Guus van der Bles: ‘Hydrogen, Batteries and Sails Are the Future of Shipping’

For future shipping, Director Development at ship designer Conoship Guus van der Bles bets on hydrogen whether or not in combination with batteries and sails. At the latest meeting of the Dutch Platform for Clean Shipping on 4 December in Harderwijk, Van der Bles presented a zero-emission concept design of an ocean-going bulk carrier for the Great Lakes, the Conoship 33000 ZE (Zero Emission).

Equipped with ten thirty-metre VentiFoils XL and measuring 220 metres in length, a breadth of 23.75 metres, depth of 14.50 metres and 33,000 deadweight tonnage, this ship should be able to cross the Atlantic with eleven knots in one hundred per cent zero-emission mode. Besides the VentiFoil sails, a development of Conoship and Econowind, this ship would be equipped with batteries and an electric engine driven by hydrogen.

Seventy Per Cent Reduction of GHG Emissions

The presentation of Van der Bles was the most noteworthy and surprising at this meeting on the eve of the upcoming sulphur cap (1 January 2020) imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). And while the battle for sulphur has yet to be settled, shipping is already confronted with the next and still far more difficult challenge of having to contribute in the struggle of pushing back the emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG). This will be discussed at the COP 2025 conference that is held this week in Madrid.

The IMO has already decided that shipping has to reduce the emission of GHG by fifty per cent in 2050. With the growth of the global fleet this means in fact that ships have to reduce their emissions with seventy per cent. Such a reduction is not to be reached with today’s fossil fuels nor with the use of LNG.

LNG Financing to Dry up

LNG does reduce the emission of sulphur oxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particles, but not of carbon dioxide (CO2). LNG is considered as a transition fuel for the shipping industry, but doubts are growing if this is the solution for making shipping really future proof. If the shipowner needs the same amount of emissions rights for LNG-ships as for ships on heavy fuel oil are marine gas oil, what sense does it have to invest in building ships on LNG?

Does it still have sense to invest in building ships on LNG?

One way or the other, shipowners have to hurry up with investing in ships that could sail on LNG as the financing possibilities offered by banks will probably soon dry up. By the end of 2021, the European Investment Bank (EIB) will stop financing maritime projects based on the use of LNG. So the loan of 110 million euros that shipowner Spliethoff signed for at the beginning of this year with ING Bank and the EIB for retrofitting the fleet with scrubbers would probably not be possible anymore in two years’ time. At the end of August, Spliethoff announced it would have seven ships built on LNG for its affiliates WijnneBarends and the Finnish Bore Group.

New Technology Requires Viable Business Case

The meeting of the Dutch Platform for Clean Shipping (Platform Schone Scheepvaart) again provided no clear answers for shipowners. The technology of LNG-driven ships has only yet matured while that of the use of all kinds of alternative fuels like hydrogen, methanol, ethanol and biofuels will still need years of development. How much more they will contribute to the necessary investment in newbuild ships is still absolutely unclear. Batteries, for example, are common technology, but for shipowners very expensive. As long as shipowners are unable to come up with viable business cases where profit is guaranteed, they are not welcome at the banks.

Even EU-officials and politicians still do not know what a real green ship is

But even EU-officials and politicians still do not know what a real green ship is. A high representative of the European Committee invited the attendees at the meeting in Harderwijk to come up with proposals. At least one proposal they can count on will come from Guus van der Bles, to use sails in combination with hydrogen and batteries.

Picture by SWZ|Maritime/Sander Klos.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.