Electric and Hybrid Ships, Gaining Industry-wide Acceptance

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The shipping industry is a lifeline of global trade. However, shipping is a major pollutant contributing to climate change. In a bid to check pollution, stakeholders of the industry are mooting and implementing varied measures. One of those being switching to electric and hybrid vessels. The development of smart ships has already started and now the maritime market has taken it to the next level: all-electric and hybrid ships are slowly coming up. What are the benefits of electric ships and why these type of vessels are much needed today, is important to understand.

Since the early 2010s, sales of pure electric and hybrid vessels have grown steadily, mainly driven by the need to reduce local pollution of NOx, SOx and particulate matter in a handful of emission control areas (ECA) that are local to coastlines. Vessel operators have chiefly turned to low-sulphur fuels such as LNG to comply, as well as invested in scrubbers to clean tail-pipe gases before they are released.

However, many have also invested in electric and hybrid powertrains. Another strong driver, particularly for commercial vessels, is fuel economy. Many commercial vessels are installed with oversized engines in order to handle peaks in power demand. By adding batteries to handle transient loads, engines can be downsized and set to run consistently at high load – where they were designed to run efficiently. Depending on the vessel type, the resultant fuel savings can reach 10 – 30 per cent, translating to hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of savings annually.

Autonomous and Electric Ships: Smart ships can be divided in two categories: unmanned ships and autonomous ships. The difference between these two categories is that unmanned vessels are ruled by an operator from a control centre onshore. In contrast, autonomous ships use a computer on board that takes decisions about the route, speed, fuel consumption, maintenance and even mooring in the harbour. To make sure everything is under control, an autonomous ship is always connected to an on shore control centre.

Smart ships run without crew on board and most of the time they operate with conventional propulsion systems that work with heavy fuel oil or diesel. But now the technology has taken it to the next level: Electrics Ships. These ships are driven by electricity instead of the conventional fuels. It is comparable with the development of electric cars and the working principle is similar. Instead of diesel engines, electric ships contain batteries to keep the vessel going.

Working: Whether it’s a ship that is driven by a conventional propulsion system or a ship that is driven by an electric propulsion system, vessels must keep sailing. Electric and conventional propulsion systems have the same working principle: a package of a propeller, propeller shaft, bearing and stern tube ensure the actual propulsion.

Advantages: The development of electric ships is not without a reason. First, the use of electric-driven vessels has a positive effect on the environment. The fuel consumption of a ship decreases and oil-emission is reduced. Second, the space required for installation of electrical propulsion machinery is much less and is compact in comparison with conventional systems. This results in extra load space on a ship. And third, the life cycle costs are reduced due to less fuel consumption and lower maintenance costs.

China is the owner of world’s first all-electric cargo ship, and the ship is already in use. Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Ltd. constructed the ship and it was launched in the city of Guangzhou in November 2017. The 70.5-metres-long vessel can travel 80 kilometres after being charged for two hours and has a maximum travel speed of 12.8 kilometres per hour.

The Way Ahead: Maritime transport is responsible for about 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the European Commission. While other sectors are anticipated to be able to reduce their emissions, in shipping, they are expected to increase sharply. However, now the policy-makers have started to act. And the shipowners are weighing alternatives.

While improved battery technology has helped the new generation of electric European ventures get afloat, long-haul, ocean-going vessels currently do not have the option of docking regularly to plug in small batteries — meaning that they are unlikely to become completely electrified in the near future. Electric vessels are nonetheless making waves, particularly in Scandinavian countries. A medium-sized car ferry, the MS Ampere, took to the seas off western Norway in early 2015. Ferry operator Scandlines also runs battery-diesel hybrids between Germany and Denmark.

About 90 percent of world trade is delivered via shipping. Not surprisingly, the ecological footprint of maritime shipping is big. But the industry is changing. But in the current scenario consciousness level is significant and major players in the shipping industry and weighing the electric / hybrid options seriously.

(References: www.lagersmit.com ; www.imo.org)

Sea News Feature, September 18

Baibhav Mishra
Author: Baibhav Mishra