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Ulstein goes nuclear with zero-emission cruise design concept

Article-Ulstein goes nuclear with zero-emission cruise design concept

Ulstein Thor and Ulstein SIF with an autonomous Surface vehicle underway
Ulstein conceived a vessel making the vision of zero emission cruise operations a reality. It was unveiled this week at Seatrade Cruise Global.

The 149-meter Ulstein Thor 3R (replenishment, research and rescue) design features a thorium molten salt reactor (MSR) to generate vast amounts of clean, safe electricity. This enables the vessel to operate as a mobile power/charging station for a new breed of battery-driven cruise ships.

Ulstein believes its Thor concept may be the missing piece of the zero emissions puzzle for a broad range of maritime applications. To demonstrate its feasibility, Ulstein also developed the Ulstein SIF concept, a 100-meter, 160-person capacity, zero emission expedition cruise ship. This Ice Class 1C vessel would run on next generation batteries, using Thor to recharge while at sea.

Silver bullet discovery

'We have the goals, ambition and environmental imperative to switch to zero emission operations, but until now, we haven’t had the solution,' Ulstein CEO Cathrine Kristiseter Marti said. 'We believe Thor might be the answer we’ve been looking for. Thor is essentially a floating, multi-purpose power station that will enable a new battery revolution.'

Thor, she continued, enables replenishment of energy and supplies on site, while also providing the technology to facilitate rescue operations and conduct research tasks.

'It is, in effect, a crucial piece of infrastructure to support sustainable and safer operations. Thor literally has the power to change our entire industry.'

The energy to transform

Thorium has been identified as having huge potential as a clean alternative maritime fuel. 

Ulstein said MSRs are safe, efficient and operationally proven solutions that work by dissolving thorium — an abundant, naturally occurring metal with low radioactivity — in liquid salt. The ensuing chain reaction heats the salt, producing steam to drive a turbine and create electricity. Although developments on land are well documented, its potential for delivering clean maritime power has yet to be incorporated into a vessel design.

Ulstein, noted for innovating the X-BOW design, sees an opportunity to change that, potentially heralding a new dawn of clean power for cruise and maritime operations.

Thor's charging capacity has been scaled to satisfy the power needs of four expedition cruise ships simultaneously. Thor itself would never need to refuel. It is intended to provide a blueprint for entirely self-sufficient vessels of the future.

Generating excitement

Speaking about the suitability of thorium MSRs as an energy source for maritime applications, Jan Emblemsvåg, professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology and an expert in thorium and nuclear power generation, said: 'MSRs have enormous potential for enabling clean shipping. There is so much uncertainty over future fuels, but here we have an abundant energy source that, with the right approach, can be safe, much more efficient, cheaper, with a smaller environmental footprint than any existing alternative.'

'From my perspective I see this as the most viable, and potentially the only credible, solution for a zero emission fleet that can operate under commercial terms and cost levels. The Thor concept is exactly the kind of innovation we need for sustainable success at sea.'

Both Thor and SIF feature the X-BOW design, created for greater operability, comfort, operational functionality and fuel efficiency.

Thor also features helicopter pads, firefighting equipment, rescue booms, workboats, autonomous surface vehicles and airborne drones, cranes, laboratories and a lecture lounge.

Silent, zero emission expedition cruises

SIF can accommodate up to 80 passengers and 80 crew, offering silent, zero emission expedition cruises to remote areas, including Arctic and Antarctic waters.

'Here we have two concepts in one to showcase a cleaner, safer and more sustainable way ahead for cruise shipowners and operators, not to mention maritime in general,' said Øyvind G. Kamsvåg, chief designer at Ulstein. 'Thor and SIF demonstrate what is possible when we approach challenges from a new direction.

'We have huge confidence in this solution and want to engage further in conversations about how we can enable the necessary changes the world demands,' added Lars Ståle Skoge, commercial director at Ulstein Design & Solutions. 'I’m excited to see where Thor and SIF can take us as we look to a zero emissions horizon.'

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