P&O Pioneer: the ship of the future

What goes into making the world's largest hybrid ship?
30 January 2024

Interview with 

Ross Barrett, Ship of the Future


P&O Pioneer


So electricity, for the moment, seems to be the frontrunner in decarbonising the shipping industry. And one of the solutions is real and here. In fact, I’m standing on it right now. The P&O Pioneer is the biggest hybrid ferry in the world, taking people, vehicles, and freight between Dover and Calais.

Ross - I'm Ross Barrett. I'm the Ship of the Future director for P&O Ferries, responsible for the build of the two new fusion class ships that we have currently sailing between Dover and Calais.

Will - First thing, and it was the thing that was sold to me by everyone who encouraged me to come on the ship, we have a glass of water in front of us and we're doing what I like to call the reverse Jurassic Park test. There is no movement on this cup of water and that's amazing. How is this possible?

Ross - Well, we're actually using Azipod technology on this ship, coupled with hybrid batteries and a much more efficient hull line which actually streamlines the vessel itself. So what we actually see is no vibration from this vessel at all. So, in your reverse Jurassic Park moment, that's the reason why the ship is so smooth and attuned, a little bit like wearing noise cancelling headphones.

Will - Now I've always known ships to have a front end and a back end and them to look different. We're on a weird looking ship and it's making me feel nervous. Why is this such a strange shape?

Ross - So this is actually a double-ended ferry. It's actually the world's largest hybrid double-ended ferry. That actually negates us having to turn in port because we don't have a forward and a backend. It means we are a drive on, drive off service, and that then gives us a saving that means we can leave slightly earlier, not turn, and then deliver our customers by sailing slightly slower.

Will - But it's not just about the hybrid engine. There's all kinds of stuff going on on the ship to help reduce its carbon footprint and impact.

Ross - That's right. We've got a huge amount of technology actually fitted to this vessel. We've got heat recovery systems, we've got power management systems that help us balance the loads. We've got a very intelligent lighting system that allows lights to be able to dim, we are be able to control all of the zones on the ship so we can shut down areas and heat certain other areas, we can take heat through our recovery systems that actually regenerates back without having to use boilers and and provide that heat back into customer spaces as well. But we've also got very clever glass on this ship as well, we call it the smart glass, and what you can actually do is dim and lighten the glass depending on how much light we want actually into the vessel, how much heat we want to actually reflect back out as well.

Will - This combined with the fact that, if I shut my eyes, I wouldn't believe I was on a boat right now. I'm fully intrigued and I would love to go and have a look at the inner workings of this boat.

We've come down the decks to the engine level, starting off the tour in the diesel generator room. There's not much to say, which is probably a good thing given the noise, but this is the past. Let's go see the future.

Dmitri - My name is Dmitri. I am chief engineer on the P&O Pioneer. We are in a battery room now that's one of 4 battery rooms. That's about four megawatt hours and normally we're using them in hybrid mode. That means we depart from port on only one generator and the rest of the power is supplied by the batteries. Approximately, within 30-40 minutes, depends on the power demand, the battery is depleted and then we need to charge them. The second generator kicks in and charges the batteries at the same time. We arrive at port, we recharge the batteries so they're at 80%. That's a healthy state of charge and we are ready for departure again. We can run purely on the batteries with zero emissions if needed. They will not last long now, but we have a capacity to increase the batteries, actually double the quantity.

Ross - We've actually got capacity now in these rooms. So it's been designed to actually increase these four battery rooms from 8.8 to 13.2 megawatts right now without any infrastructure change.

Will - I appreciate it's not the quietest in the world but we are in, you know, the bowels of the ship. It's really not that loud at all.

Ross - No, and one of the key things that we're actually really proud of in this vessel is just how quiet this ship is with the technology that's been employed actually across the vessel swell, from its hull lines to its Azipods to the vibration, everything associated with this ship just makes sure that we give not only the crew the best possible environment that they can work in, but the passengers as well.

Will - We've come below the water line and now we are in, what I think is a spaceship. To my left is the open sea, and to my right is the engine room and in between is nothing. Why is that?

Dmitri - The void space is for safety reasons. It's a double skinned hull. If there is a collision, the ship will stay safe, it'll fill up just a void space and no machinery will be affected.

Ross - We're stood in the Azipod room and the way an Azipod works is a little bit unlike a conventional ship. On a conventional ship, you tend to have two propellers on the back end of the vessel ,called the stern, they tend to counter rotate, which then provides thrust moving you through the water. Now, an Azipod actually works in the opposite direction, so it actually spins and drags you through the water in a pulling motion rather than in a thrusting/pushing motion. Now this vessel is actually quick with four Azipods, so in order to propel without the drag, we actually run two of the Azipods at 70% and two of the Azipods at 30%, which give us the efficiency of dragging the vessel through the water. So the nice thing about Azipods is they actually rotate 306 degrees underwater, so if we want to move the ship completely sideways in one motion, we can actually put all the pods facing the direction that we want the vessel to move and actually shift the ship completely in a sideways motion known as crabbing.

Will - That's great, I love that. Well that was absolutely fascinating and thank you to everyone for talking me through that. We're back up here with Ross. The question though I have to ask, the whole point of this, how much of an impact does all of this have on the CO2 emissions of this ship?

Ross - The key state for this vessel, it being a unique double-ended design, means that we don't actually have to turn import. When you turn a vessel in port in order to berth at both Dover or Calais, you actually burn about seven minutes extra fuel on each of those movements. We are actually saving about 14 minutes of time and that means we can sail slightly slower. Rather than a service speed of about 19.5 knots, we can actually sail at 17.6 knots and still hold the same schedule in terms of how we sail and delivering our customers and our service on time. But more than that, what it means is that we are actually starting to reduce our footprint from a fuel perspective. This ship will actually burn about four tonnes a crossing compared to our previous vessels, which were about six a crossing. So you can see from that we're saving around 40% in terms of the fuel that we're actually burning on this vessel. That then helps towards our carbon footprint reduction with a bigger vessel as well where we're actually carrying more freight, using less fuel and a lot less carbon emissions.


Add a comment