E-ferries: roll-on, off, up!

 By Jim McClelland

You’ve heard of electric cars, buses and lorries, well, what about e-ferries? Far from representing simply an extension of overall trends towards electrification in transport, advances in the development of clean and green ferry technologies are actually part of a much bigger picture and problem: unsustainability in shipping…

The shipping industry, in general, has long been known to have an issue with its carbon footprint, contributing over 2 percent to total CO2 emissions. While the sector is essential to the global economy, carrying around 90 percent of world trade, it has struggled with perceptions as a polluter and appeared slow to assume responsibility for its environmental impacts.
Over the last six months, however, public and political pressure on the industry really began to intensify — for shipping, the heat was on.

Ship Maneuvering out of Port S.Louis du Rhone (near Marseilles) an area in which stricter controls were established to minimize airborne emissions from ships (Roberto Venturini, Wikimedia)

In the run-up to the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn last November, leading names such as global transport and logistics giant Maersk were already calling on the sector to show greater ambition in tackling climate change.
The following month, in December, stakes were raised still higher with launch of the ‘Tony de Brum’ declaration at the One Planet Summit, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. Signed by 35 countries, this document challenged shipping to take urgent action to help meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, struck two years earlier. Then, in April this year, came the official industry response and breakthrough. Nations meeting at the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London agreed to adoption of an initial strategy on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Referencing ‘a pathway of CO2 reduction consistent with Paris Agreement temperature goals’, the IMO set a target to cut emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050, compared to figures for 2008, while, at the same time, pursuing efforts towards phasing them out entirely.
So, how is shipping going to deliver on its much-awaited climate promise? Well, for starters, there is the EU E-ferry project. Supported by the European initiative H2020, it involves design, building and demonstration of a fully electric-powered ‘green’ ferry which can sail without polluting and CO2 emissions. It promotes energy-efficient, zero-GHG and air pollution-free waterborne transportation for island communities, coastal zones and inland waterways in Europe and beyond.

E-ferry is a new project supported by the European initiative H2020 involving the design, building and demonstration of a fully electric powered ‘green’ ferry which can sail without polluting and CO2 emissions (

There are also accompanying innovations emerging in areas such as automated, unmanned mooring systems that help maximize time available to charge ship battery units. Swiss engineering group Cavotec, for example, has won €9M in orders for its MoorMaster technology over recent months, with new installations in Norway taking the number of projects to equip e-ferry ports across Scandinavia to more than 40. What happens when ships are in port is vital and a recent report by Ricardo Energy & Environment for Schneider Electric has estimated total emissions from ship auxiliary engines running at berth around the U.K. Findings suggest benefits from elimination of key pollutants critical to human health — namely, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) — could be roughly equivalent to taking 1 in every 10 diesel cars off the road.
As a maximum, the value to the U.K. of replacing operation of these engines with shore-side electricity generated from 100 percent renewable sources, so cutting CO2, NOx, PM10 and SO2 (sulphur dioxide), might be as much as £483M.
With a framework for emissions targets now formally agreed upon for shipping, there is finally an investment platform in place for energy- and climate-related innovation and development, including technologies and projects in generation, storage and efficiency.
There is a long way to go and the industry is late setting sail, but the voyage towards greater sustainability in shipping has begun.

READ MORE: Increasing shipping’s sustainability by Mike Scott

about the author
Jim McClelland
Editor + journalist for supplements to The Times + Sunday Times, also quoted in Guardian, Sunday Telegraph. I blog for such as GE + Gap. Active on social media. Specialisms include Sustainability.