Decarbonisation – whose risk is it?

Di Gilpin from the Smart Green Shipping Alliance discusses the brick wall she and other green tech entrepreneurs face when trying to raise capital.

“This is brilliant,” they say, “but we can’t fund it because it’s really not our problem.”

Last year, working across the whole shipping eco-system – with naval architects, shipowners, operators, ports, crews, cargo-owners, class, insurance, policy, engineers, manufacturers, academics, meteorologists, accountants, lawyers we progressed our wingsail solution. We showed we can save 20% fuel, and GHGs, annually, on average on a typical route, within usual operating speeds when installed on a panamax. By working together, we co-created a practical, retractable, robust, recyclable, affordable, deliverable fully-automated wind-assist technology that can deliver one-fifth fuel – and GHG – savings on suitable existing vessels within 24 months.

Shipowners won’t do it because they’re unwilling to put their capital at risk and they don’t want to be first movers

We used 21st century design techniques, proven to have high degree of real-world accuracy.

We benefitted from a small £70,000 grant and the amazing team I have the honour of working with stretched the value from that homeopathic amount of funding to achieve remarkable results.

Since the project concluded I’ve relentlessly pursued funding for the next stage – to launch a full scale retrofitted Demonstrator. But no one owns the risk or responsibility for addressing GHG emissions reductions. Although everyone says they want emissions to fall.

Shipowners won’t do it because they’re unwilling to put their capital at risk and they don’t want to be first movers – so they point me to the cargo owners saying it’s their responsibility.

The cargo owners say, “Shipping is not our business; we’ll buy green shipping, create the demand, but it’s not for us to invest in innovation in another industry.”

We talk to ship financiers who say that because they can’t subjugate their senior debt, they are only able to fund ‘proven’ technology.

We talk to private equity and venture capitalists who say that shipping finance is a bit of ‘dark art’ and they aren’t prepared to go there.

The market is so fragmented, disjointed and broken that no one entity or individual is empowered to take the risk

National governments haven’t been able to support maritime projects because shipping is ‘an international problem’ and they think, “If it’s so good why doesn’t industry support it?”, and they want to see in-sector support.

IMO can’t implement stringent near-term policy that would drive GHG (and fuel) savings because, well… it’s complicated.

Everyone’s been really lovely, super-supportive. The problem is that, within the existing risk-assessment system, everyone is behaving completely rationally in their own silos.

But the recent publication of the 4th IMO GHG study underlined the importance of urgently reassessing that hierarchy of risk. The greatest risk to us all, both commercially and as citizens, comes from climate change. That new evidence shows emissions from shipping rising 10% from 2012 to 2018. Most alarming were the increases in short-lived climate super-pollutants – a 12% increase in black carbon and a 150% increase in methane emissions. Methane traps 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than the same amount of CO2 over a 20-year time period.

That growth in methane emissions from 2012 to 2018 was largely due to a surge in the number of ships fuelled by liquefied natural gas (LNG).

And if that’s not worrying enough improvements in fuel efficiency have slowed since 2015, with annual improvements of only 1% to 2%.

So, let me get this right. We can evidence the very real potential for 20% improvement in fuel efficiency – and save 20% GHG emissions, as well as reducing wear and tear on engines – all from affordable wind devices that can be fitted on existing vessels – but no one can fund them. Yet funding is readily available to build new ships that do more climate damage than existing ones. This seems both illogical and irrational.

Now, it’s quite possible that our team isn’t impressive enough, but this experience isn’t exclusive to us. Talk to any game-changing tech provider and they will share similar stories.

There is a plethora of technology available to address this emissions challenge – to flatten the curve – but the market is so fragmented, disjointed and broken that no one entity or individual is empowered to take the risk.

It may all seem a bit hopeless. But there is rational, immediate option. The eye-watering risks arising from climate change are for us all to tackle and through all of us working together there is a way possible way forward.

Our team has unshakeable commitment borne out of our purpose – we’re acting right now as if the climate emergency will damage us all (because it will) and we know exactly what we need to achieve. It is these soft attributes that pave the successful way ahead.

The investment levels required to launch a retrofit Demonstrator are paltry, particularly when compared to the development of new vessels. So we are convening a collaboration of pioneers – A Fellowship of the Willing – all of whom have the courage to step up to address the climate challenge right now in pragmatic and ingenious new ways, to give a little bit and to share the risks – one of which is that we might just make a shipload of money.


  1. I am interested in your intiative. I’m a 2nd Engineer onboard a vessel. How much power will your retrofit produce. I think it will be useful onboard if it will produce around 100-150KW because it can directly be connected to emergency bus bar and power the emergency switchboard. These days, ships are running on eco-speed with ME Auxiliary Blower thus consuming additional power which sometimes 1 Generator Engine cannot carry all the Load. In this case we sometimes run 2 Generator Engine. But if your retrofit can produce enough power for Emerency switch board then the ship wont need to start another generator during eco-speed. This is just my general explanation on this scenario. There are still a lot of points to discuss….

  2. I just wrote a blog post of my own on something similar. Di Gilpins case above is about a demonstration project, but I asked if industry, now that it’s starting to apply for R&D funding to deal with decarbonisation, can get used to the process of constant rejections.

    Anyway, Di Gilpin raises a really good point here, about the role national governments need to take. And actually more than that – the industry in each nation needs to work with national research institutes/universities and prioritise national R&D in their lobbying efforts. My experience is that the division between emissions from domestic/international shipping has made it difficult for the industry to get a seat at the table when state funding for R&D, investement support etc. is being divided. EU governments are now setting up investment support programmes for GHG innovation for industry that are in the ETS, that can also work as national co-funding for EU funds. This won’t happen for shipping by itself?

    The situation in Sweden is greatly improving since 10 years back. Funding has been slowly ramping up. The question people have been asking is of course if the sector (academia+industry) can actually absorb the increased funding… How many people in industry are used to establishing and getting funding for R&D projects? How many academic researchers are used to navigating the EU framework for state aid for R&D, and on which kind of activities may produce a risk of unauthorized state aid? How can we all get along?

    Here’s my take based on a recent venture that is R&D but also validation in practice (with shipowners). We failed four times before getting approved.

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