Waiting until 2028, and then following the lead of others, is a very high-risk decarbonisation strategy. No single fuel and energy conversion technology is going to satisfy the requirements of every shipowner, so each must develop their own decarbonisation strategy and use 2030 targets to evaluate the solutions that could then take them through to 2050.
What questions should owners ask as they seek to de-risk their future fuel choices? Houlder and E4tech recently gathered a group of industry experts to discuss the issues in the webinar: Avoiding a future fuels dead-end: building an agile strategy. Joining myself on the panel were Chester Lewis, Managing Consultant (Maritime Lead) at E4tech, Mark Cameron, Chief Operating Officer at Ardmore Shipping and Sebastiaan Bleuanus, General Manager for research coordination and funding at Wärtsilä Marine Power.
Auxiliary generators are a great first target for trialling new technologies such as fuel cells, but it is not the energy conversion technology itself that is likely to challenge decarbonisation goals – rather it is fuel energy density.
Today’s ships benefit from the high energy density of fossil fuels. Often, they can bunker for convenience rather than necessity. Eventually, alternative fuels may also allow this luxury, but until they do, a primary consideration for shipowners is: How do I manage the space and mass requirements of new fuels?
The answer is not just a matter of making an economic decision to reduce cargo capacity. Fundamentally, it means recognising that new fuels will be significantly more expensive than fossil fuels, so fuel efficiency will only increase in importance in the future.
Often today, ships do not sail at their optimal design speed. This is inefficient for the engines themselves, for associated equipment such as pumps and air systems and for the ship’s hull form. To optimise ship energy efficiency, shipowners will need to ask themselves: How do I want to operate my ship? Where do I want it to be able to sail? How much flexibility do I want? Rather than taking standard designs from shipyards, how am I going to negotiate a more optimal solution? There’s no doubt there will be a cost penalty, so what is my appetite for risk?
That appetite will certainly be fed by upcoming regulations, but the demands of customers and charterers are already being felt too as they look to decarbonise their own supply chains. It’s important to consider their ambitions as they could focus on the full lifecycle of emissions of a new fuel earlier than regulators such as the International Maritime Organization.
The availability of new fuels will not just be driven by shipping. Other forms of transport and other industries are undergoing the same decarbonisation transition. Each new fuel option will likely become available at different times in different places. So, this is another key line of questioning for shipowners: will my new fuel choices be available when I need them?
Shipowners need to understand what information they need and ask the questions outlined above to build an informed strategy. Discussing the challenges and the stakeholders involved, the panel arrived at the conclusion: rather than taking a single bold step, making change in a managed way and letting 2030 inform 2050 will help shipowners avoid a future fuels dead-end.
To listen to the discussion and watch the webinar recording, please click here.