Thor concept vessel sets sail with Molten Salt Reactor

A sea-going vessel featuring a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) will generate electricity to replenish a new breed of battery driven cruise ships.

'Ulstein Thor' and 'Ulstein SIF' with an autonomous surface vehicle underway
'Ulstein Thor' and 'Ulstein SIF' with an autonomous surface vehicle underway - Credit: Ulstein

This is the vision of Ulstein, a Ulsteinvik, Norway-based company that has launched Ulstein Thor, a concept 149m 3R (Replenishment, Research and Rescue) design that aims to make ‘zero-emission cruise operations a reality’.

To demonstrate its feasibility, Ulstein has also developed the ULSTEIN SIF concept, a 100m long, 160 POB capacity, zero-emission expedition cruise ship. This Ice Class 1C vessel would be designed to  run on next-generation batteries, utilising ‘Thor’ to recharge while at sea.

In a statement, Ulstein CEO Cathrine Kristiseter Marti said: “We have the goals, ambition and environmental imperative to switch to zero-emission operations, but, until now, we haven’t had the solution. We believe ‘Thor’ might be the answer we’ve been looking for. ‘Thor’ is essentially a floating, multi-purpose ‘power station’ that will enable a new battery revolution."

Marti added: “Expedition cruise ships operate in increasingly remote, and environmentally fragile, areas. At the same time, the industry faces growing pressure from diverse stakeholders to preserve nature as it is and ban the environmental impact of cruising. ‘Thor’ enables replenishment of energy and supplies on site, while also boasting the technology to facilitate rescue operations, as well as conducting research tasks. It is, in effect, a crucial piece of infrastructure to support sustainable and safer operations. ‘Thor’ literally has the power to change our entire industry.”

According to the company, Thorium has been identified as having huge potential for a maritime industry seeking clean alternative fuels. MSRs work by dissolving Thorium in liquid salt. The ensuing chain reaction heats the salt, producing steam to drive a turbine and create electricity. Although developments on land are well documented, its potential for delivering clean maritime power has yet to be incorporated into a vessel design.

Professor Jan Emblemsvåg, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said: “MSRs have enormous potential for enabling clean shipping. 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.”

The ‘Thor’ concept features helicopter pads, firefighting equipment, rescue booms, workboats, autonomous surface vehicles and airborne drones, cranes, laboratories, and a lecture lounge.

The expedition cruise vessel ‘Sif’ can accommodate up to 80 passengers and 80 crew, offering silent, zero-emission expedition cruises to remote areas, including Arctic and Antarctic waters.

“Here we have two concepts in one to showcase a cleaner, safer and more sustainable way ahead for cruise ship owners and operators, not to mention maritime in general,” said Øyvind G. Kamsvåg, chief designer at Ulstein. "‘Thor’ and ‘Sif’ demonstrate what is possible when we approach challenges from a new direction."