MSC Cruises: flexibility and energy efficiency

April 29, 2024 | by

LNG base

Part of MSC Cruises’ multi-fuel strategy is to use an LNG base for its newbuilds with the potential to retrofit methanol if that becomes a fuel of choice for the industry. 
He explains, “We need to ensure our ships are flexible enough to accommodate any changes in the market. We see LNG as a transitional solution because it is still a fossil fuel. But it allows an improvement in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared with MGO. LNG also brings significant benefits to local air pollution and the same infrastructure used for fossil LNG can also be used by bioLNG and renewable synthetic LNG without any changes.”

Indeed, the potential for using bioLNG is great. Mr Francioni singles out that currently, approximately 30M tonnes of biomethane are being produced – with the potential for 600M. “We don’t believe this will be the only solution, but it will help the energy transition,” Mr Francioni says. 

Last year, MSC Euribia completed a voyage on 400 tonnes of bioLNG, which allowed it to achieve the industry’s first net-zero voyage. Going forward, the company’s strategy is to progressively use more bioLNG. 

Mr Francioni sums up, “Regulatory developments on air emissions are helping to reduce the price gap between fossil LNG and renewable LNG and we are looking to use more and more renewable fuels going forward. Last year’s voyage was just a proof of concept, aimed at demonstrating net-zero cruising would be possible today if renewable fuels were available at scale at an acceptable price. 

“The LNG pathway for us is showing more immediate potential to support our net-zero strategy than methanol.” Batteries are another part of MSC’s multi-fuel strategy, potentially used as an auxiliary solution, such as for peak shaving. “Battery used parallel to LNG dual-fuel engines can help us with peak shaving, and also help to minimise the methane slip in manoeuvring since engines could be operated at optimum load,” says Mr Francioni.

As well as the MSC Cruises brand, the company launched its luxury cruise line Explora Journeys. Explora 1 and 2 ships are almost identical in terms of technology. Explora 3 and 4 will use LNG, while 5 and 6 will use LNG with fuel cells and potentially also dedicated hydrogen tanks. “It’s an evolution,” says Mr Francioni. “In terms of energy efficiency, we are working with the yard to ensure every small kilowatt is gained, from air conditioning to heat exchange and inverters. The way we manage power on board is key.” 

Speaking about Explora Journeys, he says, “It’s a completely new learning curve as we are not used to this type of operation – we are learning a lot in terms of itinerary.  Itinerary is a big portion of our energy efficiency strategy. We lock into a level of emissions consumption when we decide the itinerary several years before it is executed.”

He says the company is developing a tool to optimise the itinerary, balancing economic results with air emissions and environmental parameters. “The balance of the two is not easy to find. There is a balance between the economic aspects and the emissions aspect. We started an EU-funded study two years ago, which aims to develop a tool to optimise the timing, sequence of ports and selection of ports in a given area to optimise revenue and keep environmental parameters in a certain range. Optimising the itinerary is a never-ending process to further reduce emissions.” 

The pilot of the tool has given encouraging results, saving up to 10% fuel on a given itinerary, while maintaining the same level of guest satisfaction. The tool will be implemented on the MSC Cruises and Explora fleet this year.

Explora 3 and 4 ships will use the same approach and LNG technology as MSC’s other LNG dual-fuel ships. “It will have similar systems and technology as it is important to standardise the system as we have crew moving from one ship to another. This is important in terms of bunkering and managing the supply chain. What we have learned there will be fundamental for Explora.”

The company has long-term bunkering contracts with LNG suppliers including Gasum and Total Energy. “We performed unscheduled LNG bunkering in Cadiz in January, as it is important to understand whether it is feasible, and we have been impressed by the results.”

“It is fundamental to learn about this as a model for Explora, as these ships will not go back to the same port every week. Because their itineraries are not recurring, we may need to have multiple contracts in place with different suppliers to ensure flexibility in bunkering possibilities for the ships,” says Mr Francioni.

Explora ships 3 and 4 will be lengthened compared with 1 and 2, to fit in the extra technology needed for LNG propulsion and extra space for the guests. As with the other ships, Wärtsilä will provide the LNG tanks which allow up to two-week operations on LNG, and the propulsion systems.  
Reducing methane slip  
Explora 5 and 6 will have a new generation of engine – Wärtsilä 31DF EnviroPac –with an even lower methane slip level than ever before, reducing GHG emissions by a further 3-5%.  

Regarding methane slip, Mr Francioni says, “Methane slip is an issue that is very well known. A significant improvement has been made by manufacturers in the last 10 years and further reductions will be possible with new-generation engines.” 

MSC Cruises is part of an EU-funded R&D project aimed at producing engine and combustion technology that improves methane slip further. Project partners include Shell, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, Wärtsilä and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The latter measured the methane slip of one of MCS Cruises’ ships for a week. The key takeaway was the results were significantly better than expected.

Mr Francioni explains, “The methane slip of a modern cruise vessel in operation is around 50% of the default value given by the rules, which is 3.1%. We are in the range of 1.7% so already much better [than 3.1%].”

Methane slip has been already reduced by 80% due to manufacturer advancements in the last 10 years. The good results are also down to the way MSC operates the ship, as it always uses its engines at optimum load to increase efficiency, thus reducing methane slip. For more than 90% of the time, the engine operates at more than 40% load. “Our aim is to achieve a methane slip below 1%, with the next generations of engines,” says Mr Francioni. 

Moving to shore power, Mr Francioni says, “All our new ships are fitted with shore power.” The company is also retrofitting its current ships with shore power, with three done last year and three to be converted this year.  

Mr Francioni says, “Cruise ships are generally ready, but many ports are not. There is movement, with significant improvement on the port side in the last three years.” 

Last year, MSC connected to shore power with 44 calls and this year will exceed 200-220. 

Mr Francioni sums up that in the cruise operator’s quest to reach net zero, there are many small pieces of the puzzle to fit together. “There is no one single solution, it is many solutions put together, technologies, energy efficiency and renewable fuels.” 


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