Innovation abounds in the maritime sector, with new alternative fuels emerging, fuel-flexible prime movers, an expanding use of batteries and fuel cells, optimised vessel designs and hulls and increasing use of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and robotics
2021 will be a watershed year for the maritime industry, with key trends advancing shipping’s decarbonisation efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from the international fleet by 40% by 2030 and 50% by 2050, as compared to 2008 levels.
Increasing use of LNG
Using LNG as a fuel is nothing new – the car ferry Glutra went into service in 2000 – but it can provide shipowners with the ability to reduce their CO2 emissions by 20% now and its widening availability and attractive price have made it a frontrunner among alternative fuel choices. While LNG is not the silver bullet solution, it does offer a pathway to decarbonisation, allowing the transition to ‘drop in’ fuels, such as liquefied biogas (LBG) – also known as biomethane and bioLNG – as backed by DNV GL’s Energy Transition Outlook 2020.
In discussing the study, DNV GL Maritime chief executive Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen said: “Gas is the best choice for one or two vessel generations.”
A number of shipowners apparently agree. There are 407 LNG-fuelled vessels in operation, on order or under construction, with another 146 vessels ordered or built as ‘LNG ready’.
2020 also saw the emergence of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a viable alternative fuel, with the successful retrofit of the very large gas carrier BW Gemini.
Your methane slip is showing
Underpinning the success of LNG and other gaseous fuels will be the continued development of two-stroke and four-stroke dual-fuel engines. One of the bugbears for LNG has been methane slip. Methane – a potent greenhouse gas – is some 28 times more powerful than CO2 on a 100-year timescale, and a main component of LNG.
Engine designers and builders have focussed intensely on reducing methane slip, with WinGD saying it has cut methane slip by 50% in its second generation X-DF, Otto-cycle, low-pressure dual-fuel engines, to levels of 1.0-1.2 g/kWh, as compared to 2.0-2.5 kWh in its first generation engines.
MAN Energy Solutions is developing its own Otto-cycle dual-fuel engine, but the methane slip from its two-stroke, Diesel-cycle, high-pressure, ME-GI dual-fuel engines is 0.2g/kWh.
Momentum for the use of hydrogen as a fuel in maritime is building, with the first hydrogen-powered car ferry, Hydra, set to enter service in Norway in 2021, a new hydrogen-powered tug being built by CMB for the port of Antwerp and numerous hydrogen newbuild and fuel-cell retrofit projects underway in Europe, the US and Japan.
CMB chief executive Alexander Saverys – who believes LNG “is a waste of time and money” – will also push hydrogen usage in offshore wind operations, following the acquisition of SEACOR Marine’s Windcat Workboats.
CMB has its hand in BeHydro, the all Belgian joint venture with Anglo Belgian Corporation, which is launching the first four-stroke dual-fuel hydrogen and pure hydrogen engine in 2021.
Meanwhile, Ørsted, Yara and their partners in the Green Hydrogen Catapult are among those picking up the gargantuan challenge of slashing the cost and widening the availability of green hydrogen.
More batteries, please
Hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrid-electric, or all-electric propulsion is now being used by 270 vessels, with another 205 vessels on order. Two sectors that have particularly benefitted from battery use are car/passenger ferries and offshore supply vessels (OSVs). In the offshore market, OSVs and offshore rigs are being retrofit with batteries to improve fuel consumption and lower emissions. Batteries can be used for peak shaving and spinning reserve during sudden surges in power demand. Some charterers, such as Equinor, are requiring batteries in their tenders to reduce CO2 emissions.
Safety and efficiency through autonomation
Batteries also provide the power for two Norwegian relatively small commercial zero-emission cargo vessel projects that could have a huge impact on future autonomous operations. Yara Birkeland, a 120-TEU container vessel, will transport fertilser from Yara International’s Porsgrunn plant via inland waters 31 nautical miles to the Norwegian ports of Larvik and Brevik. The idea behind the deployment of Yara Birkeland is to reduce emissions and improve road safety by removing up to 40,000 truck journeys annually in a densely populated area of Norway.
A second autonomous project is being undertaken by grocery distributor ASKO, which will deploy two all-electric roros in the Oslo fjord.
Both vessel operations will undergo phased development, with Yara aiming to accomplish full autonomy as soon as 2022, and ASKO by 2024. Both operations could serve as models for autonomous vessel operations in and outside of Norway.