‘New, greener types of ships need a lot more R&D’

The greening of shipping needs much more R&D, not only in finding alternative fuels, but also for the design of completely new ship concepts. In his latest opinion piece, SWZ|Maritime’s editor-in-chief Antoon Oosting argues that for this R&D, a lot more cooperation has to be initiated.

In every issue of SWZ|Maritime, Oosting writes an opinion piece under the heading “Markets” about the maritime industry or a particular sector within it. In the March 2021 issue, he stresses that R&D through cooperation is key to create the ships needed to meet upcoming emission targets.

This cooperation has to be initiated between maritime research institutes, like MARIN or Norwegian SIINTEF Ocean AS, shipowners, ship designers, important suppliers, such as the engine manufacturers and the ones that deliver important support systems for heating, air-conditioning, etc., and last but not least of course the shipyards. Because on their own, most of the shipyards won’t be able to bring about the needed greening of shipping as they lack both the money and knowledge.

Designing the ship of the future

The latter was one of the findings of the interesting webinar “Designing the ship of the future 4” organised by Mare Forum Conferences. The Rotterdam based Mare Forum Conferences are considered by many to be among the most influential global forums for the maritime and shipping industry. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the conferences were held in Europe, North, Central and South America, Asia and the Middle East. Due to the circumstances, the conferences are now replaced by webinars that gain more and more listeners.

The webinar mentioned took place on the 4th March and was moderated by Nick Brown, the Communications Manager of Bureau Veritas. Participants were Kevin Humphreys, General Manager Market Innovation at Wärtsilä, John-Kaare Aune, CEO of Wallem Ship Management, headquartered in Hong Kong, Ali Shehab Ahmad, former CEO of Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC), John Kokarakis, Technical Director Technology & Business Development of Bureau Veritas, Martin Dorsman, Secretary General of the European Community of Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), Michael de Visser, Managing Director NIBC Bank, and Elizabeth Lindstad, Chief Scientist of SINTEF Ocean AS, the Norwegian counterpart of Dutch maritime research institute MARIN.

Existing ships indexed

This fourth edition of the “Designing the ship of the future” series that started only last autumn, was dominated by the IMO measures launched in late November to cut the carbon intensity of existing ships. According to the IMO, the introduction of an Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for existing ships (EEXI) and a new operational carbon intensity indicator (CII) marks a major step forward, building on current mandatory energy efficiency requirements to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.

By Hans de Wilde.

The EEXI will be applied to all vessels above 400 GT. Guidelines on calculations, surveys and verification of the EEXI will follow and be finalised at MEPC 76, that will be held later this year. The new EEXI and CII for existing ships are based on the EEDI for newbuild ships. The EEDI ensures ships are built and designed to be more energy efficient than the baseline.

But as a new ship can be designed from scratch to the latest insights and state-of-the art technology, the consequences for existing ships could be far more radical. The proposals, that will have to be enforced later this year, are meant for all ships of 5000 gross tonnage and above and are set to determine their required annual operational CII. With this CII, the ship will be given an operational carbon intensity rating of A, B, C, D or E – indicating a major superior, minor superior, moderate, minor inferior, or inferior performance level.

The shipowner of a ship rated D for three consecutive years, or E, will have to submit a corrective action plan

The performance level will be recorded in the ship’s Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP). The shipowner of a ship rated D for three consecutive years, or E, will have to submit a corrective action plan, to show how the required index (C or above) will be achieved. That means an often costly retrofitting or when not economically viable anymore, sending the ship to the scrapyard.

Longer, more slender ships

The Norwegian maritime scientist Lindstad foresees that the enforcement of the EEXI in 2023 will speed up the need for new, greener ships that produce less carbon emissions. According to Lindstad, these ships will look different than conventional ones.

First and foremost, they will have better, slender hull forms that will make the ships longer while keeping the deadweight the same. A more slender hull form is the most important factor for reducing fuel consumption. But with more longer ships, ports and terminals will also have to change their tariffs policy that is now often based on the principle of the longer the ship, the more quay length you use, the more you pay. But it can’t be of course that greener ships will be punished for being longer.

