An Alternative Route to Greener Shipping

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

July 2, 2010

The management of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from shipping has been widely talked about and extensively reported on over the past six months. The disappointment of COP 15 and the resulting lack of clarity has caused some frustration as well as an increased likelihood that there will be a plethora of regional and potentially costly regulations to respond to. So with this new set of challenges on the horizon perhaps now is the time to reflect on some of the alternative ways of promoting energy efficiency and greener shipping. Del Redvers and Simon Burnay of the BMT group, experts in corporate sustainability and ship performance matters reflect on how the appropriate deployment of a comprehensive Energy Management strategy can lead to significantly reduced fuel consumption and the associated environmental benefits.

Current estimates indicate that shipping’s share of global CO2 emissions could increase to 20-30% by 2050. With 90% of global trade carried by sea, this is an issue that cannot be sidestepped. It is important to note that while the emissions debate is beneficial for all in terms of reducing the environmental impact, it is sometimes hard to see the plethora of solutions being proposed as anything other than a cost that the shipping industry must bear, with little financial benefit. Solutions with tangible commercial benefits may provide significantly more leverage to establish the win/win situation that will reduce costs and limit damage to the environment.

There are a number of measures that are currently being trialed or introduced more widely that have the potential to achieve the win/win that is required to be successful. New technology can be harnessed to make ships more fuel efficient through making engines more efficient and increasing hull efficiency.

Perhaps more importantly, technology can be used to measure performance throughout a ship’s life-time and provide a baseline against which improvements can be measured. To quote the eminent physicist and engineer Lord Kelvin: ‘to measure is to know’. Solutions such as BMT’s SMARTPOWER record and collate real-time performance data, providing much improved performance data over the standard manual ‘noon’ reporting process. By measuring, recording and analyzing good quality data it is possible to break down the overall performance into individual components (engine, propeller, hull performance), remove any variables, identify where efficiency losses are being introduced into the system and react accordingly.

Changes in operational procedures can also deliver environmental and commercially beneficial improvements. While accepting that ultimately, many decisions are driven by the charterer, or factors beyond the control of the operator of that ship, there is still scope for improvements in voyage planning and speed optimization. The ‘sprint/loiter’ approach, where a ship proceeds as fast as reasonably possible to its destination and then waits to be unloaded or to receive further orders, has benefits in enabling maintenance time (for example) but has a detrimental effect in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions. By optimizing vessel speed (or ‘slow steaming’) based on knowledge of environmental conditions including wind, wave and current, the speed profile of the voyage can be tailored to ensure that the ship arrives at the destination just in time to be loaded or unloaded. While this strategy could be extremely effective, there is the need for all parties in the logistics chain to understand the issues involved and ensure that there is suitable shore based infrastructure to service ships as they arrive. ‘Slow steaming’ certainly has its benefits but there are downsides too. If we accept that slow steaming is here to stay, will we need extra ships to cater for trade growth? Should new ships be designed with slow steaming in mind in order to optimize their efficiency? There are issues associated with running a ship that is designed to do 25 knots at an off design condition. Inherently it is not as efficient as it should be and will require increased maintenance. BMT is beginning to see the effect of slow steaming as part of its hull and machinery condition survey work, and engine manufacturers are now issuing service bulletins recommending preventative measures that should be taken to prevent damage in long term.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has already identified the importance of shipboard energy efficiency and has established a mechanism for a company and/or a ship to improve the energy efficiency of a ship’s operation. The Shipboard Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) is a document that seeks to improve a ship’s energy efficiency through four steps: planning, implementation, monitoring, and self-evaluation and improvement. At present it is mandatory for a ship to carry its SEEMP but there is no requirement to comply with it. Many operators are already pursuing this initiative as market forces make it beneficial to do so, however, as the culture changes and the importance of energy efficiency becomes more widely accepted, the SEEMP will become an increasingly valuable tool.

In order for the SEEMP to be effective, it is essential to have a performance baseline in place that provides the feedback that can be used to help learn and improve. Areas such as optimizing maintenance and hull cleaning can be improved by moving away from fixed schedules to ‘condition based’ approaches. With access to up to date, accurate, performance data, maintenance and cleaning can be carried out at the optimum time to ensure that energy usage is maintained at the lowest possible rate. An excellent example of this is one of the first ships that deployed BMT’s SMARTPOWER technology. Using data from the system that indicated a worsening in hull performance, BMT recommended that the ship had a hull clean ahead of schedule. The net result was a direct saving of approximately seven tons of fuel per day and the obvious benefits in terms of reduced emissions. This particular system had only been on board for two months so immediately ticked the ‘win/win’ boxes in delivering environmental and commercial benefit.

Success also depends on the buy-in of the crews using the new technology or deploying new working practices. As so often happens when implementing change, a cultural shift is required to ensure that the best use is made of the improvements that are available. Some crews will be proactive and engage as a matter of course while some will need a form of incentivization. When there are examples of two very similar ships running two very similar routes with very different performance the only real variable is the crew. It is hardly surprising that operators are beginning to give their crews’ bonuses based on improvements in fuel consumption and related environmental aspects.

The final element of deploying a comprehensive energy management strategy is having an understanding of how the carbon markets work. The shipping industry is going to be charged for its carbon emissions. Whether it is a bunker fuel levy tied to shipping fuel efficiency measures such as that proposed by the World Shipping Council (WSC), regional emissions trading or another of the many proposed schemes, having an appreciation of the carbon market will prove invaluable to any organization in the shipping industry. BMT Group’s experience in working on sustainability projects with cruise lines and other major shipping organizations has highlighted the impact internalizing carbon costs may have, and how poorly understood this is by the industry at large. Here, there is a thirst for knowledge that BMT Group is working to satisfy.

There are certainly major environmental and commercial benefits in achieving greater energy efficiency and making shipping ‘greener’. Shipping lines and major shipping organizations are beginning to recognize this but we are still in the early stages of the process. For these new initiatives to be successful in the long term there needs to be a five pronged attack focusing on:

-              Deploying new measurement technology to define baseline performance;

-              Changing operational procedures to improve performance;

-              Ensuring awareness of new legislation;

-              Engendering a shift in culture to promote the importance of fuel economy and environmental issues.

-              Embracing the R&D into new technologies (such as alternative fuels) to help them become commercially viable propositions.

Only then can shipping start to become truly energy efficient.  

(Published in the June 2010 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News)

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