In light of evolving regulations, intensifying pressure from public opinion, emerging technologies and future fuel choices, how do engine manufacturers deal with multiple challenges when planning for the future?
Sebastiaan Bleuanus, general manager of research coordination and funding at Wärtsilä Marine Business, picks ‘efficiency’ and ‘flexibility’ as two key words at the outset of his interview with Marine Professional.
In striving to meet, anticipate and keep ahead of regulatory changes, he says: “Efficiency always helps. In terms of decarbonisation, if you can drive more efficiency, you need less renewable fuel. That helps to keep costs under control. For Wärtsilä, striving for the highest possible efficiency has been ‘business as usual’ for the past 50 years, but there is always more development to be had.”
Just as important – and increasingly so – is flexibility, says Bleuanus.
“That includes flexibility of technologies and also fuel flexibility: allowing you to adapt to changes in fuels or to use an entirely different fuel. For example, we already have engines that can run on both gas fuel and liquid fuel, so it’s basically taking steps beyond that.”
In the whole discussion about which fuels will come out on top, it is also important to emphasise “that engine technology isn’t the stumbling block here”, he says.
“An engine can be made to run on almost anything. The true challenges are the availability of the fuel, what sort of costs are involved, safety, regulations and, critically, how we can store enough fuel on board to give the required range we need.”
For example, for a cargo vessel running from Shanghai to Rotterdam, “you would not even think about powering by hydrogen”, because there is no way to store enough on board.
“So the availability of fuel and storage are much more pertinent than engine compatibility.”
Wärtsilä, and the entire industry, is looking into ways to eke out more efficiency wherever possible, says Bleuanus.
“That starts with voyage planning – optimising speeds by integrating vessel planning with port planning (berth availability, loading/unloading speeds),
using digital technology to optimise the system as a whole. If you spend less time in port, you have more time for the voyage, so you should be able to slow down and use less fuel.”
Digital technologies and the business models based on these technologies will transform the maritime industry, agrees Brian Østergaard Sørensen, head of R&D for the two-stroke business at MAN Energy Solutions (MES).
Speaking about MES’s strategic digitisation agreement with Samsung, signed in August 2019, he said: “Samsung Heavy Industries is an important part of this industry and an important business partner for us. It makes sense to bring
our experts together and explore how best to work in sync with our digital value creation chain. It is our firm belief that cross-industry cooperation is essential to the success of the digital transition, and we continue to take an active role in driving this with our partners.”
The agreement is for MES and Samsung to cooperate in developing
technologies and systems for the digitisation of marine engines.
Similarly, MES more recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Kongsberg to explore the potential to collaborate on a common data infrastructure for the maritime sector. A number of such agreements are pending with other major industry names, says MES.
The agreements follow the launch by MES of its digital platform, MAN CEON, in March 2019. This platform collects and evaluates operating and sensor
data and enables the real-time monitoring of marine or power-plant engines, turbines and compressors. MAN CEON integrates data and information from MAN machinery and its operational environment and uses intelligent analysis tools for evaluation and forecasting.
A lot of physical development work is also going on regarding saving energy on board, says Bleuanus. This includes reducing resistance by avoiding hull fouling or using air lubrication, or adopting renewable sources such as sails and solar panels to reduce the amount of propulsion power required.
“What is important is that the vessel runs as well as possible,”
he says, “and that requires looking at the vessel as a whole and integrating all the technologies on board. At present, each party tries to optimise its piece of the puzzle, but we should be looking at this holistically.”
LNG still in the running
Bleuanus dismisses talk that liquefied natural gas (LNG), as a fossil fuel, has morphed into a short-term fuel solution. “LNG is essentially methane, and from a bunkering and ship perspective it doesn’t matter where it comes from. Yes, what we are using now is predominantly fossil LNG, but there is an opportunity to use bio or synthetic LNG. It is the same stuff, so it’s for the same infrastructure and the same vessels. It keeps the same air-quality benefits and you decarbonise as well.”
Sewage sludge, forestry waste and slaughterhouse waste are just some examples of bio LNG sources, he says.
MES has for some time been speaking out in favour of a ‘maritime energy transition’ that draws on the increased use of low-emission gas as fuel, says a spokesperson.
The company offers a number of alternative drive technologies, including hybrid drives, to further reduce the share of heavy fuel engines in shipping (among other applications).
“The maritime energy transition focuses on finding clean, decarbonised solutions for seaborne trade and transportation,” MES says.
“Essentially, it is the company’s call to action to reduce emissions and establish natural gases as the fuels of choice in global shipping. It strongly promotes a global ‘turn to gas’, driven by IMO, and a common approach by the shipping industry and politics to invest in infrastructure and retrofits.”
Besides that, the challenge for the industry is harnessing the power of wind and solar, and renewable power is already becoming cheaper.
“The trick is how we get that renewable electricity on board,” says Bleuanus. “We can’t have a ship full of batteries and nothing else. So
the idea is to use electricity to make hydrogen, which can then be used to make synthetic fuel by bonding it to CO2 taken from the atmosphere or biomass.”
Push from the public
Bleuanus says public opinion is definitely changing, “and that is for the good”.
“It is happening on very many levels. For example, big players like IKEA will make the point that a particular item was transported in an environmentally sustainable way. That makes shipping more visible, where it was previously hidden from public view. With increased focus on sustainability from a consumer perspective, this does drive the entire industry to be better and to do better.”
Giving shipping 'value' in this way reduces the payback time for those investing in making shipping more sustainable, he says.
“In the end, it is all about money and how much we as a society want and can afford to pay for more sustainable shipping.”
Identifying and enabling the fuels of the future needs to be a joint task within the industry, says Bleuanus. “At Wärtsilä we are engaging in a lot of discussion across the industry, with shipowners, charterers, ports, fuel providers and more. We need to start building a consensus around what does make sense and what does not.”
The 2050 targets and intermediate goals set at 2030 should focus minds, he says. “2050 is just one ship’s life cycle away. We don’t have 20 years to spend on R&D and rule-making before we start deploying the technology and bunkering infrastructure.”
Studies show that US$30bn is still being wasted every year through inefficiencies in shipping, with most of that being wasted fuel, he concludes.
Report written by Felicity Landon
The article was originally published in Marine Professional Jan/Feb 2020