Tug owners are under pressure to invest in green technology, in co-operation with ports, clients and other stakeholders
Tug owners in Europe are increasingly adopting green technologies, having introduced LNG fuel and hybrid-electric technologies into tug propulsion in the past decade.
Tug operators across the continent will continue to install engines with selective catalytic reaction (SCR) devices to comply with IMO Tier III and European Union (EU) Stage V emissions requirements. They will invest in hybrid and all-electric propulsion and investigate using alternative fuels for greener tug operations.
“Our journey to a greener future continues,” says European Tugowners Association (ETA) chairman, and Alfons Håkans health safety environment and quality manager Captain Kimmo Lehto.
“Decarbonising is not a new thing for our industry. The number of greener tugs has increased steadily, and new technology has been advanced,” he adds.
He speaks from experience, as one of Alfons Håkans tugs has been attached to the world’s first hybrid-propelled detachable bow for breaking winter ice in Finland this year.
This is just one example of how shipyards, equipment manufacturers, ship designers and other stakeholders can co-operate to reduce the sector’s environmental footprint.
Another example is ETA member Boluda Towage Europe’s investment in retrofitting tugs operating in Belgium with SCRs for IMO Tier III compliance. Others are Navtek’s development of all-electric propulsion tugs in Turkey and Damen Shipyard’s hybrid propulsion developments.
Capt Lehto says ETA members face challenges from regulators on global, regional, national and local levels. IMO has requirements for vessels of more than 500 gt, which covers some of the largest oceangoing tugs. The EU has its Green Deal for 2050 for all transportation industries and different countries have their own requirements.
“Regulations can vary a lot between countries and every flag has its own requirements for tugs below 500 gt,” says Capt Lehto. “It is possible a tug that can operate in one country cannot operate in a neighbouring country.”
Even within a country there can be different emissions requirements.
“An increasing number of cities have green policies for their ports. As tugs operate in these cities and are visible to the public, they will be addressed, if they have not yet been addressed,” he adds.
Therefore, there is growing pressure from authorities and regulators for tug owners to reduce emissions in ports.
“There are also more requirements for environmentally friendly technology to be implemented in the logistic chains, including on tugs,” says Capt Lehto. “We are moving towards a more sustainable harbour towage industry.”
Another challenge for tug owners is the variation in tug operations over time, as most tugs spend a lot of their time alongside a base between towage jobs. When work does arrive, clients may not want to pay more for low-emissions tugs, making it difficult for owners to justify the additional capital and operational expenditure for using fuels alternative to traditional diesel.
“LNG-powered tugs cost 20% more than diesel-powered tugs and they are about 10% more expensive to operate,” explains Capt Lehto.
Another challenge when implementing green technologies is the long lifetime of tugs, which can be 30-40 years, making investment decisions difficult for owners.
“As tugs are built to last decades, they should be built to be modified during their lifecycle to fulfil future regulations,” says Capt Lehto, “and as we do not know what kind of fuels there will be available in the future, this makes things very challenging.”
He assesses the current and future candidates for alternative energy sources. LNG and LPG are still fossil fuels and therefore emit carbon. There is also the issue of methane slip in gas and dual-fuel engines.
“LNG burns well in dual-fuel engines, but methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, and there are methane leaks to the atmosphere during its production, transportation and uses – it is not that green,” says Capt Lehto.
But what about the others? “Biofuels can be used for small-scale solutions,” he continues. “Ammonia is toxic and hydrogen is promising, but expensive. Batteries are being developed fast, but they are quite big, and their lifecycle is less than the lifecycle of the tug. It is not environmentally friendly to change batteries yet,” comments Capt Lehto.
He thinks solar and wind power could be part of a solution for providing electrical power to tugs, but he does not see any future for nuclear power on tugs.
With all these alternatives, viable commercial options are expected to soon be available for greener harbour and coastal towage. However, owners and regulators will not want this to affect safety, stability or operational capability.
“For the towage industry, it is essential to provide energy-efficiency services to our customers, and with other players, to find the most energy-efficient way to use tugs,” says Capt Lehto.
“This includes co-operation and training of tug masters, pilots, captains on assisted ships and other stakeholders.”
Having electrical power available in ports would encourange more electric- and hybrid-propulsion tugs to be built and others retrofitted with batteries.
Tug owners want to co-operate with shipping companies to reduce emissions. If captains slowed their ships earlier as they approach ports, it would reduce towline forces on tugs, thus lowering power requirements on the engines.
“We have been doing this in Finland and cutting emissions,” says Capt Lehto. “We co-operate with pilots and the assisted vessels. Training can help reduce emissions and fuel consumption.”
“Future fuel availability and pricing will be important,” says Capt Lehto. “Retrofitting with green technology must be cost-effective for 20-30-year-old tugs.”
He says the tug industry has adopted environmentally sustainable solutions before other sectors have, but more will need to be done to meet future requirements.
“ETA supports members on their way to greener tug operations in the future and we will work with other associations and stakeholders,” Capt Lehto concludes.
Kimmo Lehto was speaking at Riviera Maritime Media’s How tug operators are preparing for a new era in green marine propulsion webinar, held on 29 March 2021 as part of Riviera’s ITS TUGTECHNOLOGY Webinar Week, which was supported by the European Tugowners Association and UK Maritime Pilots Association