One step closer to “zero-emissions”
Most large marine vessels rely on fuels such as diesel, which means that these shipowners will have to scramble in order to comply with IMO’s global limit for sulphur. This must include a switch from high-sulphur heavy fuel oil to more environmentally-friendly alternatives. One of them is electrification.
The first steps have already been taken to implement electricity for marine propulsion. Most commonly, hybrid engines are being used. For example, Norway’s Hurtigruten, a cruise, ferry and cargo operator, have teamed up with Rolls-Royce to equip their ship with an auxiliary battery-powered engine, that could sail through the Arctic and Antarctic virtually without a sound for up to half an hour.
Along the similar lines, the Finnish electrical propulsion company Visedo introduced Asia’s first hybrid electric ferry in Taiwan. The vessel that transports eight million passengers every year, is now fitted with a lithium iron phosphate battery, that will result in estimated savings of 25,000l of fuel annually, greatly reduced associated greenhouse and particulate emissions, diminished operating noise and lower ongoing maintenance costs, reports Visedo.
Even though diesel-electric hybrid propulsion helps cut back on diesel-fuel consumption, it is not enough to reach the “zero-emissions” goal. It could be achieved with completely electric ships. The industry is already moving in that direction with China launching a fully electric cargo ship.
This ship, lauded as the world’s first such vessel, is able to travel up to 80 km while carrying 2000-tonnes of cargo after charging for two hours. The Guangzhou Shipyard International Company’s vessel is fitted with a 26-tonne lithium battery, meaning that it has zero emissions. It also facilitates the cruise speed of 12.8 km per hour, the People’s Daily reported.
Other fully electrical vessels include Yara International fertilizer company’s container ship in Norway, which also has the benefit of being self-driving. As well as, Finland’s oldest Föri passenger ferry that has been retrofitted with a new zero-emission electric drivetrain by Visedo.
These electric technologies have a marked advantage in efficiency over traditional marine engines by decreasing energy losses. A battery can have a charge/discharge efficiency of more than 90 %, while engines in use today reach no more than 50 % efficiency.
However, even with a noticeable move forward to battery powered shipping, there are still considerable barriers preventing this technology from becoming widespread in the industry. Mainly, it’s their high capital costs. According to the estimation of EU’s Joint Research Centre, they typically reach in excess of $1000/kWh. This may be recovered through lower energy costs and reduced maintenance needs in areas with low electricity prices. In other regions, though, such capital cost recovery could take a substantial amount of time, which might not justify the investment.
Such barriers and slow implementation of fully electric propulsion in ships leads to the conclusion that vessels like these will take a long time to become the industry standard.