Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Ulstein launches Thorium Molten Salt Reactor ship concept to refuel cruise ships

Norway-based marine group Ulstein has launched the Ulstein Thor, its concept design for a 149-m (489-ft) replenishment, research, and rescue (3R) ship that will feature a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) to generate large amounts of clean and safe electricity. This allows the vessel to operate as a mobile power and charging station for a new generation of battery-powered cruise ships at sea.

The ship concept is capable of realizing the vision of zero-emission cruise operations. To demonstrate its feasibility, Ulstein has also developed the Ulstein Sif concept, a 100-meter-long, zero-emission expedition cruiser. With the capacity of up to 80 passengers and 80 crew, the expedition cruise vessel ‘Sif’ will offer silent, zero-emission expedition cruises to remote areas, including Arctic and Antarctic waters. This Ice Class 1C vessel will be powered by next-generation batteries, using Thor to recharge while at sea.

“Expedition cruise ships operate in increasingly remote and environmentally fragile areas. At the same time, the industry is facing increasing pressure from various stakeholders to preserve nature as it is and ban the environmental impact of cruise ships,” says Ulstein CEO Cathrine Kristiseter Marti.

'Ulstein Thor' and 'Ulstein Sif' with an autonomous surface vehicle underway.
‘Ulstein Thor’ and ‘Ulstein Sif’ with an autonomous surface vehicle underway. Credit: Ulstein

Molten Salt Reactors (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. Apparently, this is the first time that MSR has been incorporated into a ship vessel design.

Thor’s charging capacity has been scaled to meet the power needs of four expedition cruise ships simultaneously, and the ship itself would never need refueling for its life. Both Thor and Sif are based on Ulstein’s eye-catching X-BOW design, created for greater operability, comfort, operational functionality, and fuel efficiency. In addition to laboratories and a lecture lounge for scientific research, Thor is equipped with helipads, firefighting equipment, rescue arms, workboats, autonomous surface vehicles, airborne drones, and cranes.

“MSRs have enormous potential for enabling clean shipping,” said Jan Emblemsvåg, Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, an expert in the field of Thorium and nuclear power generation. “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.”