South Korea’s biggest industrial group is leveraging its shipbuilding business to introduce batteries to the marine market. The move could mark a decisive moment in the uptake of hybrid propulsion in the deepsea merchant fleet.
When Wärtsilä announced it would work with Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) to develop hybrid propulsion for tankers and gas carriers, there was no mention of the Korean company’s substantial battery business. But that is a key driver behind the partnership. Samsung SDI, a sister company to and stakeholder in SHI, is exploring new markets for large-scale batteries and energy storage as it sees demand growth slowing for smaller batteries.
The shipbuilder is involved with some of the very first deepsea-going ships with batteries. Two shuttle tankers for Teekay Offshore will have batteries alongside engines that can burn LNG as well as the volatile organic compounds emitted from the vessels’ cargo. Those propulsion and power arrangements, designed and supplied by Wärtsilä, convinced Samsung that the tanker and gas carrier market can benefit from batteries.
The relationship with Wärtsilä works both ways. The Finnish company gains a closer relationship with a key customer for ship propulsion. Samsung gets something arguably even more valuable – the opportunity to test its batteries for marine use at Wärtsilä’s Hybrid Centre in Trieste. To date this is the only full-scale facility for trialling new hybrid propulsion arrangements. It will be a crucial advantage to Samsung as it explores properties and characteristics are needed from marine batteries.
There is an interesting market dynamic at play. So far batteries have been installed on relatively small, European-built ships (including passenger and offshore vessels). They have also been from predominantly European battery suppliers. As batteries are installed on the bigger, deepsea ships built at Asian yards, is there room for Asian battery makers to claim that business? Samsung clearly believes so. The close ties between SHI and Samsung SDI will be instrumental in that objective.
There is little doubt that hybridisation will eventually play a role on bigger ships as they seek to cut fuel bills and slash emissions in line with IMO targets. Most ship projects today involve discussions about alternative propulsion options including LNG and batteries. But few owners have taken concrete steps in the tanker, gas carrier or other deepsea segments. Now a canny move to boost battery sales, not a burning desire to cut emissions, could provide the kick-start the market needs.
Teekay’s new shuttle tankers, Wärtsilä’s Hybrid Centre and IMO’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy are among nominations for the 2019 Marine Propulsion Awards. Place your votes by Friday 12 April.