Is Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas cruise ship really sustainable?

Is Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas cruise ship really sustainable?


On Tuesday, in a ceremony that certainly included a soccer ball, Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi pressed a button and shot a bottle of champagne over the bow of Icon of the Seas, setting the stage for the world’s largest cruise ship. Naming took place at her home port. Of Miami. Like an A-list celebrity stepping out on the red carpet, the arrival of Royal Caribbean’s 250,800-ton ship has captured the world’s attention, with some marveling at its cutting-edge features, such as the largest water park at sea, While others criticize this huge ship. The potential of a ship to harm the environment.

With the capacity to carry about 8,000 people, the 20-deck, 1,198-foot-long ship — whose inaugural cruise will set sail Jan. 27 with paying passengers — is the size of a small city. The eight “neighborhoods” are filled with amenities including a 55-foot waterfall, six water slides and more than 40 restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

According to Royal Caribbean, the ship, which is registered in the Bahamas, is a nod to sustainability with the use of energy-efficient technology designed to reduce the ship’s carbon footprint and move closer to the company’s goal of launching net-zero. Also sets new standards. Ships by 2035.

“We live by the same philosophy, which is to provide the best vacations responsibly,” said Nick Rose, vice president of environmental management at Royal Caribbean Group. “And to do this we build with the core principles of sustaining our planet and communities.”

The cruise industry has been criticized for decades for its negative impact on the environment. A study published in 2021 Marine Pollution Bulletin found that despite technological advances, cruises remain a major source of air, water and land pollution affecting fragile habitats and human health.

While environmental groups have welcomed some features of Icon of the Seas, such as its advanced water treatment system, some say building such large ships runs counter to the cruise industry’s long-term goals of sustainability and conservation.

“Ships are getting bigger and bigger and that’s the wrong direction for the cruise industry,” said Marci Keever, director of the oceans and ships program at the environmental organization. friends of the earth, “If you were really thinking about sustainability and not about your bottom line, you wouldn’t be building a cruise ship with a capacity of about 10,000 people.”

With over five different brands, Royal Caribbean has a fleet of 65 cruise ships of various sizes. Icon of the Seas was built to meet demand and provide the experience consumers expect, the company said, adding that all of its ships adopt the same sustainability principles of energy efficiency and advanced waste and water management.

Here’s a look at some of the key features that Royal Caribbean says make Icon of the Seas more sustainable and how they stack up.

Icon of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s first ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas, or LNG, a fossil fuel touted by the cruise industry as a cleaner alternative to commonly used heavy fuel oil.

“LNG is currently the fossil fuel available on a large scale that has the best performance in reducing atmospheric emissions,” the industry’s trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association, said in its statement. 2023 Environmental Technology and Behavior Report, Citing analysis from Marine-LNGAn industry coalition that promotes the benefits of LNG as a viable marine fuel.

But environmental analysts are concerned about the long-term problems of LNG. Despite emitting about 25 percent less carbon dioxide than conventional marine fuels, they say, LNG is mostly methane, a powerful gas that traps more heat in the atmosphere over time than carbon dioxide.

According to 2020 greenhouse gas study According to the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body that regulates global shipping, the use of LNG as a marine fuel increased 30 percent between 2012 and 2018, resulting in a 150 percent increase in methane emissions from ships.

Brian Comer, Marine Program Director International Council on Clean Transportation, The reason methane emissions are increasing faster than the use of LNG is that ships are switching from steam turbines to dual-fuel internal combustion engines. “They are more fuel efficient, but emit large amounts of unburned methane into the atmosphere in the form of ‘methane slip’ from the engine,” he said, pointing out. ICCT Research It is estimated that demand for LNG will triple between 2019 and 2030, with methane emissions also increasing.

“Even if ships use 100 percent renewable LNG bio- or e-fuels, methane emissions from ships will still double between 2019 and 2030 due to methane slippage,” he said.

Royal Caribbean says that when decisions were being made about building Icon of the Seas more than 10 years ago, LNG was the most viable alternative fuel.

