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Preparing the shipping industry for a decade of change and beyond

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Decarbonisation will require addressing both the risks and opportunities of the energy transition writes Vassilios Kroustallis, VP, Global Business Development, ABS

The biggest drivers of change in the maritime industry are the global and regional environmental regulations that seek to address climate change in shipping. These go far beyond the targets set by the International Maritime Organization; they extend to the European Union and to local rules applied by major maritime nations.

 

In addition to addressing environmental regulations, the rapid development of technology is also driving evolutions in vessel design operational strategy and is a crucial component of the skillsets required ashore and on board.

The other significant driver to change is geopolitics and the impact of international trade dynamics on shipping. These include both energy independence and energy security, particularly in the context of global security and fluctuating energy prices, which together play a crucial role in accelerating the shift towards the focus on alternative fuels and energy-efficient technologies.

The maritime industry is already in this period of transformation, the first decade of major change and that means class is preparing and evolving too. ABS has established a strong focus on sustainability and digitalisation and the challenges that come with new maritime technologies, providing guidance and practical support to the industry.

The rapid advance of new technology has prompted development of enhanced vessel rules, new standards and certifications for green technologies, advanced digital services for ship performance and analysis and is working on guidelines for alternative fuels and energy-efficient designs.

The energy transition

Support for decarbonisation comes through participation in hundreds of Joint Development Projects, many of them pioneering in the fields of very large ammonia and liquefied CO2 carriers, LNG vessels and carbon-capture technology.

It also requires development of the rules, the guides and the related documents and Approvals in Principle that encourage innovation. These programmes also mean that class must continue to develop in-house talent relative to new technologies and add to our skills base when needed.

ABS operates the Sustainability Group, which has centres with a global reach - in Houston, Denmark, Athens, Singapore and Shanghai - that are assisting our clients on new fronts, to address new challenges with sustainability.

The process of decarbonisation creates safety issues that need to be addressed. One of the most important safety issues is the familiarisation of the crew with new and emerging fuels and technology. For example, the industry has well-established experience in handling ammonia as cargo, but not as fuel, so there is a need for training, education and guidance that enables this to be done safely.

We have begun to address this challenge through the utilisation of simulation technology, which we developed in our global centre in Singapore. Simulation technologies are helping to create scenarios and conditions that mirror the realities of the onboard ship experience. This allows us to offer exceptional training experiences, using multiple simulations to replicate real onboard conditions.

ABS MetaSHIPs, powered by Orka, are one-of-a-kind highly realistic virtual assets. Built to scale from vessel drawings, they take users on virtual field trips - providing a powerful, immersive learning experience in a simulated training environment. Before boarding an ABS MetaSHIP, users will select their vessel and survey type.

Users may also select the vessel age to represent vessel conditions more accurately, such as the level of corrosion of a vessel. Once on board, virtual users put their theoretical and practical training to the test. The MetaSHIP experience is highly engaging, so users interact with the vessel throughout the training – inspecting equipment, taking photographs, viewing certificates, documenting survey notes, and much more.

MetaSHIPs make it possible for seafarers to spend several hours on the deck plate of a vessel before even so much as setting foot on the gangway.

How are skillsets going to change?

When we think of the new skills and competencies required for safety on board the next generation of vessels, it is clear that tomorrow’s seafarer is going to have to be more technology-savvy than in previous years.

Quite apart from the array of challenges associated with handling and bunkering the new fuels, they will need literacy in the emerging digital and autonomous ecosystems, as well as an entirely new safety mindset understanding cyber threats, in addition to the traditional physical dangers.

The industry will need to invest in training and development to ensure that these skills are effectively developed. This requires a co-ordinated approach, involving industry, regulators, and training providers, to ensure that seafarers are adequately prepared for the challenges ahead.

ABS is playing its part, pioneering new immersive learning techniques for the benefit of our employees and our clients. Today that means including virtual and augmented reality in our programs. Simulated environments and VR equipment make it possible for users to immerse themselves in whatever world we design for them, such as walking around a ship and interacting with the spaces on board.

In addition to incorporating new technology in training offerings, we continue to focus on rule development to address emerging design challenges. ABS has introduced new marine vessel rules designed to support the development of the next generation of vessel designs and equipment employing the latest technology driven by decarbonisation and digitalisation.

The rule enhancements are a result of a multi-year collaboration with industry, shipyards, shipowners, equipment manufacturers, designers and regulators. They follow the launch by ABS in 2023 the of industry’s only Custom Rule Book application. The updated ABS Rules enable shipowners to integrate new technology into their designs with confidence.

