Shipping companies in Europe and Japan are looking to their past – the wind and the sun – as they anticipate new regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The shipping industry is estimated to account for three per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. What was once considered a very dirty business is beginning to imagine a much cleaner future. In April 2018, the IMO adopted targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping industry by at least 50 per cent in 2050 compared to 2008.
On August 6, Asahi Tanker, Exeno Yamamizu, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, and Mitsubishi announced the creation of the e5 lab, whose aim is to develop the first zero-emissions tanker ship by 2021, and promote the electrification of the shipping industry in Japan.
Like the auto industry of more than 10 years ago, the shipping industry is now exploring the possibilities of hybrid and all-electric power. On August 1, Norwegian ferry company Color Line launched a 160-metre, plug-in hybrid ship, which can run for at least an hour on its batteries, allowing it to enter and leave port without burning fuel. The American Bureau of Shipping estimates that a ship can use up to 15 per cent of its fuel just entering and leaving port.
On July 8, Marfin Management, a ship management company, announced that it had installed a solar-powered hybrid diesel-electric system aboard the 200 metre dry bulk cargo ship Paolo Topic in conjunction with Warsila, a Finnish marine engineering firm.
These are the latest in a string of announcements by shipping companies over the past two years to find inventive ways to cut carbon emissions, including using the latest ideas in wind power.
In 2018, Japanese shipping giant K Line announced an agreement to test a kitesail by Airsea, a spinoff company from aviation giant Airbus. The kitesail deploys automatically from a mast at the front of the ship and according to Airsea CEO Vincent Bernatet, it can cut fuel consumption, and thus emissions, by as much as 20 per cent. Airbus uses giant “roro” ships – Roll on, Roll off – to transport parts of its airliners between production locations, and Airbus has said it will use kitesails by Airsea on these ships.
The first K Line ship to deploy an Airsea kitesail in 2021 will either be a Capesize or Panamax sized dry bulker, according to Koji Tsumuraya of K Line’s Advanced Technology Group. K Line, which operates a fleet of 520 ships, has promised to buy 50 more kitesails from Airsea after seeing the results of the first kitesail test.
Norsepower, a Norwegian company, partnered with Maersk Tankers on a Flettner wind cylinder, a tower that rapidly rotates in the wind, generating thrust. The tanker Maersk Pelican is currently testing two, 30-metre Flettner Rotors, installed in August 2018, with the aim of reducing fuel consumption by up to 10 per cent. The results are to be verified this year.
In 2018, Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, announced its intention to be carbon-free by 2050. Given the 20-year lifespan of cargo ships, achieving this goal would mean commercialising carbon-neutral ships by 2030.
Last year, Japanese shipping company MOL partnered with Oshima shipbuilding and the University of Tokyo to build a vessel with a rigid sail placed at the bow of the boat, which is expected to reduce emissions by up to 10 per cent. The ship and sail is to be operational in 2022, according to Hidetoshi Fukushima of MOL’s technical division.
In November 2018, China Merchants Energy Shipping, one of the world’s largest operators of tanker ships, and Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Group launched the 333-metre oil tanker New Vitality, equipped with twin wingfoil sails.
Hydrogen fuel cells have also been proposed as a zero-carbon alternative. In May, Hyundai Motors announced that it would develop a hydrogen fuel cell cargo ship, to be ready for 2022. That month, Swedish engineering giant ABB announced that it would supply the hydrogen fuel cells for a new river cargo boat in France, due to launch in 2021.
The new urgency to find climate-friendly solutions for the shipping industry comes amid a tough clampdown on sulphur emissions by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
On January 1, 2020, the world’s shipping companies will have to switch to low sulphur fuels or invest in scrubbers that remove sulphur content from a ship’s exhaust, thanks to new regulations by the IMO. It’s one of the first concrete steps towards reducing pollution and emissions from the shipping industry.
“This is the biggest fuel change that has ever been attempted overnight for the shipping industry,” said Martin Cresswell, technical director for the Hong Kong Ship Owners Association. “There are many unknowns, but with them comes opportunity as well for players ahead of the game.”
Cresswell said the current 3.5 per cent sulphur-heavy residual fuels currently used by the world’s fleet of around 70,000 cargo ships are waste products from the refining process. “It is very low end fuel that is not far removed from tar that is used on the roads.”
Cresswell said that the new low sulphur hybrid fuels will have many varied characteristics, depending on where they are produced, and most will be incompatible with each other, adding to shippers’ headaches.
Andy Dacy, global head of transportation for JP Morgan Group, which manages US$2 billion in transportation assets, said that the shipping industry is still very fragmented, and will have about a year of “teething issues” with the new low sulphur rules. The uncertainty about low sulphur fuel, the debate about new fuels and the focus on energy efficiency by investors, may ultimately force smaller companies from the market altogether, Dacy said.
Dacy said that common view is that LNG will be the new fuel for shipping. The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) reported in 2019 that it has taken 10 years for LNG fuelling infrastructure to develop to supply less than one per cent of the global cargo fleet, adding that there is “no obvious fuel choice for the global fleet of the future.”
Bernatet of AirSea said that building a ship now is as much about what regulations will be in 20 years as now. He added that IMO objectives include a 40 per cent emissions cut by 2030. “From an investment point of view, 2030 is tomorrow. Decisions need to be taken now.”
But such decisions could be tricky.
“There is real momentum behind achieving a zero carbon future but it is still some way off – at the end of the day, somebody has to pay for it and it is simply not possible to take this great technological leap forward on the earnings shipowners have been making over the past few years,” said Tim Huxley of Mandarin Shipping, a Hong Kong based shipping company.
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