Panellists at a Riviera Maritime Media webinar agreed that future OSVs will need to be fully digitised platforms, providing tracking information on cargo, crew, fleet and the vessel’s environmental performance
Powered by greener fuels, with battery and hybrid propulsion solutions, future offshore support vessels will become fully connected, enabling the tracking of emissions and improved maintenance, and will feature enhanced levels of autonomy. Those were some of the key takeaways from a panel of offshore vessel industry experts at a recent webinar produced by Riviera Maritime Media.
The panel consisted of SEACOR Marine vice president engineering Tim Clerc, Vard Marine US vice president Houston Darren Truelock, PE, DNV GL business/segment director, special ships Arnstein Eknes and Shell global category manager, marine Bo Jardine. Mr Clerc outlined his perspective in ‘How offshore wind will shape the future OSV’.
“Every design we undertake now looks at the possibility of incorporating dual-fuel or LNG-ready concepts and battery systems for a various number of operational efficiencies,” said Mr Truelock. “Over the last year,” he added, “hydrogen and fuel cells have been gaining traction.”
He noted that these newer alternative fuel sources do not currently have the power density required to take on higher endurance missions, but solutions are being considered to add refuelling capability and infrastructure to support OSVs.
In Norway, Vard is part of a consortium that is examining the feasibility of using existing and new infrastructure to provide renewable alternative fuel to OSVs. One such strategy would allow OSVs to plug in at ports connected to the electrical grid.
Mr Truelock also noted several versatile OSV designs, including one for LNG bunkering. He called the LNG bunkering vessel, a “floating power bank,” providing bunkering or power capabilities for future OSVs at sea.
He also discussed the importance of connectivity and the development of the smart ship, with the ability to monitor equipment and systems ashore. “OEMs are monitoring equipment from shore through the use of sensors and class has embraced this idea, promoting it actively for maintenance regimes,” he said.
Mr Truelock mentioned the emergence of the digital twin, supporting decision-making in real-time and planning. He said the digital twin could be utilised to conduct simulations, which could be used to assess and anticipate how a vessel would perform prior to actually operating under those real-world conditions.
“It will be more important how you work or how you deliver your services, rather than what you do”
Hand-in-hand with connectivity, Mr Truelock anticipates the future OSV will incorporate more autonomous functionality. “While it might seem like it’s out of a sci-fi movie,” he said, “about 50% of the designs being reviewed have some level of autonomy.” He said once there is confidence in the decisions being made by artificial intelligence (AI), there will be a movement towards more and more autonomy. First the industry will go through what he called, “shades of autonomy.”
Another design concept presented by Mr Truelock was an OSV mothership that would be crewed, but have a fleet of autonomous surface vessels (ASVs), remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that would be deployed for various operations – repair and maintenance, cargo distribution and subsea inspection.
Mr Eknes concurred with Mr Truelock, citing connectivity as one of the two critical elements that will be found in all future OSVs, making them more capable and more efficient. “The digital twin enables the possibility of analysing things before they happen,” said Mr Eknes. Such technology will increase safety and efficiency. Performance simulation will enable operational issues to be examined “before things go wrong,” he said.
Additionally, charterers will be looking for more transparency. “It will be more important how you work or how you deliver your services, rather than what you do,” said Mr Eknes.
He noted that operators need insight – provided by AI and increased digitalisation – into how each vessel and the entire fleet is performing and how each propulsion system and various components are operating, as well as to monitor the health and wellbeing of the crew.
When it comes to how the vessel is powered, Mr Eknes noted the growing trend towards battery and battery-hybrid propulsion. “We think this trend will continue,” he said. There are some 67 OSVs that have either installed or are in the process of installing batteries. Several OSVs are being retrofitted with energy storage systems.
When it comes to energy, Mr Eknes said it was important “the way we store and the way we get it onboard.”
Furthermore, he noted that shore power and offshore power was an evolving technology, with the possibility of charging OSVs with renewable energy produced by offshore windfarms.
He also believes that expanding refuelling infrastructure will underpin the uptake of alternative fuels, pointing out that there are 22 LNG-fuelled OSVs and about 20 gas-powered tugs, and 15 LNG bunkering vessels, with more under construction.
“It is not just about the source of the fuel, but also how easy it is to get it onboard,” he said, stressing the importance of “how much energy you can bring with you.”
As a charterer, Mr Jardine said it was his job to envision what the market might look like in 20 years.
“We have all the technologies available to cut CO2 emissions within our fleets – batteries, fuel cells – some are here today, and some are coming. These technologies are not only applicable for the oil and gas vessels, but windfarm vessels, too,” he said.
He said while he was encouraged by the measures the industry was taking now, such as retrofitting batteries, he noted there were limitations within existing hulls and within the existing framework.
“As a charterer, the future OSV is going to need to be fully digitised, connected and highly automated,” said Mr Jardine. “This will tie it back into the supply chain,” he said. Such a configured and connected OSV will provide clear visibility, tracking of vessels, cargo, equipment and people on a 24/7 basis. “It will provide the ability to better manage the wellbeing of crew,” he noted, saying, “we will probably have to live with Covid or another event for the foreseeable future.”
To align with IMO’s 2050 emissions targets, the industry will need to reduce its CO2 footprint, SOx and NOx and eventually get to net zero carbon emissions.
Much like his fellow panelists, Mr Jardine envisaged continued electrification of the fleet. He proposed a future propulsion power source that would be modular to facilitate the power plant installation and future system upgrades. He sees future fuels being hydrogen-based, possibly hydrogen, ammonia or a synthetic fuel. “Ultimately, it will be driven by regulation and what the industry can support,” he said.
As for hull designs, Mr Jardine noted that future OSVs will have to be built to operate in higher sea states. “The places where we are going and the challenges with climate change – they are affecting the sea. You need to take [those factors] into account,” Mr Jardine said.
He noted that floating wind, for instance, will place higher requirements on operability and concluded: “I look forward to working with owners, shipyards, designers and systems integrators to bring forward the next generation of vessels. To collaborate to bring environmentally sustainable vessels – connected vessels – which can help us deliver our business from now until the 2050s.”