 

Photo by Mudassir AliHellas Maritime Report 2024 Preparing the shipping industry for a decade of change and beyond

 

How does fuel availability impact the process?

Another issue facing the maritime industry is the speed and scale of the transition to new, alternative marine fuels. There are already many ships on the water that are capable of using alternative fuels, but how many are actually using them? Very few. What that tells us is that the technology is there, but the fuel supply is not.

Even where alternatives are available, they are expensive in comparison to current fuel sources, so economics and availability are going to be the decisive factors in the adoption of these fuels. For example, to create green fuels at scale, you need green electricity, which also needs to be priced realistically. The industry is not there yet and, as a result, the supply of green fuels at competitive price is currently constrained.

It is most likely that by 2050, methanol and ammonia will be the major fuels in use, together with LNG. Issues to be considered include how the availability of these fuels is evolving and their limits and capabilities. The technology for LNG and methanol has been developed and the technology for ammonia is developing, while biofuels present the lowest barrier to adoption from a technology perspective.

The contribution of batteries and hybrid technology should not be underestimated. The quality and capacity of battery storage is evolving, though large ships are not ready to be powered with batteries alone, but there are many ships already in fully electric operation. The use of fuel cells fed by methanol converted from hydrogen also offers a sustainable energy option that has application on a growing number of ships.

Nuclear power is another technology that is developing and creating interest, largely because the new approaches are considered much safer than traditional reactors. Full-scale tests are happening and, while availability and regulation is not yet on the horizon, there is promise in this space.

What is the importance of retrofits?

It is clear that with the alternative fuels available today, there is no way we can reach the IMO 2050 targets without retrofitting a large proportion of the existing fleet with energy-efficiency technologies and carbon capture.

Achieving the reduction targets that have been set for shipping requires the existing fleet to become much more efficient. It will not be possible to completely renew the existing fleet to use alternative fuels by 2050, which means the need to retrofit a large percentage of the existing fleet is essential.

It is possible to achieve much greater efficiency and the increase in the number of available energy-efficiency technologies is proof that owners are responding to this challenge.

There is a significant amount of work to be done between now and 2050 if we hope to hit net zero. Our research also shows that this can be achieved, mapping out a pathway for the industry to get there. We will need to harness the potential of energy-efficiency improvement technologies to reduce aggregate fuel consumption by 15% on the existing fleet and newbuild vessels.

At the same time, we will need carbon capture rolled out across much of the oil burning fleet, reducing onboard CO2 emissions by 70%. Those that do not or cannot adopt carbon capture may need to switch to e-diesel or zero-carbon biofuels.

Carbon capture is a technology that will play a significant role in the transition until 2050. Leaders in the industry have already begun to plan for millions of tons of carbon capture for their onboard emissions, and the technology is scaling up to provide that capability. These initiatives create new demand for handling, transport and storage of carbon, which creates the new opportunity of liquefied CO2 carriers that will feed storage sites or deliver it for use in production of efuels.

This work requires collaboration with vendors and shipowners to understand how this emerging technology can be adapted and absorbed into the maritime industry, its implications for vessel design and operations and its likely impact on carbon emission reduction.

By now, it should be obvious that the energy transition is going to create a completely new generation of ships, particularly new tankers that carry ammonia on a much bigger scale. There may be new types of LNG/ammonia combination carriers and very large ammonia/ethane carriers, as well as LCO2 carriers.

By some estimates, the market will need to develop to about 600 ships – similar to the LNG market – to meet the demand for industrial carbon capture and storage. The development of hydrogen carriers has begun – there are projects underway – and we are working with larger designs that reflect much bigger carrying capacities.

What are the big issues for net zero?

The pathway to net-zero emissions from shipping is a long and complex one. The improvements required all new ships being built to be capable of using dual fuel – or at least be ready to do so. At the same time, there needs to be dramatic improvements to the efficiency of the existing fleet.

The industry is in a continuous process of change. The evolution we are experiencing is large and dramatic and it will happen increasingly quickly. We have not experienced anything like this in the previous 40 years. The change in fuel types, new technology and operating processes – as well as the regulation that governs us – is all, to some extent, new.

There are very challenging times ahead, but it’s a great opportunity for all of us to deliver a better world for the next generation.

 

Gain further insights on Hellas Maritime Report 2024 and become a maritime aficianado.