Fuelling efficient shipping with Dutch start-up We4Sea

Fuelling efficient shipping with Dutch start-up We4Sea
Michiel Katgert and Dan Veen, founders of We4Sea

“If you can save 1 per cent of fuel, you already have a business case for fuel monitoring,” claims Dan Veen, CEO and co-founder of maritime start-up We4Sea.Veen and his co-founder Michiel Katgert, have a bold mission. They want to save 1 million tonnes of CO2 and drive sustainable shipping by making fuel efficiency monitoring simple, transparent and easy. In order to achieve this goal, the start-up announced an investment this week, February 11th, led by the Dutch Innovation Quarter and Mainport Innovation Fund II.

VPO Global spoke with Mr Veen about how the start-up plans to achieve this target and deliver fuel efficient shipping.

We4Sea’s online monitoring platform and in-house developed Digital Twin concept monitors, reports, and optimises the fuel consumption of any given vessel. Requiring just an IMO number and the name of the vessel, We4Sea can start tracking a ship’s location, sailing speed and weather conditions, and calculate a fuel consumption almost immediately.

A major benefit of the Dutch duo’s solution is that no new sensors or hardware are required, meaning that monitoring can begin with 24 hours of purchasing or trialling the solution, without the need for Capex investment, having to dock the vessel or have anyone else step on-board.

To understand fuel consumption, We4Sea’s solution takes into account more than 50 sources of data including wind, speed, direction, wave height, currents, seawater temperature, salinity and more. “Anything that has an impact on fuel efficiency can be used as an indicator of performance,” explains Veen.

According to Veen and his team, their solution has a 95 per cent accuracy across the 100 ships currently using it. This can further be increased to 100 per cent by adding sensor data or flow metres at a later point or connect to the Voyage Data Recorder on-board. For this, cooperation agreements with companies like Marlink are in place to enable fast connectivity.

While it is a new approach to fuel monitoring and consumption, Veen says they are keen to show owners, charterers and operators how it works and that it is accurate and comparable. They often start with four or five vessels, giving owners a chance to test the technology and understand its credibility. Once results have been proven, they typically scale up to cover more vessels in the fleet.

Currently, they have fifteen major shipping companies on-board and expect that following successful pilots, they will scale to around 400 vessels in the next years.

From consultancy to performance analysis start-up

What started out as an initial idea for a consultancy project soon turned to something more when Veen realised that not everyone in shipping was interested in fuel consumption monitoring and efficiency. He explained to us: “We found that charterers who would rent the ship for 1-2 years were not capable in installing sensors on-board of ships to monitor fuel, and owners didn’t pay for fuel, so they were also hesitant to install sensors.”

Furthermore, it proved difficult to obtain fuel consumption data from the shipowners. “We asked them to provide fuel data, voyage information, etc, and we waited and waited but nothing came back. That’s when we decided to change our focus to help shippers collect data, rather than just analyse it.”

The Dutch start-up found that shipowners and operators had little idea of why fuel consumption varied because no one was really monitoring it or understood it.

That’s when We4Sea decided to focus on creating an analysis platform, one that would help to standardise data on currents, waves, temperature, anything that impacts the fuel efficiency of ships. The purpose of this was to get the right data on a ship so that an organised performance analysis could be made. Once a performance analysis has been made, shippers can see how and why that data is important and what it can do to help them. For instance, the analysis can show where a vessel is burning additional fuel because it has not had a hull cleaning recently and there is significant biofouling.

“Data suddenly becomes interesting when you can see which vessels need more maintenance and which can be left, and you have a real understanding of where you might be doing over or under maintenance.”

Another purpose of accurate performance analysis is to establish fuel losses as a result of a ship’s operation differing from the profile it was intended for when built. Many ships today are not sailing for the speeds at which they were designed for. This results in significant and unnecessary loss in fuel efficiency. In one case, We4Sea found that over a 6-month period of monitoring, a vessel was sailing at much slower speeds than it was designed to operate at. The engine configuration was such that it had a fixed RPM and a shaft generator. Veen explained, “You cannot run the engine on a lower RPM because then the shaft generator does not function. If you sail at lower speed the engine is not used properly and more fuel is consumed than necessary.”

After installing the We4Sea solution, the company was able to reduce its fuel consumption by 13 per cent.

A whole-systems approach

Veen is certain that true fuel efficiency can only come from looking at the entire vessel and its environment and not focussing on one particular area.

He believes that too often manufacturers that supply parts of ships tend to only look at their own product and not the whole ship. “Companies are beginning to take this whole systems approach, but it is only just happening now,” he says.

Veen also emphasises the importance of ensuring the captain and his crew are included in making energy efficiency improvements by giving them access to data so that they understand how their operations affect fuel performance. Veen tells us about one time where the company’s solution was installed and operated by a captain that had previously been used to filling in noon reports. He had not had any feedback on these reports, nor been asked why fuel consumption was higher or lower at certain times. While he was recording data, he did not truly understand what the figures meant.  Once the fuel monitoring solution was online, he was able to see where and why fuel was being used excessively and was able to modify his operations to improve the overall energy efficiency.

IMO 2050

With the ambitious target of cutting emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050 compared with 2008, fuel efficiency is increasingly important.  Veen and his colleagues are keen to be part of this transition but urge companies to start addressing it now.

“It’s so far in advance that owners are not really looking at it. But from our perspective, if you start now you could just reduce your emissions by a small amount each. The more time that passes without any reductions being made, the more emissions that have to be saved in the future. If you do it now you can do 2 per cent per year. But if you wait 10 years, you have to do ten per cent per year. Better to start now and do it correctly,” he explains.

“The most challenging part is long-term goals. But it’s very human.”

Lessons learned as a maritime start-up

Veen points out a few lessons learned as a maritime start-up aiming to make shipping more fuel efficient. One of the biggest challenges they faced was obtaining information from companies about specific types of equipment that would allow them to start the monitoring process. “We want to know what kind of propeller is on a ship in order to make fuel efficiency improvements but sometimes it takes weeks to find out what type, brand and specification.”

The company spent 18 months trialling their solution before putting it onto the market, but they soon found that many companies wanted guaranteed fuel savings before they would consider it. Veen says this was a challenge but establishing a good relationship with the C-level executives in companies was paramount to getting on-board trials.

“Take the time to find a customer that is willing and wants to give feedback,” is his advice.

We4Sea decided not to approach hundreds of shipowners to test their solution, but to work with a few shipowners with larger fleets that have the ambition to be more efficient. In the end, the Dutch start-up decided to start with a pilot projects on part of the customers fleet, such as 5 to ten ships, and begin scaling to the full fleet once the business case was proven. This is a strategy that has worked well for them and they will continue to do this as they work towards achieving that 1 million tonne CO2 reduction target.