Powering shipping’s decarbonisation

Powering shipping’s decarbonisation
The panellists discussed how different fuels and technologies can be used to lower shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions and meet the IMO’s 2050 decarbonisation goal

Meeting the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target will require the industry to shift from burning fossil fuels to more renewable energy sources and adopt new technologies to improve vessel efficiency. Experts speaking on a panel during London International Shipping Week have urged the industry to act now to ensure the tools and technologies are in place by 2030 if the GHG emissions goal is to be met.

Ed Fort, global head of engineering systems, marine & offshore technical policy group, Lloyd’s Register asked five panellists across the maritime and aviation industry about the different technologies and fuels available today and how they can be used to help shipping meet its decarbonisation goal.

Electrification of fleets is starting to take place with short-sea shipping companies deploying batteries and fuel cell technology to cut fuel use and emissions. According to Rolf Stiefel, VP sales, Win GD, large commercial shipping companies are still relying on traditional fuels due to the fact that it is hard to generate big demand for energy in a small space. “Deep sea shipping needs at least 10-20 Megawatts per hour and 100 Megawatts a day to run at the speed they are running at today. There are just no fuels suitable at the moment. The 2020 cap will lead us to more residual fuel, but we need time for a change in this respect.”

According to Eero Lehtovaara, head of regulatory & public affairs, ABB Marine & Ports, a shift to electrification of the larger fleet will likely be seen in incremental changes. “Electrification and battery assistance will be one of the things that will bring benefits to the global fleet but will be incremental, not a dramatic change.” Pure battery power is also likely to be focussed on voyages of less than four hours, confirmed Mr Lehtovaara. “A combination of batteries, fuel cells and diesel engines could be used to balance out the power needs. We are seeing more variation in the loads of the ship so it makes sense to have a diversified power range to optimise energy consumption. I don’t see anything really making a big difference here, but we will be getting more different solutions.”

Mark Martecchini, vice-chair, International Chamber of Shipping, and president, Stolt Tanker Trading agreed that incremental changes will happen as there is still some uncertainty around the benefits that current technologies will bring. Referring to the Flettner Rotor, he explained, “The Flettner Rotor is 70 years old, but it’s still not proven. That’s why we are slow to change.”

The fuel cell is one technology that has been around for a long time and proven itself in demanding applications. Mr Fort asked the panel to give their thoughts on why these fuel cells have not made a large impact in shipping today. Kristina Fløche Juelsgaard, director, business development, Ballard Power Systems Europe explained that there is a need to bring down the cost to a competitive level with the conventional technologies. “We’ve been working with fuel cells at Ballard for 40 years. Over 1 billion dollars has been spent to develop the fuel cells for heavy applications on roads and now into maritime. We are now seeing in road transport that the cost of fuel cell systems is more competitive. There is potential for improvements to be made but there need to be a priority in reducing cost of metals used in fuel cells.”

She went on to say that fuel cells are very well suited for scaling. “Scaling from 200kW to some Megawatts is possible but scaling to many mega watts is yet to come. We are confident it can be done though.”

In terms of the design of ships to accommodate new technologies and fuels, the panel agreed that the industry is likely to see some changes. “When we talk about electrification, we are moving away from the combustion technology and towards a scenario of electrifying propulsion and more decentralised power production on a bigger ship. So we will see smaller power units placed de-centrally across the ship. We might need a 14 Megawatt or 16 Megawatt fuel cell system but not in one spot, more in modular power systems distributed,” explained Ms Juelsgaard.

While there is some controversy around LNG as a fuel to help shipping decarbonise, there was a general agreement around LISW that it is the best solution at the current time and has its place as a temporary fuel until alternative fuels have been researched and used more.  Brandon Larson, director for certifications, naval applications & digital analytics, GE Aviation, Marine Solutions, said that he sees more enquiries into dual fuel being made. “For us, fuel flexibility is key,” he said. “However, the power to wake is a pragmatic issue we are working on as we transition away from HFO.”

