What will power the ships of the future? Will the industry manage on its own to transition out of its dependency on heavy fuel oil, or will regulations be needed to force a change? Is LNG the fuel of the future, or more of a placeholder while greener alternatives ramp up? Will the first movers into new technologies inspire others to follow in their wake?
To gather some solid perspectives on these and other challenges and opportunities facing shipping as we enter into the 4th Industrial Revolution, ABB Marine & Ports has launched its Shipping 4.0 concept with a high-level roundtable discussion on the ‘Power of the Future.’ Industry leaders and journalists met with ABB experts to discuss the technologies and power sources that are shaping the maritime industry. In response to the changing needs of the industry, ABB can also announce the role of Global Product Manager for Energy Storage Systems has been expanded to include the development fuel cell solutions.
In With the New
Moving on to new power sources, John Olav Lindtjørn elaborated on the expanding role of batteries onboard: “Batteries can contribute to more than pure propulsion. They can compensate for sub-optimal engine operations, or serve as a backup, reducing the need for auxiliary power, and thus reducing emissions.” He was supported by ABB colleague Jorulf Nergaard, who pointed out that batteries have the potential serve these and many other purposes that can improve a ship’s overall efficiency and economy.
The Onboard DC Grid allows the integration of energy storage and fuel cells into onboard power systems, putting ABB in the vanguard of the new generation vessels. Vision of the Fjords is one of those vessels and Rolf Sandvik, CEO of The Fjords who runs the vessel, said at the roundtable, “What we have done so far is with zero support from the government. We are doing it because we believe that people want a carbon-free future, and that technological advances will eventually bring costs down.”
But batteries need charging, and charging is a challenge, Janne Kuivalainen stated: “We need more cases to achieve standardisation. Each route has its own needs, and the same thing basically applies to each vessel.”
Here Rolf Sandvik turned his attention to regulations as the driver for change: “Regulations are needed to drive standardisation in charging infrastructure. With these in place the industry will adjust, and as we have seen, the customers are willing to pay.”
The roundtable agreed that whilst mechanical engines would continue to be the norm for some time, energy storage and, eventually, fuel cells offer compelling alternative solutions.John Olav Lindtjørn, Global Product Manager for Onboard DC Grid, ABB Marine and Ports said, “Battery cost and performance is improving continuously driving a wider adoption onboard. Also, we see that fuel cells will come to play an increasingly important role but combustion engines will likely be around for a while still, though its dominance is under threat.”
But regulations can be tricky, especially at the local level, as The Fjords have experienced: “Local politicians are unwilling to implement regulations that could influence competition. If they reward hybrid or zero-emission solutions where we operate, they fear it would give us an unfair advantage. Of course we believe that regulations would push others to move toward greener solutions. Instead, the responsibility is pushed upward, from local to national, then to the international level, and eventually they land with the IMO, where things move slowly.”
“We would like to be able to operate anywhere in the world with our concept, but that requires standardisation, and the road to international standards is a very long one. The industry should take initiatives for standardisation of charging facilities, perhaps working within the ISO regime.”
Sandvik is also looking to other fuel sources in his quest for greener operations: “We are planning to retrofit an older vessel with hydrogen power in a government-funded conversion project, and we have started talks with a west coast yard.”
In step with its visionary outlook, ABB Marine and Ports has announced Jostein Bogen as the new Global Product Manager for Energy Storage Systems with responsibility to oversee the development of fuel cell systems.
Juha Koskela, Managing Director of ABB’s Marine and Ports business said, “We developed the Onboard DC Grid as we anticipated the important role energy storage and fuels cells have to play in the maritime sector. By encouraging debate around the topic and dedicating resources to these technologies, we are establishing ABB as a leading force in the green power revolution.
Janne Kuivalainen pointed out that fuel cells will require further technical development before they take a larger role, emphasising the need for the industry to take control of markets, research, and development. “But for now,” he maintained, “the future is electric.”
Seeing the Opportunities
Addressing the transition from the old to the new, John Olav Lindtjørn reflected on the potential life span of diesel, and the factors that will determine how long it takes to achieve a shift from fossil fuel: “Power will definitely increase in fuel cells, but combustion engines will be around for a long time, if perhaps in smaller dimensions. Batteries last between 5 and10 years, so costs will drop by the time replacement is required. Battery recycling will also improve, and the second life of batteries in non-critical situations in being considered.”
True to form, the press corps posed another sticky question: Will shipowners be able to convince customers to pay more for transportation without a reward for using green solutions?
Tristan Smith offered a reply: “Cargo owners are demanding green transport, with less carbon. I believe containers will pave the way, as their customers are more concerned with maintaining green and clean profiles. With everything from iPhones to automobiles, manufacturers want to be seen as green along the whole supply chain. Eventually, tankers and bulkers will follow, but I am cynical about market forces alone driving change. Regulations are needed to catalyse the shift.”
Rounding off with perspectives on the 4th industrial revolution and its impact on the power of the future, Janne Kuivalainen assumed a holistic perspective: “Digitalisation will impact R&D, and thus influence power systems development not just directly, but by giving industry the chance to try out systems in realistic simulated test situations and model systems more accurately. Performance, lifetime, many factors can be made more predictable. In this way digitalisation can help us gain deeper domain knowledge before we move technologies into the field.”
Tristan Smith agreed, summing up the discussion with an appropriately hybrid approach, merging virtual and physical realities: “Increasing access to knowledge is important to driving change. But each ship is essentially a prototype, and this is both an advantage and a disadvantage, a blessing and a curse. Ships can be designed to purpose, but not easily standardised.”
That would seem a fitting description of the reality of powering ships. When it comes to determining the power of the future, there are as many challenges as there are ships – and as many opportunities