Marine Hub Cornwall
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The movement toward green shipping

by Matt Hodson, Operations Director, Marine Hub Cornwall

23 | Apr | 2018

It can be argued that commercial shipping is one of the most energy efficient modes of transport, when you take into account the huge volumes of cargo that can be shipped compared to the amount of energy used. Nevertheless, there are growing pressures for commercial shipping to reduce its environmental impact, which will lead to increasing regulation in the future.

The typical life of a cargo ship is 30 years or more, and it is difficult to retrofit some of the latest green technologies. Therefore, in the medium term, the biggest changes will be seen in new ship designs that are brought to market. Although green technologies can add significantly to the capital cost, the economic rationale for adopting them is getting stronger and stronger, especially when you consider that fuel can account for up to 50% of the costs of a shipping operation.

Here are three key areas that will play a leading role in the “green ship” of the future:

1. Fuel and propulsion

Many see Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as an important future fuel for shipping, one that not only reduces emissions significantly but can also bring economic benefits for the operator. LNG can be used in both the main and the auxiliary engines. TOTE’s Marlin Class vessels are the world’s first container ships to be specially designed to run on LNG.

Shell clearly foresees massive future demand for LNG. Its Prelude FNLG will be the largest offshore facility ever constructed. Located 300 miles off the coast of Western Australia, this will be the world’s first floating liquefied natural gas platform and is expected to be in operation for at least 25 years.

Other fuels that are being explored include liquid petroleum gas (LPG), hydrogen and Methanol. Hybrid propulsion systems are also gaining wider acceptance, though their use is more suited to smaller vessels rather than cargo ships.

Further systems that can be used to supplement the main propulsion system include sails and solar cells. While these will never generate enough power to be the main propulsion system, they can be utilised to reduce fuel consumption and overall emissions.

Running cargo vessels at slower speeds, so-called ‘slow steaming’, has been shown to significantly reduce fuel consumption and emissions. However, for operators this has to be balanced against the commercial impact of longer delivery times.

2. Ship design

While steel has long been the standard construction material, there are now a wider range of options available. By using a lighter weight material, power consumption can be drastically reduced. Aluminium is one option, while modern composite materials can potentially be used not only for the hull but also for features such as ducting and cabins. Specially designed composite materials can reduce resistance, allowing the ship to move more smoothly through the water. Specialist hull paints can have a similar effect, producing a major saving on fuel consumption.

Another recent development has been the advent of Air Supported Vessels (ASVs). With these craft, high pressure air is pumped under the hull, allowing it to ride on a cushion of air and reducing friction by more than 40%. To date, this technology has mainly been applied to smaller craft. However, the recently launched BB Green is a 99-passenger, electrically powered ferry operating on inland waterways near Stockholm, and one which uses ASV technology. It will be interesting to see whether this innovative design thinking has applications for the shipping industry.

3. Reducing pollution

Increasing environmental awareness is leading to the creation of new systems to reduce water and air pollution from shipping.

The sulphur content of shipping fuel is particularly high, so new types of filters and scrubbers are being developed to reduce the pollution levels in exhaust fumes. Washing the exhaust in this way can reduce sulphur emissions by up to 98%. (Related to this, waste heat can also be recovered from exhaust systems and used to heat other parts of the ship, making further fuel savings.)

Ballast water has been another area of focus, as this can allow sediment, microorganisms and pathogens to be transported from one part of the oceans to another. The IMO Ballast Water Management Convention came into force in 2017. Ships are required to manage their ballast water to remove, render harmless, or avoid the uptake or discharge of aquatic organisms and pathogens within ballast water and sediments. Some shipbuilders are aiming to address this issue through the design of “no ballast” cargo ships.

A wide range of commercial opportunities

The movement toward greener shipping creates new opportunities for innovative marine technology businesses. This fact was highlighted further in February 2018, when Dutch bank ING and the European Investment Bank announced a joint investment of 300 million Euros to help projects with a “green innovation element” in Europe’s maritime sector. The funds will be deployed over the next three years and used to support technologies which reduce emissions or make ships more fuel efficient. Projects will include the design of new ships as well as the retrofitting of existing vessels.

With their high level of specialist expertise and strong track record of innovation, the marine technology businesses located in Marine Hub Cornwall are well placed to take advantage of this increasing demand for greener technology in the maritime industry.


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