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Towards a greener future

Towards a greener future
The terms being green and sustainable are often used interchangeably and this is equally as true in the maritime industry as it is anywhere else. However what became more obvious from the recent Green Technologies Seminar hosted by ClassNK and Seatrade, was that being green can also promote sustainability in a different context.

As highlighted by ClassNK chairman and president Noboru Ueda, the sustainability of many shipping firms was a concern during the darkest days of the shipping downturn around 2008. This was a "turning point" for ClassNK, Ueda said. The combination of high oil prices and low rates focussed the need for energy efficient solutions in shipping even more acutely.

ClassNK stepped up to the challenge by taking unprecedented steps to increase its expenditure on research and development (R&D) dramatically. Over the following five years from 2008 till 2013, it increased expenditure on R&D from 8% to 17% of revenue with some 55% of this going to joint industry projects in collaboration with actual industry partners. Since 2009, it has completed some 150 projects and has more than 100 projects currently in progress.

The theme of greater energy efficiency as a key element of being green was carried throughout the seminar. This ranged from looking at the big picture from a systems approach perspective to more specific examples where industry players have collaborated with research institutions to look at specific problems such as reducing drag on ships' hulls.

Energy Research [email protected] executive director Subodh Mhaisalkar

highlighted the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's $15m Maritime Clean Energy Research Programme (MCERP) which it jointly launched with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2010 as one of the key research platforms for green shipping in Singapore.

Among the initiatives being looked at from a systems perspective are the electrification of port operations and the application of new technologies such as smart grids in this context. Another key area where a systems approach should be used is in terms of ship design, Mhaisalkar said.

He gave an example of a project where modelling is being used to research the unique power distribution needs of tugboats, which spend a lot of their time in standby mode before being required to produce short bursts of high power. Mhaisalkar suggested that there could be a greater use of hybrid diesel-electric power systems in this area. In addition, the use of LNG technology could be further combined with fuel cell technology to enhance performance as a range extender. "The fuel mix of the next 20 to 30 years also needs to be planned," he concluded.

From the Japanese research perspective, Koji Takasaki from Kyushu University revealed their somewhat more technical approach. This is natural, given the world-class technical expertise of Japanese engine manufacturers and shipbuilders. It also shows the commitment of the Japanese government at the national level to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% from 2013.

Takasaki said there are two key themes for their research. The first was the need to find ways for typically inefficient vessels such as bulk carriers to maintain the same speed while consuming less power and the second was to explore the use of alternative fuels.

For the first, projects with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and other Japanese yards have resulted in eco-ships that can achieve up to 35% reduction in fuel consumption and are now aiming for 50% reductions.

The second theme of LNG use for shipping has even greater potential but is also more controversial because so many components need to fit together for it to happen. Takasaki highlighted the fact that using LNG will automatically lead to a 20% to 25% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to using conventional marine fuels because of the difference in the hydrogen and cabon composition between the two.

Meanwhile giving ample proof that LNG-fuelled shp designs are available, MHI Ship & Ocean Engineering Department chief engineer Takashi Unseki showed off a variety of design concepts from a ropax ferry-type vessel meant for the Sea of Japan routes to a VLCC design which could work on the typical Middle East to Asia routes.

However the crux issue boils down to economics. Speaking to Seatrade Global, both Takasaki and Unseki agreed that as long as the Asian price of LNG remained high there would be little prospects for LNG use in the region. Unseki ventured that a price of below $15/mmbtu would be a minimum requirement for it to work, which is still some way away from the current price of $18/mmbtu to $19/mmbtu.

This distorted pricing structure is exacerbated by the fact that there are currently no emissions control areas (ECAs) in Asia, with few prospects for any in the near future. With the combination of a lack of imperative to switch to cleaner fuels and the high price of LNG in Asia, the prospects for LNG use in shipping seem to be quite dim, even though there was still optimism that countries such as Singapore would play a groundbreaking role. Takasaki expressed the hope that Singapore would push forward with its plans to build an LNG bunkering station.

Other more technical presentations showed that the inspiration for being green can come from the very creatures the products are designed to protect. At least two species were mentioned in the presentations on new technologies to reduce frictional resistance on hulls.

While Oshima Shipbuilding's air lubrication technology drew inspiration from the penguins, Nippon Paint Marine's A-LF-Sea product used tuna fish and their skin as the basis for their award-winning hydrogel paint technology.

It is clear that with the best intentions, the industry wants to move towards greener and more sustainable technologies, both for their own benefit and the good of the environment. However the world of shipping is intensely competitive and there is no running from the economic realities as well.

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