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Steaming Towards Zero Emissions

Steaming Towards Zero Emissions

Madadh MacLaine, Secretary General of Zero Emissions Ship Technology Association, who will be speaking at the ShipTech Conference on Friday, November 20, talks about Zero Emissions Ship Technologies (ZEST), why those who have invested in LNG as a transitional fuel might be left with significant stranded assets, and how the market can be a force in influencing the shipping industry to manage its emissions.  


Tell us about the mission and activities of the Zero Emission Technology Association (ZESTAs).

Madadh MacLaine: ZESTAs’ mission is to prove to shipowners and to the wider shipping industry that zero emission ships are not only necessary for avoiding climate catastrophe but they are also market-ready. We bring together cutting-edge technology providers and shipowners, who share the vision of making zero emissions mainstream. In our definition of zero emissions technology, we use the strict notion of Absolute Zero, meaning that in any fuel, the energy component remains at zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, from extraction to utilisation as propulsion. We therefore only allow membership to companies whose technologies or projects are zero GHG at a ship level, with minimal upstream impacts. Furthermore, ZESTAs is a policy-oriented association, with an ongoing mission to reshape the regulatory and standardisation landscape into a more favourable environment for widespread zero emissions technology uptake. Our activities consist of a busy schedule of conference speaking roles and a presence on IMO committees, including the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). We also act as a networking facilitator among our members, enabling them to learn from one another and navigate the rocky seas of institutional acceptability and unfavourable regulations, as well as to draw inspiration from others’ successes. In the coming 12 months, we plan to expand our activities with the launch of a quarterly newsletter followed by our own webinar, while continuing to make the case for ZEST (Zero Emissions Ship Technologies) at numerous speaking events, including an event at next year’s UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 26).


GOLD: What technologies are being developed that are capable of achieving zero emissions in shipping? And are there any already available technologies that are up to the task required of them?

M.M.: A key advantage of zero emissions technologies lies in their diversity. A huge range of technologies exists, all at various stages of development and operation, and each will fulfil a different role in the transition away from fossil-fuel reliance. Generally, different technologies fit different ship types and operational profiles. For example, batteries, while lacking the power to provide main propulsion for ocean-going vessels, are perfect for fast boats travelling short distances. This is why, as seen in Norway and elsewhere, there is a growing trend of ferries being upgraded with battery power. Furthermore, batteries are able to provide generous amounts of non-propulsion power on larger ships to substantially reduce power plant emissions on board, as well as peak-shaving for engine efficiency optimization. For main propulsion on medium and deep-sea vessels, ZESTAs advocates hybrid hydrogen fuel cell/battery electric with wind-propulsion, with hydrogen being produced from renewables. This technology is at the forefront of today’s energy transition from fossil fuels in heavy industry and transport, with many countries pledging massive investments in green hydrogen. Hydrogen can also be used up in fuel in an existing marine internal combustion engine, giving immediate emissions reductions to the existing fleet with minimal retrofitting that can range from 20% to 60%. These technologies are mature and scalable. What is lacking here is the infrastructure for renewable hydrogen and bunkering supply.


Wind propulsion is the quickest way to significantly reduce fuel consumption. The biggest uptake to date being Flettner rotors, currently in operation on seven large vessels. Turbosails, or suction wings, are a fast second in retrofitting technologies. We are also seeing kites that are akin to an aeroplane wing coming into the market. Wind propulsion is an easy win with most technologies being retrofittable, providing zero-emission auxiliary power and achieving greater than 20% fuel consumption reduction when combined with weather routing.


There are many other technologies for auxiliary power generation, increased efficiency and fuel reduction, such as solar power, efficient hull designs, wave propulsion, passive foils, etc. In terms of hydrogen-based zero-emission fuels, ZESTAs supports all technologies at our disposal in the effort to drive down emissions in the maritime sector, as long as the principle of absolute zero emissions is met and safety standards are rigorously adhered to.


GOLD: You’ve mentioned before that LNG is more of a stopgap solution rather than a transitional fuel in the decarbonisation efforts of the shipping industry. Why is that the case?

M.M.: Some years ago, LNG was presented as a transition fuel between conventional oil and zero-emissions solutions. Unfortunately, it is already 2020. If we are going to see the giant shifts toward zero-emissions shipping, we need to meet the targets of the IMO by 2050 and beyond. We cannot afford to lose time building a new supply infrastructure for a fuel that, ultimately, does not reduce GHG emissions.


