sustainable transport

North Atlantic region addresses sustainable transport

Due to the remoteness of the North Atlantic region, a well-functioning transport network is a vital component for exports and economic growth. Better infrastructures, connectivity to the surrounding regions, and sustainable transport systems on land and on sea are among the strategic priorities for the Nordic Atlantic Cooperation, NORA.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

A region defined by challenges in transportation
A quick look at the map reveals that the countries in the NORA region – Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands and coastal Norway – have many things in common with regards to transportation and infrastructure.

“Our region is, so to speak, defined by the challenges of transportation,” says Lars Thostrup, Executive Director of NORA. “With our many small communities and long distances, building an effective transport system is expensive and, in some places, virtually impossible.”

These challenges do not just apply to the traffic infrastructure in each country. International trade makes up a large percentage of the region’s economies and, in order to lift growth through exports, transport networks and connectivity to the neighbouring regions must be improved.

“This would effectively shorten the distance to market,” says Thostrup. He adds that a similar effect could be achieved by strengthening the region’s digital infrastructure, which is another of NORA’s priorities.

“The IT sector is not as challenged by our geography as other sectors,” he says. “We see a lot of opportunities for the so-called micro-multinationals, small IT companies that are able to address the world market from a distance.”

The potential of digital technology for the North Atlantic societies is currently being discussed at NORA’s digital conference, Digital Arctic.

Sustainable energy systems for coastal sailing
Among the many activities addressing alternative energy systems for marine traffic is the Marina project under the NordBio programme, an initiative by the Icelandic chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2014. The overall goal of the Marina-project is to reduce the CO2 footprint from marine applications. Given the North Atlantic region’s dependency on the ocean, reducing emissions and other pollution from ship traffic is also highly prioritised within the NORA cooperation.

One of the North Atlantic collaboration projects addressing sustainable sea transport is RENSEA, which has developed a prototype of a fully sustainable hybrid-generative battery system for sailboats and small vessels. The system stores clean electric power from shore and is equipped with a custom designed propeller system, which produces energy while wind drives the boat with sails. The technology has the potential to revolutionise energy systems in coastal sailing around the world.

“All our calculations show that the system is highly efficient,” says Árni Sigurbjörnsson of North Sailing in Iceland. “As soon as the boat reaches a sailing speed of 6-8 knots, it produces considerable quantities of energy, which is stored in the batteries and used when there is no wind.”

The solution will be installed in North Sailing’s whale-watching schooner, Opal, in April 2015. The boat is expected to be ready for normal operations in May, and will tour Greenland, Scandinavia and Europe later in the year.

“We’ve experienced great interest in the solution, which can be used in all types of coastal sailing, whether it be fishing, leisure or tourism,” says Sigurbjörnsson. “There is an enormous market out there.”

SPEC software monitors pollution from ship traffic
Ship traffic through the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years and decades. While this will create economic opportunities in the NORA region, increased pollution could have a grave impact on the delicate marine ecosystems in the area.

“We’re increasing the environmental load by accepting a larger number of cruise ships, more traffic across the Arctic, and increased shipping related to mining and the oil industry,” says Jón Ágúst Þorsteinsson, Chairman of Ark Technology. He is leading the development of SPEC, a new software solution designed to monitor oil consumption and pollution from ships sailing in the area.

“It’s vital that we address the environmental aspects of the increased ship traffic in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic,” says Þorsteinsson.

Þorsteinsson explains that MARPOL, the International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships, allows for the introduction of emission control areas, the so-called ECA areas, with more stringent control of ship emissions. “The problem is that the technology to monitor whether the ships comply with laws and regulations does not exist,” he says.

As a solution to this problem, SPEC uses advanced computer modelling to monitor whether ship emissions are within permitted limits. The modelling is based on input from databases containing detailed information about the ships, their fuel supplies and oil consumption. SPEC will also be able to stream data directly from ships that are equipped with energy management systems monitoring their performance.

“Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Canada and Russia should introduce much stricter environmental regulations and set up more ECA areas,” says Þorsteinsson. “And then we need to develop powerful tools like SPEC to monitor compliance with these rules and regulations.”

Smaller communities ideal for electric road transport
NORA also supports projects aimed at increasing the use of battery-electric vehicles (EVs) in the region. One of these projects is El-mobility, which tested the range of electric cars in the cold climates of Iceland, Faroe Islands and Greenland, and studied social acceptance of this new, decarbonising transport technology.

“Our objective was to compare the range in winter with that advertised by the car manufacturers,” says Jón Björn Skúlason, project manager of El-mobility and Director of Icelandic New Energy. “Also, we wanted to get an insight into expectations regarding this new technology, its potential, and the future market for electric vehicles.”

At the time of the study, the range of EV decreased by about 30% in cold weather, mainly because of the electric-powered cabin heater. Technologies to address this issue are already under development.

“You can now preheat the cars with electricity from the mains, which eases the strain on the battery,” Skúlason explains. “The range difference has already been reduced in most modern electric vehicles, making them a viable option even in colder climates.”

While lack of infrastructure, long distances and difficult terrain might affect social acceptance of EVs in some of the region’s more remote areas, Skúlason sees the cities and towns in the North Atlantic as the ideal setting to operate electric vehicles. As an example, he mentions that the average driving distance per day in Iceland is 39 kilometres, which is well within the range of all new battery-electric vehicles. And in the neighbouring country, Greenland, road connections between towns are almost non-existent. This means that all cars, electric or otherwise, can only be used in and around towns.

”Nuuk is ideal for electric transport,” Skúlason argues. “The total road network in the city is just over 100 kilometres so, in a sense, an electric vehicle could drive every street of Nuuk every day without running out of battery.”

“Our region is defined by the challenges of transportation”

Lars Thostrup, Executive Director of NORA

Development Indicators

Developments in greenhouse gas
emissions by sector,
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“It’s vital that we address the environmental aspects of the increased ship traffic in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic”

Jón Ágúst Þorsteinsson, Chairman of Ark Technology

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See also: University of the Arctic – a coalition of institutions of higher education connecting the cerebral networks in the Arctic