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Full LNG solution propels BC Ferries forward

As BC Ferries makes the switch to LNG, Wärtsilä is supplying more than just the equipment – they have been a partner through every stage of the process, from initial design and installation to staff training and on-going support.

Text: Nic Townsend Photo: Wärtsilä

Every day, year-round, BC Ferries transports tens of thousands of cars and people across British Columbia, Canada, making them one of the biggest ferry companies in the world. Its fleet of 34 vessels serve 47 terminals across the region and act as an essential link between many island communities and the Canadian mainland. In 2012, in an attempt to lessen its environmental impact and reduce fuel costs, BC Ferries began looking into alternative fuels for its future fleet.

“We are very conscious of our environmental impact and want to help preserve the pristine west coast of Canada,” says Mark Wilson, Vice President, Engineering, BC Ferries. “Even though we already meet the current regulations, we are always looking at ways to improve our environmental footprint even further.”

Since British Columbia boasts a huge abundance of natural gas – a reserve supply exceeding 1000 years – and the local government has introduced strong incentives to encourage the adoption of gas as a fuel source, LNG immediately stood out as the best option. Not only would it be cost effective, but it would also reduce all emissions. Compared to diesel, emitted CO2 is 25% less, NOx down by over 50% and SOx by 85%.

Consequently, three new LNG-powered vessels were commissioned and are currently under construction at the Remontowa Ship Yard in Poland. The first vessel is expected to be delivered before the end of the year. Concurrently, BC Ferries’ two biggest vessels, the Spirit of British Columbia and Spirit of Vancouver Island, will undergo an upgrade and conversion to LNG propulsion. Wärtsilä is supplying the complete power, electrical and automation systems, as well as the LNG fuel storage and bunkering installation for the three new vessels.

For the conversion of the ‘Spirit’ class vessels, Wärtsilä will supply the engines, the LNGPac (Wärtsilä’s complete fuel gas handling system for LNG) and gears. At the same time, Wärtsilä Propulsion Services will carry out mid-life upgrades of the controllable pitch propeller and tunnel thrusters and refurbish the engine rooms’ electrical and automation systems.

“BC Ferries’ fuel bill is huge, around USD120 million annually, and we need to improve operating costs in order to keep fares low,” adds Mark Wilson. “Once completed, these five vessels are expected to save around 12 million litres of diesel a year. We also expect to reduce CO2 emissions by 9000 tonnes annually, which is the equivalent of taking approximately 1900 vehicles off the road per year.”

However, despite the obvious benefits, switching to LNG was not an easy decision, and Wärtsilä’s first task was to convince BC Ferries that LNG was their best way forward. With so many people relying on its ferry services, BC Ferries cannot afford to take its flagship vessels out of service during high season, and the conversion to LNG initially presented a considerable risk.

“With oil, much can be taken for granted in terms of infrastructure,” says John Hatley, Vice President, Americas, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions. “Not so for gas – it is a new world in terms of technology, infrastructure, regulations and expertise.”

With little experience with LNG, BC Ferries sought a partner rather than just a supplier, and Wärtsilä therefore adopted an integrated product strategy, whereby Wärtsilä Marine Solutions and Wärtsilä Services worked together in close collaboration to combine a number of products and services into a total solution.

“LNG requires a lot of training and understanding of regulations, as well as lots of new infrastructure in place,” says Mark Wilson. “Wärtsilä has a strong track record with LNG, and their technology is well-proven. But they’ve been able to provide more than just propulsion – they’ve provided a total integrated system along with advice and training.”

The partnership with BC Ferries began in the early design phase, with the two companies working closely together to develop a basic platform that could be adapted and used for all future ferries.

“Our system designs included the same core, bridge and engine room, and we proposed several variations so that BC Ferries can still adapt the basic platform for different routes and assignments,” recalls Quentin Stewart, Sales Manager, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions, North America.

The three new vessels will be the first of a new generation of vessels for BC Ferries. Any additional vessels over the coming years will be based on the same standard concept, thus reducing the variety of models in its fleet.

During the construction of the new vessels, Wärtsilä has worked closely with the Remontowa Ship Yard in Poland and provided engineers and onsite support. They will continue to assist with the conversion projects, too, which will be even more complex due to the interaction with existing equipment onboard. “Ordinarily, we would just supply individual machinery to the shipyard, which would then solely be responsible for installation,” says Wilco van der Linden, GM Merchant, Cruise & Ferries, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions. “But because of the complexity of the installation and the fact that this is such new technology, we’re providing additional assistance and onsite support.”

Wärtsilä’s engineers will continue to work closely with the Remontowa Ship Yard throughout the trials and final commissioning of the vessels, but the partnership will not end once the vessels are delivered to BC Ferries. Instead, Wärtsilä Services will begin a series of special training programmes for BC Ferries’ personnel.

“We’ve put together a package specially for BC Ferries, which will help train their engineers and crew on how to operate the new systems,” says Bob Miller, Training Manager, Wärtsilä Services. “We are also working closely with marine training centres on regulatory courses concerning LNG, by providing information on our systems and access to our simulators. The training program is not a one-off but will be continuous and part of our long-term commitment to the vessels for their entire lifetime.”

Overall, the project is demonstrating Wärtsilä’s ability to tailor a total solution. “The key for us was to convince BC Ferries that we could take the risk out of LNG,” adds Mark Keneford, General Manager Marine Solutions. “Over the past five years we’ve been working closely together to explain how LNG works, while also listening to them and offering engineering support. By sticking with them and supporting them through that process, we’ve been able to give them the confidence that LNG is economically and technically feasible for them.”

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