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Brittany Ferries take Major Step to a Greener Future With LNG Powered Newbuilds

11th February 2022
Brittany Ferries embark with major steps for a greener future when on 27th March, the operators built in China 'E-Flexer' class Salamanca, their first liquified natural gas (LNG) powered passenger ferry to make will a commercial sailing from Portsmouth to Bilbao in Spain. Beforehand, the newbuild is scheduled to make a first Irish port of call to Rosslare Europort to enable berthing trials should the E-Flexer class be introduced on their Irish based routes. Above the new cruiseferry is seen at the French operator's founding 'homeport' of Roscoff, Brittany. Brittany Ferries embark with major steps for a greener future when on 27th March, the operators built in China 'E-Flexer' class Salamanca, their first liquified natural gas (LNG) powered passenger ferry to make will a commercial sailing from Portsmouth to Bilbao in Spain. Beforehand, the newbuild is scheduled to make a first Irish port of call to Rosslare Europort to enable berthing trials should the E-Flexer class be introduced on their Irish based routes. Above the new cruiseferry is seen at the French operator's founding 'homeport' of Roscoff, Brittany. Credit: Brittany Ferries

Brittany Ferries will take a major step towards an already stated commitment to a greener future when on 27th March, the operators newbuild Salamanca, their first liquified natural gas (LNG) powered passenger ferry is to start on a commercial sailing from Portsmouth to Bilbao in Spain.

Salamanca is the first of four new (Stena E-Flexer class) LNG ferries that the company will introduce (as chartered tonnage) into their fleet over the next five years.

Rosslare Europort (berthing trials)

While currently Salamanca is not scheduled to operate on one of the company's Irish routes, according to Brittany Ferries, the berthing trials at Rosslare indicate that (one of the ships) could operate on the Irish routes at a later date. The trials are scheduled for Rosslare between 0800 – 1400 on Sunday, 13th February.

Cleaner/Greener Future 

Salamanca is most definitely a cleaner ship today the expectation is that she will become even cleaner in the future. That’s because Salamanca is what can be described as fuel agnostic. LNG is certainly the best fuel available to shipping companies today. But when even more renewable options like e-methane or bio-methane come on stream, Salamanca will be ready to run on them.

The ship will therefore automatically become greener in the years to come, as advances in fuel technology and fuel supply emerge.

Of course, cleaner fuel is not the only thing that makes Salamanca a more efficient ship. Pleasing to the eye, her long slender hull hints at advances below the surface: E-Flexer class vessels like Salamanca (and sister-ship Galicia) have been optimised to deliver a high level of hydrodynamic performance.

In addition, powerful real-time data analysis on board the ship and the development of machine learning, mean energy efficiency can be optimised at all times during her operation.

Investment in a cleaner fleet

Fleet renewal is one of the pillars of Brittany Ferries’ recovery from the Covid crisis. Salamanca is just the first of four new LNG-powered ships destined for the Brittany Ferries family. A second named Santoña arrives in 2023. Both ships will serve Portsmouth to Spain routes, with Salamanca linking Portsmouth with Bilbao, and Santoña with Santander, the capital of Cantabria.

Further investment has been made in two LNG-hybrid vessels, arriving in 2024 and 2025. Brittany Ferries’ hybrids will replace two of the oldest (but much loved) ships in the Brittany Ferries fleet, Bretagne and Normandie. They will serve UK-France routes and will operate on the same principle as a hybrid car. At sea, power will come from cleaner LNG. But in a first on the Western Channel, they will also operate partially or completely on battery power, for example when arriving and departing ports.

Crucially they will also be ready to plug-in to shore-side power, when investment in the infrastructure to support it allows. This will allow recharging of batteries while at berth, as well as power for systems like air conditioning, heating and lighting on board.

“Brittany Ferries is proud to be taking a lead by investing in technologies of tomorrow,” said Christophe Mathieu Brittany Ferries CEO. “We have a responsibility to bring cleaner vehicles to market and that is what we are doing. But it’s not just shipping companies like ours that have a role to play on our journey to a more sustainable future. An integrated approach is essential, one that includes fuel companies, port partners and governments to support the necessary investment in infrastructure like shore-side power. The more we join-up, the greater the benefits will be.”

