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The Shipping Industry Innovates with New Fuels, New Engines, and New Designs

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March 6, 2012

tom boardley lloyd's register– Tom Boardley, Marine Director, Lloyd’s Register

Future technology and innovation is needed in shipping as emission regulations and fuel prices drive change.

One hundred years ago a Lloyd’s Register surveyor attended the sea trials of the first seagoing diesel-powered merchant ship, the East Asiatic Company’s innovative Selandia. The propulsion technology on trial a century ago now dominates the industry and, for most merchant ships in the last 50 years, there has been a clear orthodoxy in engine room arrangements and the type of fuel used. Nearly all ships now use marine heavy fuel oil in diesel engines.

Today we stand on the brink of a new era.

Emissions regulation and higher fuel oil prices are driving change in shipping today. Future fuels, the future for marine engines and tomorrow’s ship designs are key areas that we are working on to help the marine industry to reduce emissions and find greater efficiencies.

Regulations requiring ships to produce less locally harmful pollutants, such as sulphur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx), in emission control areas (ECAs) such as the Baltic and North Sea are due to be made stricter from 2015. Ships will need either to switch to different, cleaner, fuels or install abatement systems – ‘scrubbers’ – to extract harmful emissions. Approximately 80–90% of merchant vessels will enter an ECA during their lifetimes and more ECAs are expected – particularly in the Mediterranean and the Far East – in the future.

In terms of greenhouse gases (GHG), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has developed global energy design and energy management regulations that will help reduce the tonne mile GHG impact of shipping. The Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) and, for new ships, the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) will come in to force in 2013. These are the first such global regulations to mitigate GHG emissions made by any United Nations agency.

But with the consequences for shipping of the UNFCCC process still not clear after COP 17, a global GHG regime seems as remote as ever. The agreement to the second Kyoto Protocol commitment period, covering mainly EU member states, makes it more likely that the European Union will take action on shipping – indeed it is starting the process of investigating how a regional GHG scheme could work for shipping. As a global industry requires global regulation it is far from clear what the impact of regional imperatives will be.

At the same time the price of fuel oil has been rising dramatically. Existing ships were developed to operate in a world where ships’ bunkers were available at US$150 a tonne. Bunker oil is now in the US$700-800 range. So, the economics of ship operations have changed.

CAT M 46 dual fuel engine
Caterpillar's M 46 Dual Fuel Engine

New technologies and innovation
The result is that the shipping world is fast becoming a more complex place. New technologies and innovation will play a vital role in the immediate and long-term future of shipping.

Lloyd’s Register has talked about this as a ‘new paradigm’. Any evolution will be gradual but already we can see changes happening.

New fuels, new engines and new designs are becoming available. The difficulty for shipowners, builders, equipment makers and, do not forget, financiers, is not only what technology to support, but when to invest. The future is further clouded by the weak market outlook and the hangover of the biggest boom in new ordering in history – the new ships still being built are, in the main, little different to the ships in demand a decade or more ago.

Most new technology being brought into operation now has been developed for relatively small or niche markets such as ferries and inland waterways – sectors where exposure to new regulation is most concentrated and where local emissions and other factors are felt most keenly.

More clarity needs to be brought to the differences between local air emission benefits and the GHG impacts of shipping and the technologies required. At present the real driver is local air emissions. But, for example, we really need more data on the total energy lifecycle impact of fuels such as LNG. There is plenty of work to be done here.

At Lloyd’s Register we constantly strive to provide impartial technical guidance. And as well as guidance, verification is crucial. Many claims are being made about performance, about GHG emissions and about safety of new arrangements. Owners and operators need data and they need it verified – what you cannot measure, you cannot manage.

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Tom Boardley is Marine Director of Lloyd’s Register and is responsible for worldwide operations as well as strategy and business development.  Over his 24 year career in the maritime industry, Tom had held several senior management positions in the container shipping and ports industry.  Tom is an engineering graduate of Oxford University and is also a fellow of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects.  

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