Decarbonisation is a challenge that requires a wide range of skills and knowledge to solve. With this in mind, industry collaboration is key to progress. There are various ways to collaborate, between different sectors and within the maritime sector, across different actors in the shipping supply chain.
Learnings from other sectors
Fitting energy efficiency and renewable hydrodynamic propulsion technologies to 60,000 ships sounds like a big market, but in the UK alone there are more than 2.3m new cars registered each year. Even in the depths of a COVID suppressed market, 1.6m cars were registered in the UK last year. That potential number of unit sales attracts developers and investors and much of what the automotive market learns through this process could be adopted by shipping.
The drive to adopt electric vehicles has forced the automotive sector to take weight out of cars with advanced composites. How much weight could ship design take out of the superstructure of a vessel with this approach? What doors does it open to new technologies such as strong lightweight sails? It’s not just about doing things differently – it’s about doing different things.
Convince the world to change through local actions
The two biggest challenges facing any new technology are its regulatory and commercial adoption, which can present an insurmountable barrier to investors when considering whether to back a new idea. Shipping presents bigger barriers in both areas through the default view that international regulatory approval and multiple ship owners’ endorsements are early on the critical path.
Local regulators MCA can bridge these gaps by adopting the ‘Regulatory Sandbox’ approach already in place with the UK Civil Aviation Authority. For shipping this would allow new technologies to be trialled in a controlled but real environment and so ease their path to formal and widespread approval. That makes getting them funded at early-stage development much more feasible.
National governments’ Department of Transport can collaborate in the creation of green corridors where smart shipping technologies can be deployed in a real commercial environment with shore side logistics in place to support battery charging, alternative fuels, carbon collection from onboard capture, E-fuel manufacture such as the combination of on board captured carbon with green hydrogen to deliver methanol for departing ships etc.
A radical and ambitious proposal to turn the Dover Strait green and to allow only fully electric ferries on the short-sea English Channel crossing was put forward to the UK government in May 2022. The plan is for the routes between Dover, Calais and Dunkirk to become the first zero-carbon shipping corridor in the world, with a new generation of ferries making the 22-mile crossing on battery power and the ports replacing their fuel bunkers with industrial-size ship recharging points.
Collaboration is the new future fuel
If we can call for governments to be more collaborative in raising the standards and easing regulation what could shipping do if it were to collaborate in putting some of these new technologies on vessels? Move from the business case or the R&D budget of one ship owner to a combined project to test technologies. How about three or four of the big container ship operators pooling resources to test new technologies on one or several ships then sharing the results?
Many may say that the proposed IMO R&D fund will deliver that “industry funding and support”. Granted the introduction of a carbon levy will help translate the cost of inaction into a financial equation, but do we really want to rely on an intergovernmental organisation to deploy that money in a way and at the pace that it is needed to deliver change?
Collaboration in the maritime industry can take various, simultaneous forms. Learnings can be transferred from advances in other transport sectors. Regulations can progress faster with the support and feedback of various stakeholders along the ship design chain, including designers and ship owners. And technologies can develop quicker if shipowners join efforts to enable testing onboard vessels.
Houlder can calculate an individual vessel’s EEXI based on the proposed guidelines and perform a detailed assessment of the various improvement measures that can both help to solve any compliance issues while also improving the ship’s fuel efficiency. Assessing the costs and benefits of these measures early on allows shipowners to plan a route to compliance for their fleet as well as achieve actual reductions in fuel consumption.
Houlder has recently worked with Foreland Shipping to conduct a vessel efficiency study for their fleet of Ro-Ros. The study examined the current fleet performance in terms of total annual emissions and attained EEXI as well as comparison with a selection of similar vessels. Focussing on the operational profiles of the vessels – including typical operating speeds, loading conditions and time spent at sea – allowed for a more accurate efficacy estimate for each improvement option, both on the vessels’ theoretical technical efficiency but also on their actual annual fuel savings and emissions.