The federal government is mandating the Norwegian owner of the Fanafjord ferry, slated to replace the Holiday Island on Wood Islands-Caribou runs, refit the ship’s liquified natural gas (LNG) engine with a hybrid diesel-electric.

Whether a local company will have a chance to complete the major work, and if a diesel-hybrid will emit more greenhouse gas than the ship’s current LNG engine remains uncertain. 

“Changing out an LNG engine for a diesel engine, that’s a big production in work. You have to buy the engine, physically change out the engine and then change the whole supply to it,” said Jason Aspin co-owner of PEI-based company AKA & Associates.  “That’s what our company does, so yeah I’d be pretty disappointed if they decide to do that in Norway.”

In his company’s hands, the contract would support jobs in both PEI and Nova Scotia. 

Transport Canada in coordination with Procurement Services Canada made a diesel engine a requirement of the vessel the feds will purchase. Because of this, the vendor will be responsible for completing and determining where refit work will be completed, before price negotiations and sale to Canada are finalized.

Despite hope to have a fair shot at the contract if the work is to forge ahead, Mr Aspin questions the benefit of the refit. 

“Everybody in the world is trying to go away from diesel right now,” he said. “Spending money to change out a more modern engine with a possibly dirtier option, to me, doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

According to Transport Canada, the vessel needs to be refitted to diesel due to the lack of availability of LNG on the east coast. 

Mr Aspin suggests, this might not be an insurmountable challenge. There are stations in New Brunswick and in Quebec and it would not be unprecedented to truck LNG to fuel a ship.

Transport Canada did not answer if the department had looked into the viability of trucking LNG from these provinces. 

How the motor swap on the Fanafjord will play into the ferry service’s emissions output isn’t set in stone, according to Paul Blomerus, who is the executive director of Clear Seas an independent not-for-profit research centre that focuses on the environmental impacts of shipping. The emissions outcome will depend on a combination of factors and key decisions moving forward, he said. Mr Blomerus has studied and written extensively about marine fuels and reducing transportation emissions at the highest academic levels and through work within the industry.

If the Fanafjord is equipped with a high quality diesel engine, it could produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the Fanafjord’s LNG engine built in the mid-to-late-2000s, especially when methane leaks are accounted for, he said. 

“The engine that was used to equip (the Fanafjord) is one of these gas engines that have very low nitrogen oxide emissions, but they have very high methane emissions,” said Mr Blomerus. “They leak some of the methane gas that the engine burns.” 

On top of engine leaks, if common environmental impacts associated with poor LNG extraction, transportation and handling practices aren’t mitigated, running an LNG-fuelled ferry in Wood Islands could cause significantly more emissions than fueling the vessel with diesel, he said.

With new and cleaner technology available, Mr Blomerus suggests, investments to set up a truly environmentally friendly LNG supply chain could be put to better use achieving a net zero operation.

Long-term, zero emissions could be achieved by building an all-electric permanent Wood Islands ferry, Mr Blomerus said. This could be complemented with investments that ensure the electricity used to power the vessel is created from a renewable source rather than a less sustainable source like coal.

In the meantime, government and Northumberland Ferries Ltd could ensure the Fanafjord and the MV Confederation’s diesel engines are fueled with biodiesel which can create net zero emissions or near zero, Mr Blomerus said. 

Transport Canada won’t be in a position to negotiate the cost of the replacement vessel until 15 days after the Advance Award of Contract notice was posted on August 23. 

Negotiations with the Norwegian owners of the Fanafjord also hinge on whether other bidders, capable of meeting requirements listed, express an interest in supplying a ship within the two-week time frame. Until then, the cost of the replacement vessel will remain unknown.

By Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 06, 2023 at 06:18

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eastern Graphic   Montague, Prince Edward Island
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