Shipping steers new course

Paul Greaves, Rolls-Royce Head of Marine Research and Technology, outlines the challenges posed to the global maritime industry by rising fuel costs and the introduction of emissions legislation. Here he describes  the  role technology can play in meeting these challenges and talks specifically about how Rolls-Royce has combined new technology to substantially reduce fuel consumption and emissions in its award winning Environship.

Shipping is the most efficient way of transporting goods, both for cost and global emissions. It's the 'good guy' of freight forwarding.

Despite this, there is a growing appetite among shipping businesses worldwide for new technologies that will make vessels more competitive and less polluting. Why? Because, with a staggering 90 per cent of the world's traded product moving by sea, the industry's cumulative volume of emissions still weigh in heavily.

In fact shipping is responsible for emitting more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, a figure that outstrips the total CO2 emissions of Germany. Shipping's annual percentage share of global emissions stands at three per cent, compared to two per cent for aviation, a sector often under the spotlight for its contribution to climate change.

And shipping's heavy dependence on high sulphur content diesel creates other pollutants too. Estimates suggest shipping emits 700 times more sulphur dioxide than road vehicles.

Internal and external drivers

Much of the momentum to improve the environmental performance of shipping comes from the industry itself. Not least because operators can benefit from cuts in the spiralling costs of fuel by introducing more efficient vessels to their fleet.

But there are other important influencers. Governments are increasingly introducing emission limits, either applying them to national waters, or to shipping regions through pan-national bodies such as the EU. The biggest change will shortly come from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which has agreed additional controls on both ship design and emission levels for fleet operators.

Commercial pressures are also forcing merchant shipping companies to focus greater attention on environmental performance, especially as an increasing number of clients seek to gain better green travel credentials for the products they trade around the world.

Together these private and public sector drivers are creating a pincer movement on the marine industry. The result is a burgeoning agenda of challenges and opportunities for leading marine engineering specialists such as Rolls-Royce. Demand is on for them to bring innovative products to market that will keep shipping both environmentally and economically in the fast lane.

Expertise to the fore

"We are producing whole-vessel solutions as well as offering clients retro-fits that give quick payback," says Paul Greaves, Rolls-Royce Head of Marine Research and Technology.

"For example, Norway has a rigorous measure in place for reducing nitrous oxides through taxation. It also has plentiful natural gas supplies. So our Environship short-sea cargo vessel, with its gas-powered lean-burn engine, is the perfect choice."

A Rolls-Royce Environship is an entire drawing-board-to-shipyard package that exploits the same engineering expertise used to create ships for the offshore oil and gas industries, where seas are notoriously unforgiving and treacherous.

Along with the gas engine, the vessel combines three ground-breaking technologies:  hydrodynamic hull design; a high efficiency integrated rudder and propeller system; and a hybrid shaft generator to produce more efficient on-board electricity.

Compared to similar sized diesel-powered vessels, an Environship slashes nitrous oxide emissions by 90 per cent and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40 per cent, while only producing minimal traces of sulphur dioxides.

The first three Environships are already being built in the Far East to detailed Rolls-Royce specifications. All will operate in Norwegian waters but, with other countries and regions, including the Mediterranean, also considering introducing emission control areas, there are broader potential markets for this cutting-edge craft.

"A short-sea cargo vessel may see twenty to thirty years' service, so ship operators need to think ahead when commissioning new ships," adds Paul. "It's not the legislative landscape today that matters, but what the legal requirement may be during the ship's lifetime."

Meeting the maritime mandate

And a major international agreement is about to turn up the heat on seagoing energy efficiency.

The IMO's new regulations are the first worldwide, legally-binding agreements of any industry aimed at curbing carbon emissions. From January 2013, all vessels above 400 gross tonnes will need a Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP), while the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) will be applied to the design of a range of new craft that will steadily increase to include the majority of vessel types.

Ships built between 2015 and 2019 will have to rate 10 per cent higher for energy efficiency than present vessels. For ships built between 2020 and 2024 the rating will increase to 20 per cent, while for those built after 2024 an energy efficiency improvement of 30 per cent will be necessary.

The aim is that both programmes will help the industry cut yearly carbon emissions by more than 150mn tonnes by 2020. By 2030 experts predict this figure could more than double, while average annual fuel cost savings for the world shipping fleet could top $200bn.

Get with the retro-fit

For operators with vessels that may have years of service left, how can they comply with these demands?

One possible option is 'slow-steaming'. As the terms suggests, it means sailing at reduced speeds, gaining savings in both fuel costs and carbon emissions. The trend for slow steaming has gained favour during the economic slowdown, but industry observers believe operators will abandon the practice once markets recover.

A more realistic answer lies in gaining efficiency and environmental benefits by retro-fitting selected technologies.

Again Rolls-Royce has smartly tailored its products to meet demand. Proving especially successful is the company's adapted version of the Environship's integrated propeller and rudder system, known as Promas Lite. It's relatively quick to install during dry-dock and, depending on the characteristics of the vessel, efficiencies range from five to 15 per cent. So far every Promas Lite installed has achieved payback within two years.

The ever-shifting target

This all sounds like great news but, as ever, it's just the tip of the climate change iceberg. Unless there is some deep economic rupture, or a cataclysmic natural event, the volume of sea transport seems set to grow, and inevitably so will emissions.  

The main impact period of IMO's regulations, when fleet operators will replace old ships with new EEDI complaint models, is expected from 2030 to 2050. Yet experts predict that while this will restrain the industry's greenhouse gases, it will fail to secure a net reduction.

This means the quest for new technologies and marine engineering solutions is unceasing.

What's next for maritime technology?

"There are several emerging technologies with the potential for further development, but the right commercial drivers need to be in place," says Paul. "Renewables like solar panels have yet to 'buy their way' onto ships because of cost and an absence of incentives.

"Having said that, companies like B9 Shipping are looking at adapting traditional  technologies to suit the modern age. They're spearheading the idea of using automated sails to power cargo vessels which would be supplemented with Rolls-Royce gas engines in calm conditions . And Enercon has updated the Flettner rotor concept, first developed in the 1920s, using tall chimney-like vertical spinning rotors to gain aerodynamic lift from windpower.

"Advances in high-temperature superconducting technology for propulsion motors may offer another area of potential development," adds Paul. "They transmit greater electrical current with minimal resistance, so they are not only efficient, the motors themselves can be smaller and lighter as there is not such a volume of wire needed."

And in one of the most promising emerging developments, Rolls-Royce is coordinating an EU funded €10mn multi-partnership project called STREAMLINE, exploring new concepts in propulsion technology. This includes the LAP concept which is a large diameter propeller placed out behind the stern. Expectations are they can achieve a 15 per cent efficiency saving. If so, it will mark a huge leap forward in maritime technology as previous advances in the propeller alone have only notched up around one per cent improvement every decade.

New horizons

"In many ways it feels like we are embarking on a whole new revolution in shipping design and technology," says Paul.

"Environmental performance is becoming a key driver for choosing new fleet, especially as emission regulations increase, as inevitably they will. This means maritime engineers have to be increasingly creative. For us that's both exciting and demanding.  

"People often think of shipping as a conservative industry resistant to change. But right now the momentum for new marine technology shows the sector has its sights firmly set on innovation."

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