A more slender hull form is the most important factor for reducing fuel consumption

By the way, a range of ports, including the Port of Rotterdam, already reward greener ships with reduced port tariffs.

Humphreys, Innovation Manager at Wärtsilä, notes that with existing technology, it is already possible to build ships that produce fifty per cent less carbon emissions today. Humphreys distinguishes four aspects to consider. First, he also points to the hull form. With a better hull form and more modern, adjustable ship propellers and rudders, a bulker or tanker can already save six to eight per cent compared to its older conventional competitors. ‘We are still getting a lot of cookie-cutting hulls out of the yards that provide too little fuel efficiency.’

Secondly, he mentions wind assisted ship propulsion with Flettner rotors or other types of modern sails. He sees this technology quickly maturing in effectiveness while the costs become lower.

It is already possible to build ships that produce fifty per cent less carbon emissions today

More flexibility in power

For the propulsion system itself, the speciality of Wärtsilä itself, he sees a development towards much more flexibility in power management. The main engine and auxiliaries will need to operate more often in a full range from zero to 100 per cent at for example 13, 14 knots. The power from the wind often strongly varies and the main engines have to be able to adjust to this. Humphreys expects that these new highly flexible power systems will soon become cheaper.

His fourth consideration is the development of main engines that can burn on more different alternative fuels like methanol, ammonia, hydrogen and LNG. The latter will, according to the Wärtsilä manager, still be an important source of energy for some time to come.

A ship built with the technology mentioned can be lighter with less installed power and therefore also burns less fuel and produces around fifty per cent less carbon dioxide. Replacing LNG in the future by carbon-neutral or zero-emission fuels can also make these ships completely emission free. As such, they would be sustainable not only for 2030, but with zero-emission also still acceptable in 2050 when ships should have lowered their emissions still further than fifty per cent.

Too little expertise

As a shipowner, the former CEO of KOTC Shehab Ahmad has quite a lot of experience with trying to make its fleet of very large crude carriers and product tankers more energy efficient. They installed several types of technical devices on the propellor, rudder and hull and wanted to install heat waste recovery systems. All together, it delivered some percentage of fuel savings, but the breakthrough should have come from newbuildings.

But when ordering new ships, the ship manager collided again and again with the shipyards that were unable to fulfil the wishes of the shipowner. ‘We faced numerous challenges with the shipyards about the design of the ships. There isn’t much R&D done there. I think that due to the economic downturn in shipbuilding in the last decade, a lot of talented engineers left and with that also a lot of expertise has been lost,’ says Shehab Ahmad.

He sees the interests of the shipowner and shipyard colliding where a yard wants to reach production targets while the shipowner wants foremost a fuel saving ship

He sees the interests of the shipowner and shipyard colliding where a yard wants to reach production targets while the shipowner wants foremost a fuel saving ship. ‘We as a shipowner need a proven design so that our investments serve our purposes. And we had to bend a few times on the matter of innovations we wanted,’ says the Kuwaiti ship manager.

More funding for R&D

According to the former KOTC-CEO, the shipyards don’t have the budgets for the R&D that is needed to build the ships required for more sustainable shipping in the near future. And as the shipyards can’t deliver, the R&D should come from elsewhere, for example the maritime research centres in Europe. He would like to see that these centres, like MARIN, get enough funding to do the useful studies that shipowners now need to order the new, greener ships.

The shipyards don’t have the budgets for the R&D needed to build more sustainable ships

‘It’s all about funding to be able to create a lot of beautiful solutions.’ A plea that could only be strongly supported by Lindstad, who would like to see that the big maritime research institutes in Europe unite to convince the European Commission to invest more in R&D for shipping.

On his part, Wärtsilä’s Humphreys also pleads for more cooperation and says banks should better manage the economical, technical and environmental risks of new technologies as greener ships are more sustainable, but of course they also have to be economically viable. De Visser, Managing Director at NIBC bank takes a positive view towards the actual developments: ‘Our role is that of driver of innovation.’

Also read: ‘The research is there, but who will invest in zero-emissions ships?’

Author: Mariska Buitendijk