Shipping is racing to comply with stringent emissions regulations and targets. Faced with multiple ‘fuels of the future’ and the associated spectre of stranded assets, the industry is overlooking a sustainable solution that should, quite literally, blow them away, says Diane Gilpin, CEO of Smart Green Shipping.
While working assiduously to cut GHG tank-to-propeller emissions from ships by an average of 40% by 2030, relative to 2008 levels, shipping is in a quandary. Despite the impending deadline, the industry has yet to settle on preferred sources of energy to replace HFO and operational decisions, like slow steaming and leveraging predictive maintenance, are not sufficient for shipping to meet the goal.
Methanol and LNG appear to be nosing ahead, at least on the orderbook for new build containerships, but hydrogen, ammonia and other alternative fuels are still being evaluated. This continued uncertainty is not only stymieing investment in building the new bunkering infrastructure required to store such fuels, but also leaves shipowners exposed to the risk of stranded assets should they back the ‘wrong’ fuel and inadvertently shorten the life of their vessels.
Battery-hybrid propulsion offers a tantalising glimpse into the green future of vessels conducting relatively short voyages and/or operating on fixed routes, for example tugs, offshore support vessels and ferries. However, transoceanic shipping, the backbone of globalised trade, requires a different approach due to the size, weight and charging requirements of current battery technology.
The quest to identify a practical, affordable and green solution for such vessels frequently overlooks an abundant, free, and carbon neutral energy source that propelled maritime trade long before the advent of steam and combustion engines. Wind, as part of a hybrid solution, is capable of rapidly reducing emissions from ships, dramatically cutting operating costs and can be used to augment conventional and any alternative propulsion systems.
Recognising this, Smart Green Shipping (SGS) partnered with naval architects, marine engineers, academics, vessel owners and operators to develop the Future Automated Sail Technology (FastRig). Incorporating knowledge from other renewable energy solutions, FastRig is a rigid wing sail. It can be used in conjunction with any other fuel or equipment for the entire lifetime of the ship and has been designed for easy retrofitting onto existing vessels with available deck space, for example bulkers and tankers. An independent study commissioned by the UK’s Department for Transport estimated that over 40,000 vessels, or approximately two-thirds of the global commercial fleet, are suitable for installation of such technology.
Modern rigid wing sails are low maintenance and can be made from recyclable materials to optimise resource usage. When installed as a component of an intelligent automated system, such sails can deploy and respond to prevailing meteorological conditions without human intervention. In addition, they require no additional crew and minimal training to operate them.
FastRig, for example, is also retractable so that the sails lay flush with the deck and do not create drag during periods of calm or endanger vessel safety during heavy weather. Importantly, this feature also obviates the need to redesign port-side infrastructure as standard loading and unloading processes are not impeded.
Harnessing wind power to provide direct thrust, rigid sail technology reduces fuel consumption. From an operations perspective this reduces cost, bunkering frequency and dependency on unpredictable commodity markets – all key considerations for shipowners. From an environmental perspective it reduces a vessel’s annual GHG emissions by a minimum of 20%, which can be increased further when paired with SGS’s sophisticated software solutions that factor wind optimisation into route planning.
Wind-assist technology can therefore improve a shipping company’s fiscal outlook as well as fast-tracking its transition to greener operations but, as with any disruptor technology, there are concerns about being a first mover. To assuage the market SGS has implemented a strategy to de-risk procurement. In June 2023, comprehensive proof-of-concept and safety tests will commence ashore to validate computer modelling, evaluate and optimise FastRig’s real world performance. Upon test completion in 2024, the technology will be retrofitted on a vessel for extensive sea trials before being brought to market at scale during 2025.
Switching from HFO to low-carbon alternatives and improving energy efficiency will reduce shipping’s impact on the climate, cut emissions of particulate matter that is harmful to humans and bolster shippings’ bottomline. In view of the overarching climate emergency and the compressed implementation timeline shipping is working to, the adoption of smart wind-assist technology, at scale, should be at the forefront of shipowners minds as they ponder the optimum fuel mix of the future.
Pairing a source of clean renewable energy with 21st century technological know-how offers an opportunity which, if grasped, will enable shipping to affordably reduce fuel consumption and related emissions in the very short term. Installing wind-related technology, as part of a hybrid solution, will also future-proof vessels against ever tougher emissions regulations as wind, a GHG neutral energy source, will ALWAYS be compliant. Drawing on one of nature’s most powerful forces could be just the breath of fresh air global shipping is searching for.
The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
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