Future Fuel: What Is an LNG-Powered Cruise Ship?

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With many eco-conscious travelers protesting that cruise ships are not environmentally friendly, the industry has been searching for a greener solution for these massive ships.

This trend began with implementing changes onboard, such as eliminating or reducing the use of single-use plastics, retrofitting or building ships to reduce overall emissions, and providing composting and recycling onboard. The latest advancement in becoming more environmentally responsible is the introduction of LNG-powered cruise ships.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG), which burns cleaner, is a non-electric marine fuel that reduces the emission of sulfur by 99-100%, carbon dioxide by 25%,  and nitrogen oxide by 90%. Additionally, greenhouse emissions are reduced by 30%, eliminating particulate matter coming from the ship’s exhaust.

What Is LNG?

LNG consists of natural gasses being pumped out of the earth’s core (CH4  or methane) and cooled to -260°F, turning them into liquefied natural gas. This system allows gas to be stored easily and transported to different locations.

As a liquid, LNG is colorless, odorless, non-corrosive, and non-toxic. It is cheaper than petroleum and gasoline.

How do Cruise Ships Use this New Fuel?

Ships that are powered by LNG use LNG fuel to generate energy required for propulsion. The first cruise ship to use LNG fuel was Carnival’s AIDAnova, which launched in 2018. Since that time, an additional 20 LNG ships have been created, with more to come.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The major advantage to incorporating LNG is that the released gas combustion significantly reduces carbon oxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur emissions into the air. It has almost no ash or particulates.

The use of this fuel provides clear advantages over other fuels. However, there are alternatives that could potentially be other fuel sources. Right now, LNG is the most environmentally friendly. It is also the only scalable solution offering a significant reduction in emissions.

LNG Refuel
LNG Refuel

Engines that are designed to use LNG fuel require less maintenance because there is less wear on the engine. Cruise lines also benefit from lower operational costs since these engines don’t require a standard scrubber system to be installed. Costs are further reduced since cruise lines no longer need to purchase a low sulfur-based fuel, which can be costly.

Worth Reading: How Fast Does a Cruise Ship Propeller Spin?

While it sounds incredible, there are some disadvantages. The most noteworthy is the engine requirements the cruise ships need to run on this fuel. LNG is unable to go into existing diesel or gas engines. Therefore, ships must be designed using a specific engine that holds LNG and will correctly burn the fuel.

LNG Vessel and Carnival Mardi Gras
LNG Vessel and Carnival Mardi Gras

This fuel source has a lower fuel density than other gases, meaning fleets that make the shift require twice the tank space. This results in fewer cabins and a resulting reduction in guest capacity.

Another issue is the scarcity of fueling depots. While there are plans to incorporate more, presently this has been a major deterrent in fleets investing in an LNG cruise ship.

The History of LNG-Powered Cruise Ships

The history of LNG-powered cruise ships began in 2015 when Carnival Corporation announced its ship, AIDAsol (AIDA Cruises) would be the first to utilize LNG fuel. When it docked in port, it was being powered using an LNG hybrid barge. It was a revolutionary move made by the company and was the start of something significant.

Carnival Corporation continued along this green trend over the next few years, announcing that AIDAnova would be the world’s first ship powered by LNG both at sea and in port. A year later, it launched Costa Smeralda (2019), followed by Carnival’s Mardi Gras (2020), which uses the same type of fuel.

Aidanova Cruise Ship at Sea
Photo Credit: Aidanova Cruise Ship at Sea

After the launch of these ships, other cruise lines moved toward using this fuel. By reducing carbon emissions, it generated a heightened awareness toward the industry’s green practices, making it a welcome shift for consumers.

To date, Carnival Corporation continues to invest time and energy into LNG fuel and the advancement of its technology. Its goal is to reduce the overall carbon emission with its entire fleet.

After Carnival Corporation’s success with LNG fuel, other cruise lines followed their example. Disney Wish is the first ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet to use the new fuel to power their propeller system. It is launching this summer.

MSC Cruises announced the launching of MSC World Europa this year. It is their most technologically advanced cruise ship in the fleet. It was developed using 50 kW LNG-powered solid oxide fuel cell technology. MSC Cruises has indicated this technology will further decrease carbon emissions by 25% over standard LNG engines.

MSC World Europa
Rendering Courtesy: MSC Cruises

With the increase in cruise lines adopting LNG technology, the industry is working toward its objective of having zero-emission operations.

Which Cruise Ships Are Powered by LNG?

This is the timeline in which LNG-powered cruise ships were launched. AIDA was the first to incorporate this fuel for its passengers, with other cruise lines closely following its example.

  • AIDAnova (2018)
  • Costa Smeralda (2019)
  • Carnival Mardi Gras (2020)
  • P&O Cruises Iona (2020)
  • AIDAcosma (2021)
  • Costa Toscana (2021)
  • Disney Wish (2022)
  • Carnival Celebration (2022)
  • MSC World Europa (2022)
  • Royal Caribbean Icon Class – Icon of the Seas (2023)
  • Carnival Jubilee (2023)
  • AIDA Unnamed (2023)
  • Disney Unnamed (2024)
  • Princess Cruises Unnamed (2023, 2025)
  • MSC Euribia (2023)
  • MSC World Class Unnamed (2024, 2025, 2027)
  • Royal Caribbean Oasis Class – Utopia of the Seas (2024)
  • TUI Mein Schiff 8 (2024)
  • Disney Unnamed (2025)
  • Royal Caribbean Icon Class Unnamed (2025, 2025)
  • TUI Mein Schiff 9 (2026)

What Is the Future of LNG for Cruise Ships?

As more restrictions are being placed on cruise ship emissions, there is a rising need for companies to comply. Currently, many are opting to install scrubbers to lower particulate and sulphur emissions to become compliant. This is a more cost-effective option in the interim.

Read Also: How Big Is a Cruise Ship Engine?

Other companies have decided to invest in LNG-powered cruise ships, with others placing orders for their new vessels.

With increasing demands to become more environmentally responsible, more fleets are making the switch to this type of fuel. However, most of these are the major cruise lines, for now.

With the scarcity of fueling depots, some companies are shying away from investing in an LNG-powered cruise ship. However, as more ports arise, we will probably see the shift to more LNG-powered vessels.

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