Mr Martecchini went on to say that with LNG fuel, a conversion may have to be carried out but once this is done the fuel is widely available and it ensure compliance with all current environmental regulations, including the 0.5 per cent sulphur cap. He explained that by using LNG, “you are becoming a ship where you have a single technology in a way. It helps us to overcome all incremental rules in a simple way, although more needs to be done for 2050.”

Mr Fort also asked the panel members how they think ships’ crews will cope with operating more complex ships as new fuels and technologies are added to vessels.

Mr Martecchini said that 20 years ago they went though a big change and quickly realised that training is absolutely vital and industry investment into this will be essential going forward. “We tend to overload crew with info. We need simple information, simple design, and simple operation,” he said.

Mr Stiefel added: “We are seeing an increasing complexity of ships that have to be controlled in a certain way. Today, if you look at IMO 2020 coming, even before you look at heavy fuels, ECA zones, etc, it is  extremely complex for the operator and can very difficult to prove how you are compliant and fulfilling different requirements.”

“There is also a question of which forum would be the right one to address the whole logistics chain. There is a whole logistics system and everyone has an effect on the efficiency of the whole logistics chain, not just the shipowner. We put a lot of requirements on the shipowner, when the cargo is coming in for example, let out of port etc, it all has a great effect. So, when we talk about the consumption of fuel oils across different ships, it is not just the responsibility of the owner,” explained Mr Lehtovaara.

When it comes to ensuring smooth operating of a more complex ship and operating chain, Mr Martecchini explained that the collaboration between the different parties and the logistics chain is essential. He explained that a lot of the time individual collaborations have taken place. “Somebody tries something and maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but it’s not public. I think we really need a new model, that is a new sharing mechanism. It will require money, but that model needs to change because the individual discussion and collaboration really isn’t going to be adequate to get to the scale we need to make that change.

“You only have to look at the 2020 sulphur cap and see that people were considering either low sulphur fuels or scrubbers but now we are going to have five different fuels to choose from so we need better information, better platforms, better technology sharing and industry funded is the way to go,” he confirmed.

Looking forward and what needs to happen in the future to help decarbonisation efforts, Mr Fort asked the panel what they would like to see in terms of clarity or regulations. Mr Lehtovaara said that he wants to see shipowners rewarded for buying and applying new technologies that will increase the total overall efficiency of their operations. “The other thing that we are facing as an OEM is that it would be good if classification societies could take the role of actually verifying that what we are claiming that our tools can do is a reality. They are only classifying steel today. Why not classify all the other stuff that is equally important on a ship?”

“I’d probably add to that, what we tend to see is owners that have a risk aversion to new technology,” said Mr Larson. “You end up with the hurdle of trying to convince the owner and then the owner turns around and says well make sure you talk to my operating company so they’re familiar and comfortable with the operation of the system. Then you have to talk to the shipyard who can be wary about taking risks to build something new. Then the owner says they want to try something new. So, there’s no incentive to try something new because no one wants to go first. As soon as someone goes firs the other one watches. There is lack of incentive to try new things.”

Ms Juelsgaard agreed. “There are lots of new fuels that are met with the same challenges so who will pick up the tab because it’s necessary to make it happen. We are looking into a longer transition period here. A transition period where we will have the right technologies, some existing, some renewal based, a mix of technologies that can support one another to reach common goal of driving out fossil fuels and achieving GHG emissions reduction. Strategy requires investment.”

To overcome these challenges, it will take more than the maritime industry alone. “You have to look outside the industry, into the energy companies and the oil companies, outside your own circle to find answers. Then network to make other industries collaborate around this common goal is one of biggest challenges,” Ms Juelsgaard added.

“There needs to be an advantage for people to go for these future fuels or technologies to get them onboard. Or the other move is regulation. The 0.5 per cent regulation for example. That has been driving the change,” Mr Stiefel concluded.

The panel was part of the International Chamber of Shipping’s 2019 conference Setting Course for 2050: Powering Global Trade, held Wednesday September 11.