Estonian State Fleet

Estonia seeks builder for new zero-emission, battery hydrogen-fueled ferry

Estonia has launched a call for tender to build a next-generation zero-emission, battery hydrogen-fueled ferry for the Virtsu-Kuivastu route.

Image by Estonian State Fleet

The call for tender was announced on December 11 by Estonian State Fleet, a government-controlled center dedicated to developing and managing state-owned vessels.

The deadline for submission of tenders for the construction and design of the vessel is January 17, 2024. The new vessel is planned to start operating on the Virtsu–Kuivastu route on October 1, 2026.

As explained, the new energy-efficient ferry will be unique in the region, as it will be able to run entirely on hydrogen fuel, in addition to shore-supplied electricity, operate without noise and vibrations, and operate in fully autonomous mode with crew onboard.

The ferry has been developed for crossing between the Estonian main islands and is scheduled to start operations in October 2026.

Estonian Minister of Climate Kristen Michal said that the procurement of the new ferry is a good example of how to contribute to economic development while preserving nature.

“The further development of ferry technology is necessary to improve the quality of connections for people and visitors to the islands. By using energy efficiently, we as a country, as customers, can get more journeys for every euro, and in a way that is more respectful of nature,” Michal said.

According to Andres Laasma, Director General of the State Fleet, great attention was paid to energy efficiency in the design of the new ferry. Based on the zero-emission principle, the ferry can operate in winter conditions in Estonia with lower energy costs.

“Thanks to new technologies and an innovative hull design, the energy consumption of the new ferry is about 20% lower than the previous generation of ferries,” Laasma noted.

Valentin Bratkov, the Project Manager of the new ferry, emphasized that the newbuild will come with autonomous onboard operations and readiness for remote control with onboard back-up and situational awareness, meaning that the ferry can sail between ports in fully autonomous mode.

“Initially, different activities of the operation, such as navigation, including docking and mooring, shore-side electrical charging, operation in engine room, on the car deck or in customer service area, can be fully self-running. In the future, the new ferry can also be operated remotely,” Bratkov added.

In collaboration with the researchers of the Estonian Maritime Academy, a structural unit of Tallinn University of Technology, the ferry concept was developed with a strong focus on the capability to create a prototype of a digital twin during the construction of the ferry. The digital twin will help during ferry operation to analyze current digital data streams and compare them with historical data, improving the optimal use of the ferry.

“High-quality data analysis will be used by the ferry’s control systems, as well as by the shore-based operations and simulation centre, as a basis for autonomous vessel operation planning, as well as for the training of ferry operators and other crew members,” Bratkov explained.

A conceptual ferry design and feasibility study were developed with the Finnish ship design and engineering company Deltamarin Ltd. in the preparatory phase of the construction project to verify which characteristics and capabilities of the ferry are best suited for Estonian routes in the long term.

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Moreover, in October 2023, Estonian State Fleet contracted Hamburgische Schiffbau-Versuchsanstalt GmbH (HSVA), Germany-based service and consulting company, to further investigate the new ferry performance capability in ice-covered waters. HSVA concluded that the ferry concept meets high requirements for energy efficiency.

“The investigation showed that the design is capable of breaking thin first-year level ice with continuous speed. Further, the design proved to achieve the minimum speed in brash ice conditions as stipulated for ice class IA with a fair margin. The power concept of the design allows for operation in even more difficult ice conditions e.g. ice drift and accumulation,” Nils Reimer, the Division Manager Arctic Technology at HSVA, informed.

The strength of the new ferry concept was validated by classification society Lloyd’s Register (LR), which gave the project an Approval in Principle at the end of November.

“LR is pleased to have acted as a trusted adviser on this project with Estonian State Fleet to provide the Estonian government with a new battery-hydrogen fuelled ferry for the Virtsu-Kuivastu and Rohuküla-Heltermaa routes. Not only will this ferry help to progress the transition towards low and zero carbon vessels, but it will also provide improved connectivity between Estonian and its largest islands,” Patrick Wrede, LR Key Account Manager, commented.

The new ferry will accommodate just over 1,000 lane meters for cars, about 20% more than the previous generation ferries. The ferry is designed to carry up to 700 passengers.

The estimated cost of the procurement is around 40 million. The shipbuilding will be financed by the European Modernisation Fund and revenues from CO2 emissions trading.

Back in 2020, Estonia retrofitted ferry Tõll to bettery hybrid operation. The ship started operations on the Virtsu-Kuivastu ferry line between Muhu and mainland Estonia as the first hybrid passenger vessel in the country.

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