Experts discussed the offshore support vessel (OSV) sector’s dynamic potential in vessel technologies and future fuels at Riviera’s Offshore Support Journal, Asia virtual conference
Wootz Global managing director Vivek Khabya considered the enormous scope of automation in the OSV sector and said it will help ease problems related to human errors, increase efficiency in using vessel space, reduce opex costs and the environmental footprint.
The industry will soon see these projects come to light: the SeaOwl group is working on a prototype of a battery-powered autonomous vessel for underwater inspections of oil and gas fields and windfarms, while Kongsberg and partner Bourbon are developing Hrönn, a light-duty offshore autonomous ship used for surveys for a range of missions.
In addition to the enormous capital expenditure required, automation requires new standardised regulations across IMO, Class and flag states. “We are very far away,” said Mr Khabya. “Every flag state and class is at a different level to be able to see a cohesive unification for a global setup.”
Technological issues include breakdowns leading to more downtime without manpower and a rise in cyber security threats. The fuel of choice remains an issue. Mr Levander believes from a technical point of view that LNG is the best fuel for automated vessels because the lack of moving parts, while Mr Khabya said the increase in LNG bunkering options, especially in Asia Pacific, makes it an attractive option.
Other safety issues related to collisions were considered. Remotely operated ships will have an onshore operator to ensure a communication channel exists between a manned and unmanned ship. However an AI-driven ship will require the interface to interact with a manned vessel. Mr Khabya said there exists a project to aid communication transfer between the AI interface and human language. Legal issues related to insurance and contractual liabilities will also need to be addressed in depth and Mr Khabya anticipates that the manufacturer’s liability is set to become more prominent than before.
Kongsberg Maritime senior vice president business concepts Oskar Levander said while shipping will see a more diverse fuel palette, Kongsberg has identified renewables, biofuels and carbon capture-based fuels as the main options.
Green electricity is best used in a battery-powered system, which is becoming increasingly popular in the OSV sector. This is a segment that continues to grow but is still limited to short-range vessels. Offshore charging still requires an energy carrier to power the vessel in the case of longer transits.
Mr Levander cited the EU-funded HySHIP project in which Kongsberg is a partner. The vessel is projected to sail on a fixed schedule carrying containerised liquid green hydrogen to bunkering hubs along Norway’s west coast along with coastal customers’ cargo.
Because hydrogen and ammonia are still at nascent stage, pose safety challenges and lack bunkering infrastructure, Mr Levander said there is still uncertainty over which alternative fuel ocean-going vessels will choose. He cited synthetic methane as a possible option because it relies on proven technology.
He said “Basically the same fuel as LNG but created by electrolysis from green energy. This is not zero emissions but it is carbon neutral.”
“We start with something that is existing: LNG. This is a vessel you can order today, then when either biogas or synthetic LNG becomes available and attractive in price, the shipowner can just switch over to it without any modification needed. It is a future-proof option.”
Both panellists were positive about the industry’s capability to deliver on IMO’s 2050 CO2 reduction goals. Mr Levander said “Technically we will have the solutions. Economically the world can afford zero-emissions shipping if we want to do it.”
“The big challenge is the transition from fossil-based to low carbon-based infrastructure so that existing tonnage remains competitive on a fair base with new tonnage. It will require political regulations. It needs incentives, whether in the form of carbon taxes or emission schemes, to even out the transition period. Will there be a political will? I hope so.”
Mr Khabya said “Technologically we are capable. Economically we are way off. The shipowners don’t have the kind of capital to retrofit so it will have to be newbuilds. Regulations and political will, as Oskar said, are the two main drivers, whether they come in the form of incentives or levies and taxes.” Regulation could also restrict vessels beyond a certain age. Mr Khabya said “that could take away a lot of old tonnage off the market then fleet renewals come in.”
Riviera’s OSJ Asia virtual conference is the largest forum for shipowners, shipbuilders, charterers and suppliers within the OSV sector in Asia.