Ulstein unveils new ship concept to solve zero-emission challenge

Norwegian shipbuilder and designer Ulstein has launched a vessel concept capable of making the vision of zero-emission cruise operations a reality.

Ulstein Thor. Courtesy of Ulstein
Ulstein Thor. Courtesy of Ulstein

Named Ulstein Thor, the 149-meter-long replenishment, research and rescue (3R) design will feature a thorium molten salt reactor (MSR) to generate vast amounts of clean, safe electricity.

This enables the vessel to operate as a mobile power/charging station for a new breed of battery-driven cruise ships.

Ulstein believes the concept may be the missing piece of the zero emissions puzzle for a broad range of maritime and ocean industry applications.

To demonstrate its feasibility, Ulstein has also developed the Ulstein Sif concept, a 100-meter-long, 160 POB capacity, zero-emission expedition cruise ship. This Ice Class 1C vessel will run on next-generation batteries, utilising Thor to recharge while at sea.

Ulstein Thor and Ulstein Sif with an autonomous surface vehicle underway. Courtesy of Ulstein

“We have the goals, ambition and environmental imperative to switch to zero-emission operations, but, until now, we haven’t had the solution,” Cathrine Kristiseter Marti, CEO of Ulstein, commented.

“We believe ‘Thor’ might be the answer we’ve been looking for. ‘Thor’ is essentially a floating, multi-purpose ‘power station’ that will enable a new battery revolution.”

“Expedition cruise ships operate in increasingly remote, and environmentally fragile, areas. At the same time the industry faces growing pressure from diverse stakeholders to preserve nature as it is and ban the environmental impact of cruising. ‘Thor’ enables replenishment of energy and supplies on site, while also boasting the technology to facilitate rescue operations, as well as conducting research tasks.”

The energy to transform

Thorium has been identified as having huge potential for a maritime industry hunting for clean alternative fuels.

MSRs are safe, efficient and operationally proven solutions that work by dissolving Thorium – an abundant, naturally occurring metal with low radioactivity – in liquid salt. The ensuing chain reaction heats the salt, producing steam to drive a turbine and create electricity.

Although developments on land are well documented, its potential for delivering clean maritime power has yet to be incorporated into a vessel design. Ulstein has seen an opportunity to change that, potentially heralding a new dawn of clean power for cruise and maritime operations.

Thor’s charging capacity has been scaled to satisfy the power needs of four expedition cruise ships simultaneously. Thor itself would never need to refuel. As such, the concept is intended to provide a blueprint for entirely self-sufficient vessels of the future.

Speaking about the suitability of Thorium MSRs as an energy source for maritime applications, Jan Emblemsvåg, Professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, an expert in the field of Thorium and nuclear power generation, noted:

“MSRs have enormous potential for enabling clean shipping. There is so much uncertainty over future fuels, but here we have an abundant energy source that, with the right approach, can be safe, much more efficient, cheaper, with a smaller environmental footprint than any existing alternative.”

“From my perspective I see this as the most viable, and potentially the only credible, solution for a zero emission fleet that can operate under commercial terms and cost levels. The ‘Thor’ concept is exactly the kind of innovation we need for sustainable success at sea.”

Both Thor and Sif feature Ulstein’s X-BOW design, created for greater operability, comfort, operational functionality and fuel efficiency. Thor features helicopter pads, firefighting equipment, rescue booms, workboats, autonomous surface vehicles and airborne drones, cranes, laboratories, and a lecture lounge.

The expedition cruise vessel Sif can accommodate up to 80 passengers and 80 crew, offering silent, zero-emission expedition cruises to remote areas, including Arctic and Antarctic waters.

“Here we have two concepts in one to showcase a cleaner, safer and more sustainable way ahead for cruise ship owners and operators, not to mention maritime in general,” Øyvind G. Kamsvåg, Chief Designer at Ulstein, said.

“We have huge confidence in this solution and want to engage further in conversations about how we can enable the necessary changes the world demands,” Lars Ståle Skoge, Commercial Director at Ulstein Design & Solutions AS, added.

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