The Future of HVAC/R for Cruise Operators and Suppliers

Bjarne Snopestad

Published Jan 6, 2016 7:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a changing economic and regulatory environment, suppliers and shipbuilding contractors face challenges like never before. Yards are shrinking, orderbooks are slimming, and the list of cold-stacked vessels gets longer every day.

But the cruise sector is an outlier amidst all the gloom. The order book for cruise ships is strong, with about ten deliveries per year planned through 2020, and passenger volume is expected to increase – especially in China, which could soon have as many as four million passengers a year, according to Carnival.

Cruise ships are complex vessels and must be built to high standards, meaning that specialist knowledge is required in their design and construction. MarEx spoke with Bjarne Snopestad of BSR Solutions, a cruise ship HVAC/R technical support firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to learn more about the future of the sector.

Q: Can you tell us about BSR Solutions?

Snopestad: We provide HVAC/R technical support, asset management, training and compliance assistance for vessel operators. The majority of the firm's clients are in the cruise industry, but BSR is talking with players in other market segments as well.

Q: Offshore, bulk and container shipbuilding are in decline, but the cruise ship sector is strong. What is your forecast for suppliers in the cruise industry?

Snopestad: There have never been as many cruise ships on order in a five year period as there are today. This gives a positive effect on equipment sales but will also add pressure on the aftermarket for HVAC/R in the existing fleet. Due to the high volume of newbuildings under construction and entering the marketplace, and with limited resources, equipment manufacturers struggle to maintain the service level needed for upgrades, modifications, maintenance agreements and service on demand.

Q: Can you tell us about how regulatory change has affected the maritime HVAC/R sector?

Snopestad: Revised European regulations for refrigerants usage will force changes to ship owners' and operators' day to day operational procedures, and equipment modification or replacement will be needed in the near future.

Phase-out and phase-down of various refrigerants based on their properties is in effect to varying degrees in most parts of the world. Refrigerants affect the environment either by depleting the ozone layer and/or contributing to global warming, and are regulated accordingly by the Montreal Protocol treaty, by the European Union, and by others. But illegal importation and sale of these regulated refrigerants is a reality. 

Counterfeit refrigerants are also available for sale; these are both illegal and a safety concern. For example, an R22 replacement alternative is marketed as “R22a,” a hydrocarbon refrigerant blend, and its components include flammable substances like propane and butane. Needless to say, irresponsible use of R22a is a safety hazard and consequences can be life-threatening.

In 1994, the EPA implemented “certification” requirements for personnel handling refrigerants in various forms. The regulation is currently under review to be strengthened, and will include new types of refrigerants and lower leak rate levels. A draft is currently under review with implementation expected later this year. It is part of a focus by the EPA to align more with European F-gas regulations.

The U.S. has taken an active approach to enforcement. The EPA is performing random inspections, responding to tips and pursuing potential cases against violators. Under the Act, EPA is authorized to assess fines of up to $37,500 per day for any violation of these regulations.

Training of staff onboard and shore side is the first step towards raising awareness, operating in compliance and ensuring safety and best practices are utilized.

Q: Has cruise ship HVAC/R design been affected by recent incidents aboard ship, like the occasional engine room fires of the last several years?

Snopestad: SOLAS fire and safety regulations and various ISO standards already cover most needs, but operators have been taking proactive measures beyond the requirements to improve safety, monitoring and operation. We support designers and operators during new construction or modification to ensure best practices are implemented.

There are two areas where customers or regulators will require emphasis in the future: first, CO2 footprint modeling and sustainability for an HVAC/R installation, and second, IAQ (indoor air quality) with a focus on particulates, filtration, and microbial contaminants. New efforts in these areas will result in improved safety, efficiency and energy conservation.