapidly and Mr Slawson says that being armed with that knowledge will help Red Funnel navigate the many complexities that face hybrid ships.

“The swiftest and easiest way to give us capacity was to take the freight off the ropax ships”

“Our route is only 12 miles, but our current programme is an hour’s journey followed by half an hour alongside. So you need to ask how much power to do I need to put into the batteries in that half hour to make sure I can go back and forth? To give you the safety of the operation you would need to have enough in the battery that you only charge at one end. Then you must recognise that you have to run your battery in between around 50-85% discharge to give it the longevity. If you dip down too far too often you shorten the life.”

Mr Slawson believes the new Raptors will be hybrid – although, as a Tesla driver, he would prefer the fully electric option. But after investigating infrastructure in Cowes and Southampton, Red Funnel has not seen plans that would enable it to run the service using electric ships.

The Red Kestrel’s engines will – pending approval from Cummins – be capable of running on hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO), a drop-in biofuel currently being tested on Red Falcon. Mr Slawson reports that a short test last year fitted emissions monitoring equipment to check levels at full MGO operation, full HVO and a 50:50 blend. That test confirmed that HVO is a drop-in fuel that can be used at any ratio. The impact on emissions – SOx, NOx and CO2 – was dramatic.

Due to the success of that test, the company is now carrying out a longer trial on Falcon. A baseline set of engine parameters has been determined and engineers will explore settings in order to make the fuel even more efficient. Given the added cost of HVO, fuel efficiency will be crucial, although Mr Slawson believes that the price of the product will come down.

“There is a greater focus on emissions and a lot of demand. Production of HVO is growing and I think prices will fall.”

When that happens, Red Funnel is prepared to switch its fleet to HVO, even on its thirstiest vessels, a trio of fast ferries. “If we reach the point where HVO is truly competitive with MGO then we could use it in our Red Jets as well,” says Mr Slawson.

With an established fleet ready to run on cleaner HVO fuel and a long-term fleet renewal programme that it expects to be driven by hybrid vessels, Red Funnel is keeping an eye on environmental performance as well as capacity growth.


Red Kestrel principal particulars

Length overall: 74.25 m

Beam: 17 m

Gross Tonnage: 1070 gt

Speed: 12.5 knots @ 85% MCR

Passengers: 12

Vehicles: 12 HGVs

Crew: 6-7

Engines: 2 x Cummins QSK38

Propellers: 2 x Rolls Royce US 155FP

Generators: 2 x Cummins 6B-CP

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