Norwegian car-carrier owner United European Car Carriers has already confirmed the vessel solution that it believes will see it sail past IMO’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target
“People are in ‘wait and see’ mode until a solution emerges,” says United European Car Carriers (UECC) CEO Glenn Edvardsen. He is discussing the historically low shipbuilding across many segments over the past two years – a phenomena he attributes to shipowners’ uncertainty about environmental solutions.
“Shipowners are waiting for the magic solution,” he says. “They are having a hard time investing because there are so many options.”
UECC has no such qualms, having just announced an order for two pure car and truck carriers (PCTC) – with options for a further two – that will be driven by LNG and batteries. The new sister ships will be built by Jiangnan Shipyard Group Co in China, with delivery in 2021.
For UECC, a European shortsea car carrier jointly owned by Japanese company NYK Line and Wallenius Lines, this solution is an evolution rather than a revolution. The company already operates two gas-fuelled vessels which, when they were delivered in 2016, were the biggest LNG-powered PCTCs in service.
UECC's new vessels will represent an evolution in design and a revolution in powering
UECC head of ship management Jan Thore Foss says: “UECC's experience with gas-fuelled PCTCs has been very good and there was really no alternative for us. The LNG solution reduces CO2 emissions by about 25%.”
But the addition of batteries pushes the concept even further, placing UECC beyond IMO’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% (on 2008 levels) by 2030.
“This is a giant leap towards decarbonisation and unlike anything else that has been done previously in our industry,” says Mr Edvardsen. “It is something we are extremely proud of.”
UECC worked with Shanghai Merchant Ship Design & Research Institute (SDARI) to design the PCTCs to the latest energy-efficiency criteria.
“There was really no alternative for us; the LNG solution reduces CO2 emissions by about 25%”
“It’s a new design in many ways,” says Mr Edvardsen. “The earlier ones perform very well but we want to see an evolution after some extensive research and model testing. For example, the bulbous bow has gone because this is not optimised for the Baltic Sea, so there is a much flatter hull shape at the bow.”
While many innovative ships are often fixed to customers before they are built – in order to ensure that the premium on building costs is justified – UECC has not chosen this route for the newbuilds. According to Mr Edvardsen, the ships will be attractive to a very select group of clients.
“They will be in demand for those that are serious about reducing their environmental footprint,” he says. “There are other parts of the logistics chain that those customers will be looking at too, but I think we can say that our part will definitely offer reduced emissions, and at competitive pricing.”
For some, building on spec may have been considered too great a risk. But UECC is taking a long-term approach – in stark contrast, Mr Edvardsen believes, to others in the industry.
“We are not building for the next two or three years, we’re building for the next 25 years,” he says. “When you see how fast the environmental focus is developing, it’s unbelievable. But I think it’s sad that so many today are choosing scrubbers as an alternative to meet sulphur requirements. Yes, you meet sulphur limits, but the problem is that you are increasing CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by 4%. It’s nonsense.”
The combination of gas and battery offers one potential solution to both SOx and greenhouse gas emission limits. Mr Edvardsen reports that class society DNV GL has confirmed that UECC’s new orders will mean that it meets the IMO 2030 target.
“There are three elements,” he explains. “First is LNG fuel, which brings a CO2 saving of 20-25%. Then you gain a lot as an industry, because the reduction target is based on 2008 levels and there is an emissions reduction we have all achieved because of the slowdown in sailing speeds to cut fuel costs. I’m not sure what the gain is but I know that with the 20-25% from LNG and the batteries, we will meet the 2030 targets. And there are very few vessels out there that do this right now.”
A 15-year horizon
While LNG is a known solution for UECC, the company is excited by the possibilities of batteries. Mr Edvardsen says that the batteries will be used both to even out load on journeys (known as peak shaving) and to enter ports with zero emissions.
“The biggest results come through peak shaving,” he says, “The savings are quite remarkable.”
“We are not building for the next two or three years, we’re building for the next 25 years”
The batteries will not be used to cut emissions at port, as some battery-enabled vessels are opting for. Mr Edvardsen explains that this dramatically increases the size of the batteries that need to be installed, while connecting to shore power would be a much cheaper and more environmentally friendly solution. UECC’s new vessels will feature LNG-burning auxiliary engines, which will reduce SOx and NOx emissions while alongside. The vessels are also ‘cold ironing ready’ and can be set up to take shore power if this is available on the route the ships end up plying.
Reaching the 2030 target at this early stage is encouraging, but there are further emission targets ahead – not least the goal of cutting shipping’s emissions by 50% by 2050. There is an outside chance that these vessels could still be operating by 2050 – although most likely not for UECC – but the company is not taking any chances. The dual-fuel configuration will also enable the ships to take advantage of whatever is the next step in carbon-neutral fuels, says Mr Edvardsen.
“If we had pure gas engines and then at some stage it emerged that bio-fuel was the next step, then we couldn’t use it. But as we have a dual-fuel set-up, we can use either bio-fuel or bio-gas, whichever becomes viable first. So whatever the magic fuel will be in the future in 10-15 years – not the next two because the experts tell us it will be too expensive – we will be ready. Ten years is not a long time in the life of a ship.”
As the Baltic Sea and North Sea will become NOx emission control areas (ECAs) from 2021, the company is looking at low-pressure, dual-fuel two-stroke engines, although it has yet to select engines.
When it comes to the looming 2020 sulphur compliance issue, Mr Edvardsen notes that UECC’s 18 vessels trade predominantly in SOx ECAs already, so the company will continue to burn marine gas oil on those routes. For other routes, its relatively fixed trading patterns should protect the company from the worst of the fuel uncertainties.
But it is the larger carbon-cutting agenda that has dominated UECC’s technical planning in recent years. And with two new additions to its gas-fuelled fleet, the company is confident it has the answer.
Principal particulars – LNG-battery PCTCs
Length: 169 m
Beam: 28 m
Cargo capacity: 3,600 CEU
Cargo decks: 10 (including two hoistable)
Cargo loading: 160-tonne quarter ramp; 20-tonne side ramp