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Will embracing green technology help sustainability in the shipping world?


What role will technology play in greening the world shipping? Photograph: John Calambokidis/AP


Powered by article titled “Will embracing green technology help sustainability in the shipping world?” was written by Oliver Balch, for on Friday 27th September 2013 08.00 UTC

In many ways, the fateful episode of the Costa Concordia provides a metaphor for the international shipping industry as a whole. Its image is hardly the best. Huge tankers plying the sea, belching noxious gases into the air from low-grade crude and pumping out invasive species when emptying their ballast-water tanks on shore. Oh, and a catastrophic oil spill every now and then.

Yet the shipping industry, which carries around 90% of all world trade, is pursuing its own re-balancing story too. The last 15 years have seen a drop in oil spills (despite a massive increase in oil cargos), a general reduction in harmful gases such as nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, and an uptake in fuel efficient ship design. That said, the search for perfect equilibrium continues. Shipping is today responsible for around 2.7% of all man-made greenhouse carbon emissions – a figure the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the industry’s UN-backed standard setter, would like to see reduced by 20% come 2020 and 50% by 2050.

It is within this context that some of shipping’s leading players have been beavering away together over the last 18 months. The mandate of the cross-industry Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), which includes members such as Maersk Line, Lloyd’s Register, Cargill, DNV, Unilever and Wärtsilä, is to “contribute to – and thrive – in a sustainable future”. The initial output of their efforts appears in a progress report published yesterday. The report coincided with an industry-wide get-together in Singapore, attended by everyone from ship-owners and charterers to shipbuilders and marine financiers.

Flying the flag for green tech

An overriding message from the report, entitled A case for more action, is the role that technology will play in greening the world of shipping. The clearest example centres on energy efficiency, one of the central themes on SSI’s agenda. Leading ship owners are already seeing gains through waste heat recovery systems, for example, which use captured heat and pressure in the exhaust gas to drive on-board electrical generators. The addition of advanced pumps and valves, as well as scrubber technology on the exhaust, is also shown to cut energy and fuel use.

Maersk Line is one of those putting technological innovation at the heart of its energy efficiency strategy. The container ship division of Denmark-based Maersk Group, which last year hit its 25% CO2 reduction target way ahead of its 2020 deadline, is planning to introduce 20 Triple-E ships into its fleet. The 400 metre-long container vessels, which are equipped with dual, state-of-the-art 32MW two-stroke diesel engines, use a strategy known as “slow steaming” (namely, travelling at under 18 knots).

“The Triple-E ships will take the industry in a new and more environmentally conscious direction, emitting 20% less carbon dioxide per container moved compared to the most energy efficient container vessel operating today”, says Thomas Riber Knudsen, chief executive of Maersk Line’s Asia-Pacific operations.

Where SSI differs from existing approaches is in its belief in cooperation. The full potential of the latest technology will only be realised through industry collaboration, says SSI director, Helle Gleie. Going it alone will only ever get the industry so far. And that’s not far enough.

The report cites the case of testing. Too often, cutting edge technologies stall because of the risks associated with taking them from computer or tank testing to in-service sea testing. Access to finance is just the same. Startup companies with innovative ideas lack the cash to fully develop them. Overcoming such hurdles requires the industry as a whole to work together, says Gleie.

SSI provides several illustrations of what such cooperation might look like. On the question of financing side, for example, the group has launched a green investment mechanism called Save as you sail. Developed with the support of Dutch bank ABN Amro, the tool allows ship owners and charterers to identify estimated fuel cost savings and return on investment associated with green retrofits. This information can then be used to set charter hire rates, as well as for a short-term loans to cover the upfront costs of green upgrades.

The starkest example of where industry collaboration is required is that of closed-loop materials management. What materials go into ship-building and what happens to those materials afterwards touches on the industry’s entire value chain. To connect the various dots, SSI has worked with technology firm Hewlett Packard to develop an online database to track and trace these materials. The approach has yet to be tried at scale, although early pilots on two new vessels and a cruise ship cabin succeeded in capturing 96% of the materials used (by weight).


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