“People will say that LNG is not a long-term fuel and we agree and consider it transitional,” Mr Rose said. “We designed the ship to be compatible with future fuel sources.”

The company is preparing to launch Celebrity Excel next year, a 3,248-passenger ship that will be equipped with tri-fuel engines designed to accommodate methanol, which many environmental groups say is the most promising fuel for achieving carbon-neutral Consider one of. sail.

When cruise ships dock at ports, their engines and diesel generators often run on fuel, emitting carbon dioxide into populated areas. Icon of the Seas is built to run on shore power in port, a clean alternative to fuel, and is expected to feed into the local power grid at Port Miami when the shore power facility becomes operational. Will become one of the first cruise ships to plug. Available in spring.

A Port Miami spokesperson said that on any given day up to three ships can safely and simultaneously come to the port, including the Icon of the Seas.

“When it comes to sustainability, there are no silver linings and we want to do everything possible,” Royal Caribbean’s Mr. Rose said. “So if we can get into a port that has clean shore-power capabilities we’d like to plug in so we don’t use any fuel.”

The problem is that most ports do not supply shore power: according to CLIA, only 2 percent of the world’s ports currently offer it for cruise ships. Royal Caribbean says it is working with ports and other cruise lines to expand its use further.

extend your 30s “Save the Waves” programAimed to help keep trash out of landfills and the ocean, Royal Caribbean has built a first-of-its-kind waste management system on Icon of the Seas that converts waste into energy.

Microwave-assisted pyrolysis technology, known as MAP, takes food, biowaste and cardboard waste and turns it into tiny pellets. The pellets are then heated to create gas that is converted into steam energy, which Royal Caribbean said will be used to power the ship’s water park. The system also produces biochar, which has the potential to be used as fertilizer.

The company said it would have a better understanding of the system’s output during full operation of the ship in the coming months, but so far it takes about 25 kilowatts of electricity to operate the system with an output of 200 kilowatts.

“It won’t take much energy to run the system,” Mr Comer said. ICCTBut, he added, “it also won’t produce much energy for the ship.”

Icon of the Seas is equipped with an advanced purification system designed to treat all waste water from toilets and showers to kitchen drains. The cruise line said more than 93 percent of the ship’s fresh water will be produced through a system of reverse osmosis, which removes contaminants from the water.

Ms. Keever of Friends of the Earth said Royal Caribbean deserves credit for the treatment systems. He said, “They are installing the most expensive and best sewage treatment technology on their ships, and that’s important because they are the biggest cruise lines and are showing the industry that they can do it, they can pay for it.” And they should.”

In its 2023 promotional video series“Creating an icon,” Royal Caribbean said Icon of the Seas will be its “first ship with fuel cell technology,” which will be used to power parts of the ship such as air conditioning and elevators.

But this will not happen now.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity without combustion and their byproduct is water, meaning they do not emit as many greenhouse gases as traditional fossil fuels. According to fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy, which works with Royal Caribbean, while Icon of the Seas is built to accommodate fuel cells, batteries have not yet been installed. Bloom Energy said it faced problems with outside suppliers due to the size and scope of the project.

Bloom Energy is now focusing on solving issues with larger fuel systems that are being planned for Royal Caribbean’s 5,668-passenger Utopia of the Seas, which is scheduled to enter service next year. Suminder Singh, vice president of marine at Bloom Energy, said the next opportunity to equip Icon of the Seas with cells may not be for another five years, when the ship is scheduled to go into dry dock. Royal Caribbean says it won’t take that long and the decision will depend on the success of the technology on Utopia.

ICCT’s Mr Comer said that although fuel cells would be a great alternative, if they were built on land using natural gas their life-cycle emissions would be similar to conventional oil-based fuels. “We need hydrogen made from renewable electricity,” he said. “And if we have that and we use it in fuel cells, you will have basically zero-life cycle greenhouse gas emissions.”


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