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All-electric, hybrid ships not ready for long haul
American Shipper
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Although the development of new ship designs using all-electric, hybrid, and renewable energy powered engines for long-distance overseas trade is still in its infancy, many industry experts are confident in their ability to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping in the long-term, based in part on recent developments in native designs for short-distance trades.

In 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) launched its initial strategy to reduce GHG emissions, outlining a series of short, mid, and long-term milestones to achieve its ultimate decarbonisation target of halving GHG emissions by 2050, as compared to 2008 levels.

Despite the decarbonizing potential of new ship designs, they face significant implementation hurdles, namely that there are over 50,000 vessels in the world fleet and they cannot simply be replaced or retrofitted overnight. Insufficient technological bandwidth also challenges new ship designs, at least as a viable short-term measure.

“The challenge for a ship built today is that this change will take place within its lifespan,” a spokesperson for DNVGL told “Failure to account for foreseeable regulatory and technology developments may rer a ship built today uncompetitive at best; in the worst case it may up being prohibited from operating altogether.”

Narrowing the field
DNVGL, a provider of risk management and quality assurance services to the maritime industry, has championed all-electric and hybrid ship designs to reduce GHG emissions, suggesting “design-in optionality” for new vessels, giving ship owners and operators flexibility in sustainable ship designs.

The company introduced its “carbon-robust” ship concept in 2017 as part of its Maritime Fore to 2050 report, which emphasized flexibility, safety, and long-term competitiveness when weighing new ship designs. The model compares the break-even costs, or the minimum rate a ship must secure to cover all expenses, of different fuel and technology options to that of competing ship designs.

“The model can be used when developing ships that can withstand regulatory, fuel, technological, and market shifts,” the spokesperson said. “A carbon-robust ship is one that is competitive and thrives in any decarbonization scenario.”

“A scenario-based model lets shipowners explore design options and stress-test them for vessel or fleet competitiveness under a range of possible regulatory, technology and energy price futures,” allowing shipowners to mitigate uncertainty regarding evolving regulations and technologies, DNVGL said in the report.

Katharine Palmer, global head of sustainability for maritime consultant Lloyd’s Register, agreed that “at the moment, there are too many uncertainties, which is why it is important to conduct trials and pilots to better understand the dynamics between technology, safety, and costs. We must do this to narrow down the options.”

DNVGL’s carbon-robust model has the potential to supplement shipowners in building competitive new ship designs that align with the IMO’s 2050 decarbonization targets to halve GHG emissions compared to 2008 levels.

Along with its scenario-based model to aid in the decision-making process of building new ship designs, DNVGL supports the integration of batteries in all-electric and hybrid engine vessels.

Propulsion and auxiliaries on all-electric ships are powered by batteries ged from an on-shore electric grid while at berth, according to the DNVGL report. Hybrid ships incorporate renewable energy, such as wind, solar, and wave power, and electric batteries to power vessels. In both cases, DNVGL says “batteries are a prime enabler for reducing fuel consumption and costs, maintenance, and air emissions.”

According to DNVGL, there are currently 356 all-electric or hybrid vessels either in operation or under construction respectively as of July 1 2019, a figure that has grown from zero over the last ten years. By comparison, there are 318 liquified natural gas (LNG) ships sailing or on order today, which has taken around 20 years to materialize. CMA CGM, for example, has ordered nine 22,000-TEU newbuild ships with dual-fuel LNG-capable engines for delivery in 2020.

“This shows that the shipping world is waking up to the potential of electrification, at least as a transformational technology, in terms of all-electric vessels, but also for hybrid ships,” DNVGL said.

Going the distance
In terms of operational benefits, electric-powered ships minimize noise and vibrations, optimize on-board generators, enhance vessel responsiveness and safety, and most importantly, reduce fuel consumption, according to DNVGL.

“To give you a concrete example, for the first big all-electric ferry in the world — operating between the Norwegian ports of Lavik and Oppedal since 2015 — the average saving in terms of fuel cost reduction was about 56 percent, which is a lot,” the DNVGL spokesperson said.

Despite the advantages of battery-powered vessels, there are still significant developments to be made in order to rely solely on batteries for vessel propulsion across the larger distances travelled by international cargo ships without reging.

“For longer distances, especially oversea trades, battery technology is not mature enough, and this will be the case for many years ahead,” the spokesperson said. “However, hybrid applications in combination with a sulfur-free fuel such as LNG are a promising solution for ships on such trades.”

Renewable energy sources could also have a place in future hybrid new ship designs, with wind and solar energy emerging as the most promising energy sources for the shipping industry.

“Using renewables as auxiliary power could be an attractive option for autonomous and unmanned hybrid ships,” DNVGL said, pointing to sail arrangements, such as sails, kites, and flettner rotors; wave-powered ships, which convert wave power intro a propulsion mechanism; and solar power as potential sustainable power sources.

In early July, French shipowner Neoline chose Neopolia S.A.S, a network which brings together 208 industrial companies from the Pays de la Loire region across five different business clusters, for the construction of its first of two innovative sailing main propulsion vessels, scheduled to launch at the of 2021. Neoline is developing a sustainable roll-on/roll-off sailing vessel transport service, which according to the company, can save 80 to 90 percent of fuel consumption and the associated carbon footprint thanks to its new ship design.

But Neoline is not the only company looking to invest in wind power. A.P. Møller Holding, the majority shareholder of Maersk Group, in July acquired KK Group, whose main activities are focused on its KK Wind Solutions, a provider of wind turbine control tems and supply chain services for the offshore wind energy industry. For Maersk, the acquisition represents “a step into renewables, with an aim of accelerating the industrialization of wind and leading the electrification of society,” KK Group said in a statement.

Although all-electric and hybrid new ship designs appeal to industry players, “the technology choices made [by shipowners and carriers] when building a new ship will decide whether it will be future-proof,” and ultimately successful in decarbonizing the shipping industry, DNVGL says.

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