2020 will be the year LNG and digitalisation really gain ground in the box ship sector, while the market is ripe for biofuel and battery use
I expect LNG use to take off in 2020 due to a raft of LNG newbuild contracts for both ultra large container vessels and feeders, and with the largest box ship due to be converted to LNG.
And biofuel is set to enter the box ship sector in a serious way with CMA CGM’s successful biofuel trial and its use by MSC paving the way.
Battery power will also make a breakthrough with the world’s first all-electric feeder Yara Birkeland delivered in 2020, and a battery trial by Maersk in December 2019 focused on onboard non-propulsion electric systems.
There have been many digitalisation projects and initiatives from carriers, ports and external suppliers. But what will give them the foundation to get off the ground is the Digital Container Shipping Association, which started operations in 2019.
LNG: ‘fuel for the next decade’
Doors for LNG within the box ship sector were opened when CMA CGM announced its order for nine 23,000-TEU LNG dual-fuelled container ships in 2017. But things have moved forward and I think we will see many more orders announced next year, when the first CMA CGM LNG-fuelled ship is also delivered. LNG has the scalability and availability to meet the needs of ultra large box ships which will need volumes of up to 18,000 m3.
There have been more LNG projects announced in 2019, notably converting the largest container ship, Hapag Lloyd’s 15,000-TEU Sajir, to run on LNG. This will pave the way for other container ship operators to carry out such a retrofit or at the very least, make new vessels LNG-ready. One important factor is that while Hapag-Lloyd is likely to pay a higher cost for retrofit work on Sajir because it is first of its kind, any further retrofits will be cheaper a result of this work.
WinGD general manager Volkmar Galke sums the LNG box market up well when he says that while LNG is not the final solution, it is the “fuel for the next decade”.
Breaking barriers with biofuel
In 2019 we saw some notable advances in using biofuel – setting the stage for a greater uptake in 2020. IKEA Transport & Logistics Services, CMA CGM Group, and the GoodShipping Program have successfully completed their 2019 biofuel test programme.
This follows positive trials of heavy fuel oil-equivalent biofuel oil during CMA CGM Alexander Von Humboldt’s Europe-Asia trip in September and October 2019.
This latest development follows the world’s first refuelling of a container ship with sustainable biofuel, when CMA CGM’s White Shark took on the bunker during a call at the Port of Rotterdam in March 2019.
Completing a trial proving biofuel works on a container ship will encourage other shipping lines to follow in CMA CGM’s path. The sustainable biofuel oil was used in a blend with conventional fossil-based marine fuels to power the vessel. Both applications of the biofuel oil showed a positive result. This is crucial as it proves the technical compatibility of sustainable marine biofuels.
This successful trial combined with the December 2019 announcement that MSC is using 30% biofuel blends following trials, will encourage other carriers to follow suit in 2020.
Digitalisation: a reality
2018 and 2019 was the time for setting up and trialling digital solutions – 2020 will be the year these come to fruition and this is mainly down to the establishment of the Digital Container Shipping Association. Established this year, the association is necessary to drive development as it will create common information technology standards for the whole industry. Common standards will enhance interoperability and standardisation and allowing digitalisation to grow. The carrier-led association is moving fast as well. Despite only being launched in April this year, it has already created a message agreed by carriers to communicate arrival notifications to clients. This is in contrast to many different types of arrival notifications from shipping lines to clients currently. The fact it has already moved forward with a tangible result bodes well for next year.
Box sector: enter battery power
A containerised 600-kWh marine battery system will be installed in a trial on board Maersk Cape Town in December 2019 to improve vessel performance and reliability while reducing CO2 emissions. This could be a turning point for using batteries to boost efficiency of non-propulsion onboard electrical systems. This is the first trial of its kind within the container ship industry, proving it can be done. It will allow a greater understanding of energy storage, which will benefit future projects.
The benefits are plentiful, including lower carbon emissions, and Maersk points out that by maintaining the vessel’s auxiliary generators at a more optimal load, and avoiding running generators when not needed, overall fuel consumption can be reduced.
Although container ships have a long way to go before battery propulsion power will be mainstream, Yara Birkeland, the world’s first electric, autonomous feeder vessel, is due to be delivered next year. This is no doubt going to encourage other feeder operators to consider batteries, particularly when there are such clear environmental benefits. Yara Birkeland will save 40,000 truck trips a year.