In his keynote address at the opening of the 2020 Offshore Support Journal Conference & Awards, Seacor chief executive John Gellert outlined three broad environmental trends that would impact OSV sector operations in 2020
Decarbonisation is on everyone’s agenda, including the oil majors, Mr Gellert said, resulting in a push for lowered emissions, growth in offshore renewables and rapid advances in technology.
"All of these items must be pursued," he said. "There is no magic bullet."
With the increased focus on lowering fuel consumption and carbon emissions, Mr Gellert said the immediate question to answer was how to achieve both on existing vessels.
"You can be a lot cleaner while burning dirty fuel," he said. "And I think that is part of the transition."
In other words, the way owners and operators use vessels has a significant impact on fuel consumption and emissions, Mr Gellert said, and all means and methods of achieving those goals need to be investigated.
"Systematically, we can start collecting the data to make all of this possible," he said.
New technologies are another important method of emissions reduction, Mr Gellert said, among them hybrid and dual-fuel propulsion systems.
Offering a case study from Seacor’s OSV fleet – several of which have hybrid propulsion systems – Mr Gellert showed fuel consumption savings from different operational profiles measured on board Seacor Azteca. The savings ranged from 10%-40% in operational configurations from those based on diesel – dual generators running the vessel at 12 knots – to those based on battery, with the energy storage system running the vessel in DP2 mode on two generators.
As for dual fuels, Mr Gellert discussed a pilot project Seacor is undertaking with Vattenfall. Commencing in 2021, the Hydrocat pilot project will mix hydrogen fuel with diesel fuel in existing marine engines and is expected to result in CO2 reductions of 40%-60% over conventional diesel fuel, depending on power output, with similar levels of reductions in NOx emissions.
Mr Gellert also discussed the potential for cold ironing in port on full hydrogen with a portable gen-set.
The transition to hydrogen and zero-carbon fuels is "an incremental process", Mr Gellert said, touching on other technological development avenues including green hydrogen or ammonia-based fuel cells. The transition would be made "step-by-step", he said.
A primary hurdle for advances in the OSV sector is the well-known industry downturn, Mr Gellert said.
"The industry is contracting. There really is no new capital entering the industry. The only option is refinancing existing debt," he said.
"It is a continuing challenge and it will be a long time back to profitability, but you need to get to profitability before you can consider newbuildings."
Ultimately, Mr Gellert said he sees market fundamentals improving and foresees further development of offshore wind projects in the more mature North Sea sector as well as the nascent American and southeast Asian regions as bright spots on the horizon.
In closing, Mr Gellert said "The future, if it is not now, at least it begins now".