The global shipping sector is being driven, both by regulations and societal concerns, to reduce its environmental impact. The ultimate aim is to be capable of eliminating or at least severely reducing, carbon emissions. This article looks at the various ways this aim is being addressed, and how a viable path to a decarbonised future can be established.
Shipping plays a critical role in the global economy, transporting some 90 percent of world trade. It is an efficient and cost-effective means of moving goods from one market to another. Unfortunately, however, in so doing shipping is also responsible for approximately three percent of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
To mitigate this environmental impact, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2018, using 2008 as the reference base level, committed the industry to reducing GHG emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and annual fleet level emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050. These challenging targets are made even tougher when taking into consideration the fact that the number of vessels on the world’s oceans is increasing. This means that by 2050, at the vessel level, the reduction should be 70 or even 80 percent.
India’s maritime situation
India is strategically located on the world’s shipping routes, and maritime transport handles around 70 percent of the country’s trading in value terms. Shipping is, therefore, a major industry and the Indian government is investing heavily in the modernisation of ports and the development of new ones.
At the same time, the country’s Independent Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) will enable an estimated 2500 merchant vessels to take advantage of the system within an area of nearly 1500 kilometres. As will be explained later in this article, such connectivity could well contribute to global efforts towards decarbonisation.
Technology and future fuels
There is, of course, no single silver bullet that will deliver all the required results. Nevertheless, there are heavy investments being made and encouraging signs emerging that give rise for some optimism.
Technology leaders, such as Wärtsilä, are strongly involved in researching alternative zero- and low-carbon marine fuels to replace conventional fuel oils. At the same time Wärtsilä, whose stated purpose is to “enable sustainable societies with smart technologies”, is employing the latest digital advances, artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning to significantly raise efficiency levels that will lower fuel consumption and also, therefore, exhaust emissions.
Thus, by enabling ships to consume less fuel, and enabling them to operate on ‘green’ fuels that have zero or near-zero carbon content, GHG emission levels can be significantly reduced. This formula, combining technology advances and cleaner fuels could meet the IMO’s 40 percent goal by 2030, while fully sustainable fuels and even more advanced technologies will be needed to achieve the 50 percent target by 2050.
But new operating and business models are needed throughout the maritime sector if real success is to be achieved. It is not only the ships themselves that need to seek change. In 2017, Wärtsilä published its vision of a Smart Marine Ecosystem whereby ships and ports, and everything related to ship voyages, would work in harmony to create a step change in efficiency, safety, and environmental performance.
How ships will be affected
Here again the combination of technology advances and future fuels must be emphasised. The duel fuel combustion engine is an extremely efficient means of propulsion and is adaptable to different fuels. This flexibility is critical to the development of alternative ‘green’ fuels.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is already widely accepted as a viable marine fuel that is cleaner than conventional marine fuel oils. Wärtsilä believes that the gradual transition to alternative clean fuels will be easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective for those vessels operating on LNG fuel. Bio- and synthetic LNG could be used initially as drop-in fuels alongside conventional LNG to reduce its carbon content and later, as supply increases, to replace it entirely. For ships operating on LNG, no changes would be required for the engines and fuel supply systems, and the existing LNG bunkering infrastructure could be used.
Other prominent alternative fuel candidates include methanol and ammonia. Of the two, methanol has better combustion and is easier to store and handle, but Wärtsilä has for several years been designing cargo handling systems capable of handling ammonia, despite it being toxic and highly corrosive. The company has initiated ammonia combustion tests and these will be followed by field tests under actual operating conditions. Hydrogen is another fuel being closely studied. Its low volumetric energy density means that storage tanks would need to be twice the size of LNG tanks. This is a disadvantage, and the main function of hydrogen may be as a building block for other fuels.
Taking these developments into consideration, vessels being built today should be designed with the flexibility to accept new fuels as they become available. At the same time, efficiency – both fuel efficiency and operating efficiency – must become paramount in the design process. The less energy utilised the better, has to become the industry’s design criterion.
