Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) disclosed plans for a new class of ship starting in 2022 that will be powered by alternative fuels.

The company said it has a memorandum of understanding with the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland to build the ships for Royal Caribbean International, which will be designated Icon class.

Few details are ironed out, an RCCL statement said, except for the power plant. The ships will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and will introduce fuel-cell technology.

RCCL is the second cruise company after Carnival Corp. to order ships using cleaner-burning LNG for propulsion and the first to apply fuel cells for power generation.

Fuel cells generate electricity by exposing hydrogen to an electrode. Experiments are underway to use fuel cells in a variety of applications, from power plants to automobiles to submarines, but there are significant environmental and economic hurdles to overcome.

RCCL said it will begin testing fuel-cell technology on an Oasis-class ship in 2017 and will run progressively larger fuel cell experiments on Quantum-class ships being built in the next several years.

“With Icon class, we move further in the journey to take the smoke out of our smokestacks,” said Richard Fain, RCCL chairman and CEO.

The first two Icon ships will be delivered in the second quarters of 2022 and 2024, RCCL said. They are expected to carry around 5,000 passengers. Harri Kulovaara, chief of ship design at RCCL, said many design elements of the ships are in early stages.

He said RCCL has been watching fuel-cell technology develop over the past decade and believes it is at the stage for investment. “As the technology becomes smaller and more efficient, fuel cells become more viable in a significant way to power the ship’s hotel functions,” Kulovara said.

Barriers to wider adoption include deriving hydrogen in an environmentally clean and efficient way and transporting and containing it so that it is cost-competitive with traditional fuels.

“There is a long lead time for Icon class, and we will use that time to work with Meyer Turku to adapt fuel-cell technology for maritime use,” Kulovaara said. Additional regulatory standards would need to be developed for the technology.


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