Its obituary has been written repeatedly of late but the current power part of a ship is not going to disappear anytime soon, writes Marc Sima, the CEO and president of FUELSAVE.
The writing is on the wall for shipping. By 2030 the IMO has committed the industry to a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions per transport work, as an average across international shipping, pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels of emissions. Recently, both the European Parliament and European Commission have brought shipping into their emissions targets.
From a market perspective, there are growing calls from consumers and wider stakeholders to reduce the impact of maritime transport on the environment. Corporations are leading the charge with Unilever announcing new measures to ensure net zero emissions from all its products by 2039 with profound consequences for shipping.
The industry can’t afford to wait for the present fleet to reach the end of its life, or just concentrate on building a new highly efficient fleet when faced with such immediate targets. Short term measures to address emissions reductions from the current fleet are crucial for the shipping industry’s journey to full decarbonisation.
To achieve the targets set by IMO and EU, among others, will require a combination of design and technical measures, operational measures and rapid innovation in alternative propulsion systems plus the introduction – and agreement on – viable alternatives to carbon-based fuels – for usage in internal combustion engines (ICEs).
“Unless something completely unexpected turns up, ICEs will be around for many years,” noted classification society DNV GL. It makes sense therefore, with IMO 2030 looming large on the horizon and alternative marine power sources decades away, for the shipping industry to not overlook established solutions such as ICEs. When used in combination with clean drop-in fuel alternatives, they could prove invaluable. DNV GL’s views are backed up by new academic research, including the University of Manchester’s study Shipping and the Paris climate agreement: a focus on committed emissions which highlights the potential benefits of using the existing fleet as a vehicle to achieve decarbonisation targets, as opposed to delaying until new more sustainable ships come online.
Economic viability essential
While the technical feasibility of burning clean fuels such as biodiesel, biomethane, and synthetic natural gas in ICEs is important, we must not lose sight of the fact that only economically viable solutions will drive sustainable change. ICEs can compete if appropriate low-carbon fuels can be reliably procured – at the right time and the right price. However, this task becomes more challenging with the drop-in oil prices, which has made the clean fuel transition more expensive, relative to the price of fossil fuels.
One way of countering these challenges and making clean fuels more competitive is through the use of advanced combustion conditioning, which tackles inefficiencies in the combustion process to drive cost savings and emissions optimisation, including Co2 and Co2-e, for asset owners and charterers, all while reducing engine wear and tear.
This is possible thanks to the technology’s ability to facilitate a leaner and cleaner combustion with an increase in thermal and volumetric efficiency of an engine. The solution also allows some of the dirty and/ or expensive primary fuel to be substituted with a cheap and clean burning alcohol distillate, delivering real net costs savings and fuel economies.
Action and tangible progress needed
While investment into decarbonising future technologies is vital, shipping must adopt a balanced approach. We must make considerable progress in the short-term, and it would not be prudent for shipping to overlook the simplicity and capability of the internal combustion engine.