Electrification will also play an increasingly important role in the drive for sustainable shipping. Hybrid propulsion, using a combination of engine and battery power, is already gaining popularity for vessels, such as ferries and harbour tugs, making frequent port calls or working close to population centres. Fully electric propulsion is also possible in some cases, while the use of fuel cells is almost certain to be adopted at some point.
How the entire marine ecosystem will be affected
Decarbonisation cannot be fully achievable without similar changes being made in the way that shipping in general adjusts. The efficiency of entire fleets, rather than just individual vessels, is important in saving fuel and, therefore, reducing emissions.
Utilising the latest and fullest voyage data to automatically optimise routes, while at the same time keeping onboard and onshore parties informed and notified, will lead to efficient and integrated fleet operations and voyage planning. Connecting vessels and fleets to shore-based operation centres allows effective fleet performance improvement, and this technology is already available and in operation. Wärtsilä’s Fleet Operations Solution (FOS) being a prime example.
Another ‘waste-saver’ will be Just-in-Time port arrivals. Ships spend far too much time and consume fuel unnecessarily by having to wait at anchor until a port berth becomes available. Again, the technology exists to automatically adjust the speed and route of the vessel, and to establish real-time communication with the port authorities so that the vessel can arrive just-in-time without having to wait at anchor. It requires transparency and a willingness to fully cooperate, but it is possible and ultimately inevitable.
For ports to play their part in decarbonising the industry, electrification has to be on their agenda as well. This means cold ironing, allowing ships to turn off their engines and plug into portside electrical supply points. It means developing a charging infrastructure for hybrid and battery powered vessels, and it means investing in electric cranes, mooring boats, hybrid tugs and so on.
The industry needs to examine how charter policies and the evaluation of tenders can be aligned with the IMO’s decarbonisation goals. Similarly, governmental policies need to be developed in accordance with the sustainability goals. Not least, early adopters of the above suggested changes should be rewarded, while non-compliance should be recognised and penalized accordingly.
A step-by-step approach
Change in the shipping industry has traditionally been a slow process. Although attitudes are becoming increasingly open to new ideas and solutions, an industry-wide switch towards solutions that promote decarbonisation is not likely to be instantaneous. For this reason, a step-by-step approach will have to be adopted.
Companies such as Wärtsilä have recognised and analysed that the path to lowering GHG emissions must take in extensive research, data-driven solutions, and digital technologies to improve efficiencies. Fuel flexibility will be a cornerstone, as will fuel efficiency. Another well recognised fact is that no single company or organisation will arrive at all the answers alone. Collaboration between the technology providers, their customers, partners, and all related stakeholders is essential in achieving a coordinated and problem-solving approach.
Efficiency advances are already well under way, representing perhaps the first steps along the path. Engine upgrades and vessel retrofits, along with digital solutions based on connectivity, are readily available options for raising efficiency levels for existing ships. Since greater efficiency can be translated into lower operating costs, there is little opposition to this approach.
Hybrid propulsion is also likely to increase in popularity, since it can both raise efficiency and allow compliance with environmental regulations.
The next step will surely be the gradual transition to alternative fuels, as mentioned earlier in this article. LNG is already well established and can be seen as a successful ‘transitional’ fuel until such time as greener versions become viable and available. The development of sufficient supplies and supply infrastructures will be essential milestones to be passed before future fuels become widely accepted.
Finally, when ships are designed, built, and fuelled for maximum efficiency with emissions of greenhouse gases drastically reduced, and when fleet operators and port authorities are working in complete harmony to optimise voyage planning and port operations, then decarbonisation may well become a reality.
Reference: Sachin Kulkarni | Wärtsilä
Sachin Kulkarni, age 45 years, is a Mechanical Engineer and has completed studies in Materials Management.
He joined Wärtsilä India in 1996 and is associated with the Marine industry since 2003. During his 24 years with the company, Sachin has held varied strategic positions within the Energy & Marine businesses of Wärtsilä.
In his current profile, Sachin is heading the Sales function for Marine Power in South Asia.
Sachin is an accomplished professional with an overall experience of 24 years and is adept in the Marine industry, General Management, and International Sales.