Fuelling the future

Brittany Ferries is working with long-term fuel partner Repsol and the ports of Bilbao and Santander for refuelling its LNG ships. Investment of €10m will see the completion of facilities in each terminal ready for the arrival of Salamanca and Santoña. Both Spanish terminals are being co-financed by the European Commission through the CEF- Connecting Europe Facilities Programme.

Brittany Ferries has also started discussions with ports like Portsmouth, Plymouth, Ouistreham and St Malo as well as government stakeholders on both sides of the Channel, to push for the rapid development of shore side power infrastructure. This would allow hybrid vessels to plug-in while docked and to recharge their batteries, thus delivering zero emissions in port and boosting all-electric power while manoeuvring.

LNG power and its benefits

Although Salamanca is not the first ship to be powered by LNG, she will be the first regularly operating on the Channel. Ferry services powered by LNG already operate in the Baltic Sea and the technology is tried, tested and safe.

As the name implies Liquefied Natural Gas is a liquid that is created from naturally occurring gas. The gas is cooled to temperatures of -162 degrees Celsius, which shrinks it by a factor of 600 in volume, creating a liquid.

Colourless and odourless, the fuel powers thousands of cars and commercial vehicles around the world. It’s a more efficient combustion process than burning traditional fossil fuels, with around 20% fewer carbon dioxide emissions from the funnel. More significant benefits come from reductions in air quality pollutants. Sulphur and particulate (soot) emissions are virtually eliminated, while nitrogen dioxide NOx emissions are cut by around 90%.

LNG is now increasingly common as a fuel for passenger ships. Ferry lines such as Viking Line and Tallink, as well as cruise lines like Carnival, Aida and MSC, have turned to LNG.

Ships operating on LNG have an excellent safety record and are required to comply with a new set of regulations known as the IGF code*. This has been specifically developed for the use of gas as a propellant, with safety elements drawn directly taken from ocean-going LNG carriers. This sector has operated without major incident for the last forty years, with many LNG carriers able to handle up to 120 000 m3 of LNG. By comparison, Salamanca’s LNG tanks have a capacity of 783 m3.

LNG is clearly a fuel for the future. It is favoured by regulators and everyone who is concerned about protecting our planet. The European Commission’s Energy Roadmap 2050 for example, points to natural gas as key to aspirations for clean energy targets in 2050.

*IGF Code – International Code of Safety for Ships Using Gases or Other Low Flashpoint Fuels

Published in Brittany Ferries
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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About Brittany Ferries

In 1967 a farmer from Finistère in Brittany, Alexis Gourvennec, succeeded in bringing together a variety of organisations from the region to embark on an ambitious project: the aim was to open up the region, to improve its infrastructure and to enrich its people by turning to traditional partners such as Ireland and the UK. In 1972 BAI (Brittany-England-Ireland) was born.

The first cross-Channel link was inaugurated in January 1973, when a converted Israeli tank-carrier called Kerisnel left the port of Roscoff for Plymouth carrying trucks loaded with Breton vegetables such as cauliflowers and artichokes. The story, therefore, begins on 2 January 1973, 24 hours after Great Britain's entry into the Common Market (EEC).

From these humble beginnings however, Brittany Ferries as the company was re-named quickly opened up to passenger transport, then became a tour operator.

Today, Brittany Ferries has established itself as the national leader in French maritime transport: an atypical leader, under private ownership, still owned by a Breton agricultural cooperative.

Eighty five percent of the company’s passengers are British.

Key Brittany Ferries figures:

  • Turnover: €202.4 million (compared with €469m in 2019)
  • Investment in three new ships, Galicia plus two new vessels powered by cleaner LNG (liquefied natural gas) arriving in 2022 and 2023
  • Employment: 2,474 seafarers and shore staff (average high/low season)
  • Passengers: 752,102 in 2020 (compared with 2,498,354 in 2019)
  • Freight: 160,377 in 2020 (compared with 201,554 in 2019)
  • Twelve ships operating services that connect France, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain (non-Covid year) across 14 routes
  • Twelve ports in total: Bilbao, Santander, Portsmouth, Poole, Plymouth, Cork, Rosslare, Caen, Cherbourg, Le Havre, Saint-Malo, Roscoff
  • Tourism in Europe: 231,000 unique visitors, staying 2.6 million bed-nights in France in 2020 (compared with 857,000 unique visitors, staying 8,7 million bed-nights in 2019).

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