I used the term ‘stopgap’ because we had legislation for sulphur oxide (SOx) levels before any legislation for CO2 emissions existed. Because LNG emits low SOx levels, it meets requirements but cannot be sustainable in the long-term due to incoming GHG regulations. At a ship level, according to the calculations of Dr Elizabeth Lindstad, Chief Scientist at the SINTEF Ocean research organisation in Norway, the expected GHG reductions from using LNG have been vastly overestimated, partly due to the significant quantity of methane in exhaust. This is not even taking the upstream emissions into consideration, meaning that the GHG impact could be greater than that of heavy fuel oil, as confirmed in the Fourth IMO Greenhouse Gas Study, released in 2020. Clearly, documented evidence is creating a shift of opinion in the industry, while the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the need for natural gas as a transition fuel, risking to leave those who’ve invested in LNG with significant stranded assets.


GOLD: The International Maritime Organization’s ambition is to reduce the shipping industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 (compared to 2008 levels). How do you transform to such an extent an industry that has been so dependent on heavy fuels until now?

M.M.: There are many variables at play. One of them is the important fact that, as I have stated, we already have the technology to reduce GHG emissions by up to 60%. The problem is the cost associated with these investments. As long as regulations that require drastic GHG emissions reductions don’t exist, shipowners aren’t able to invest. Without investment, technology won't reach the economy of scale needed to see the price drop required to achieve 60% GHG emissions reductions. To reduce GHG emissions by a further 40%, we need a zero-emissions fuel. Achieving this fuel will be the result of an iterative process: stricter regulations allowing uptake; building supply chains; creating economies of scale for both zero-emissions fuel (e.g. green hydrogen) and efficiency technologies (e.g. wind propulsion); increasingly stricter regulations and so on.


The transition will require new builds, vessel redesigns for efficiency and scrapping of vessels when required emissions reductions cannot be met. Inevitably, increased efficiency will reduce cargo volumes, so regulations are needed requiring all shipowners to prioritise GHG emissions reductions over cargo capacity. Currently, shipowners don’t have the profit margins required to invest in zero-emissions technology and they’re not the ones who are going to make money on a new zero-emissions fuel. But they will make money on the fuel saved once everyone is required by regulation to use (an inevitably more expensive) zero GHG fuel. Investment has to start from outside. Stricter regulations would change these parameters by protecting investments both in new technology and new fuels. For example, NOx and SOx regulations have increased complying fuel prices, increasing the incentive for fuel reductions.


GOLD: What do you believe is the role of the market – customers that charter ships, like IKEA and Walmart, with an inherent brand-protective interest in zero emissions – in influencing how the shipping industry manages its emissions? Do you see pressure for change coming from other sources as well?  

M.M.: The Sea Cargo Charter and Poseidon Principles are perfect examples of consumer-side pressure and are kick-starting GHG emission consideration in the shipping industry. IMO decisions are very difficult to realize but pressure from market forces and Pension Funds cannot be underestimated. Pension Funds, especially, are expressing that they don’t wish to invest in assets with carbon footprints above a certain threshold. This puts pressure on policymakers and protects first movers in the market by assuring them that they’ll have the higher prices required to protect their investments. Discussions are ongoing on insurance pressure (e.g. not insuring high-polluting vessels) and investment packages (shared risk, financial blending) to assist market transition. But again, these will fail without strict and enforceable regulations from the IMO.


As for the nature of these regulations, ZESTAs supports goal-based measures based on absolute GHG emissions, rather than measures focussed on ship efficiencies. We believe that a simple cap on GHG emissions would minimise complexities with compliance and ensure that effective reductions are achieved. ZESTAs supports an annual operational carbon intensity indicator, which is currently under discussion at the IMO. We also believe it must be enforceable. If a vessel emits above its allowed GHG limit, there must be consequences that impact the bottom line, like being prohibited from sailing. Serious incentives are needed instead of just fines or further planning. Venture capital is poised to throw money at this as soon as regulations create a protective investment landscape. There is $1 trillion worth of investments waiting, including projects onshore, according to a UMAS report. My final word on this is that it’s high time that some enforceable regulations were drawn up so that we can all get on with the business of shipping.



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