Decarbonising Shipping with Green Tech

Apr 20, 2023, 21:30 by User Not Found
Innovation will be key as the maritime industry steers towards a low-carbon future. Here’s a look at 3 green technologies that are making waves.

Around 90 per cent of the world’s goods are transported by ships, which generates nearly 3 per cent of global carbon emissions. With global maritime trade expected to triple by 2050, pressure is on from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to halve emissions compared to 2008 levels by then, and shift to a zero-carbon system within the next three decades.

According to a study by the University Maritime Advisory Services and the Energy Transitions Commission published in 2020, $1.9 trillion in investment will be needed with 87% channelled into land-based storage, bunkering infrastructure and low carbon fuel production facilities. The rest of the funds will go towards upgrading the ships themselves, such as with new machinery to run on cleaner fuel types.

Nonetheless, the targets by the IMO have driven vessel owners to embrace innovation to reduce their carbon footprints. This will be one of the hot topics discussed at the Singapore Maritime Week (SMW) 2023.

The SMW Leaders' Perspectives panel discussion on Day 1 will discuss, among other subjects, how companies are adapting and how the industry can collaborate to achieve net-zero. This will be followed by the MarineTech Conference from Day 2, which under the Decarbonisation and Green Technologies track, will discuss low-carbon fuels, electric propulsion technology and digitalisation as ways to decarbonise.

In the lead up to SMW, we take a look at three green technologies that can potentially contribute to creating the green ship of the future.

Electric propulsion

Conventional marine propulsion systems involve the burning of heavy oils, which while efficient, still requires high operating costs and increases marine pollution. By switching to a completely electric system, harmful substances including hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides can be prevented from being released into the atmosphere.

Singapore shipbuilder Lita Ocean, in collaboration with the Goal Zero Consortium, for instance, is building a fully electric supply boat. The Hydromover is propelled by two fully electric azimuth thrusters that draw energy from batteries. With far fewer moving parts, its propulsion system has a less complicated maintenance regime than traditional vessels. When coupled with other innovations such as a smart bridge and operational planning, it is expected to achieve 25 to 50 per cent operational costs savings.

The firm has also built a fully electric passenger boat, Sunshine, which taps power from lithium ion batteries that are charged by solar panels installed on the vessel’s roof.

“The positive impact of an electric vessel to the environment is felt almost immediately through cleaner air quality,” said Lita Ocean Managing Director Yeo Yingda.

Rotor sails

They look like industrial smokestacks but rotor sails disrupt the sea breeze to create a difference in air pressure that thrusts the boat forward, reducing the amount of work required from the engine. This is one of the ways shipping start-ups like Norsepower are bringing wind energy back to the maritime industry.

Norsepower has inked a deal with world’s biggest charterer of bulk vessels BHP to install a rotor sail on the deck of the MV Koryu, which regularly carries BHP’s Chilean copper to customers in Japan. Currently on a one-year trial, the rotor sail, if adopted, could propel the vessel across the Pacific Ocean for the next 15 to 20 years.

BHP’s vice president of maritime and supply chain excellence Rashpal Bhatti told the Financial Review that it is expected to reduce emissions by at least six to eight per cent. He added that MV Koryu can consume up to 30 tonnes of fuel a day which currently costs $US800 a tonne.

“You can do the math on that; 365 days a year times 15 to 20 years and you take an 8 per cent reduction in (fuel) diet, you’re talking about many millions of dollars of savings,” he said.

Sustainable biofuels

Biofuels are picking up in popularity as a way to lower greenhouse emissions as they can be blended into existing fuels and fleets. They include liquefied natural gas, methanol, hydrogen and ammonia.

But there are still unanswered questions about the quality, quantity and emissions abatement of biofuels, according to the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD), after interviewing over 100 industry stakeholders.

Hence GCMD is running trials with five biofuel supply chains, which are traced from fuel production to consumption. It aims to establish a framework that would ensure transparency and integrity of the end-to-end biofuel supply chains. So far two of the supply chain trials have been completed.

Said Dr Sanjay Kuttan, Chief Technology Officer of GCMD: “In developing a framework to provide transparency and bolster the integrity of the biofuels supply chain, we hope to increase user confidence and decrease the barrier for wider adoption.”

Over at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), research is also being done on the potential of alternative energy sources for next-generation ports, harbour crafts and prime movers. NTU’s Maritime Energy and Sustainable Development Centre of Excellence (MESD) is, for instance, studying the safety protocols and possible gaps in the supply chain of ammonia as a marine fuel, specifically bunkering for marine vessels.

In October last year, it received another five-year funding of $12 million from the Singapore Maritime Institute for its decarbonisation research and development projects, which will include trials on alternative bunker fuels and energy sources, as well as associated adoption pathways.

“MESD will continue to work closely with the national and international community with a clearer focus on alternative energy, emission management and sustainable maritime operation to aid the transition into a low-carbon future,” said MESD Centre Director Associate Professor Jasmine Lam.

The Singapore Maritime Week, an annual gathering of the international maritime community to advance key industry issues and exchange ideas to bring the sector forward, will be held from 24 to 28 April 2023.

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