How ship technology is becoming more sustainable

Last November, a zero-emissions autonomous ship developed by a Norwegian company set sail on its maiden voyage through the inlet of the Oslovjord. After a successful voyage to Oslo, Norway, the ship is now undergoing a two-year trial with one goal: to become the first fully electric, crewless container ship of its kind, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions and improving safety conditions. revolutionizing the world of charging technology. As independent and sustainable shipping efforts continue, a new question arises for leaders: Are these efforts really necessary for the shipping industry?

Last year, amid an unprecedented rise in e-commerce, global companies mobilized more than 5,400 container ships across the world’s oceans. The deadweight likely exceeded 2 billion tons. This metric shows the degree to which the maritime industry bears the burden of global supply chains. Any sustainable improvements or improvements to these fleets, technologies and logistics will have major impacts, bringing shipping companies more aligned with their zero-carbon initiatives.

The 2020 IMO report showed that the marine industry’s contributions to human-caused emissions increased from 2.76% in 2012 to 2.89% in 2018. However, newly improved marine technologies, from autonomous ships to green fuels, are being developed on a larger scale. . Adopted to reduce environmental damage.

Autonomous technologies can help avoid collisions, reducing the potential for spills.

In the midst of these crowded seas, ship collisions can occur. From an environmental perspective, the devastation is often more severe when oil tankers are involved in these accidents. In many cases, collisions can be due to a lack of crew or proper training. Up to 75%-96% of marine accidents are attributable to human error, at a total cost of $1.6 billion over just five years.

In 2021, the IMO completed a four-year scoping process aimed at determining how to integrate the “safe, secure and environmentally sound” operation of autonomous vessels into its regulatory framework. The International Maritime Organization has defined a number of basic requirements, such as defining the functional and operational requirements for remote control stations. Once all critical infrastructure and policies are in place, it will enable the use of autonomous technologies that can help in important areas, such as collision avoidance and reducing fuel and debris spills. Computer vision or camera, GPS, radar and ship traffic data are very important tools in collision avoidance.

Naval experts note that grounding and collisions often result from insufficient awareness of the situation. Many already welcome “cobot” technologies that help monitor hazards and keep safe distances. By utilizing the concept of ‘geo-fence’, autonomous technologies can also help ships avoid particularly sensitive or restricted environmental areas.

Autonomous vessels are more navigationally efficient, which means less fuel waste.

When ships are better equipped to monitor their surroundings, independently adjusting their movement and speed as needed, this not only helps avoid collision. It also helps them get from point A to point B with little time or waste of fuel.

There is a normal human lag between a ship’s slight deviation from its course and the time its crews are noticed and corrected. These course corrections are often dramatic. On the other hand, autonomous and automated navigation technologies can detect subtle changes and respond with well-calculated adjustments. This means that fewer crew members are needed.

By reducing the size of crews, the industry could also reduce the onboard infrastructure and supplies needed to support them. This could make these ships more lightweight, enabling them to reach their destinations faster and with less fuel. Alternatively, some of this space can be redirected for other purposes so that more cargo can be accommodated in one flight.

Innovators must weigh the pros and cons, in green fuels and beyond.

In most areas of innovation, especially at the global level, nothing is perfect. If you pull the string, things may start to fall apart, but then you can craft something completely new and more flexible. Green Shipping Fuel illustrates this idea.

Green methanol, ammonia, hydrogen and nuclear are all competitors for the fuels of the future, but improvements are still needed. Part of the problem is that these ships require large and consistent amounts of power, which means that the fuel in question must be affordable and available at a scale that makes them viable. Biofuels can be blended with conventional fuels, but they are not always offered against price and availability ratings. Another possibility is liquefied natural gas (LNG), which emits less carbon dioxide than conventional petroleum-based shipping fuels. It’s still a fossil fuel, which is why EY Global Shipping Leader Claus V. Jensen and I anticipate that it may be more of a bridge to the future than a sustainable long-term alternative to energy.

The shipping industry also needs to consider the ability to safely store and transport green fuels. Green methanol can be easily stored as a liquid at ambient temperature, but it is very expensive to produce it cleanly. Green hydrogen and ammonia may have more long-term potential than biofuels and methanol for production reasons. Green hydrogen production could benefit from concurrent developments in wind, solar or hydroelectricity.

While all of these variables make the future of green fuels uncertain, there is a clear push in the industry in the direction of greener charging with greener fuels. Governments and NGOs believe there is scope for further emissions cuts, potentially reaching zero over the next few decades. According to CNBC, there is likely to be a significant shift from diesel-powered ships to battery-electric ships in an effort to reduce emissions of toxic ammonia and to help solve current supply chain problems. In addition, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has planned to introduce a mandatory government tax on fuel shipping to fund research and development of additional low-carbon shipping technology.

By utilizing the latest independent technologies to avoid environmentally catastrophic collisions and reduce fuel consumption, the marine industry is progressing toward these important sustainability goals. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of new environmentally friendly fuel alternatives will also greatly impact the long-term sustainability of the industry. With these innovations as tools, the shipping industry can become more efficient, sustainable and aligned with the future.


Jeff Wong is Global Head of Innovation at Ernst & Young, one of the world’s largest professional services organizations.

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