With the industry rapidly changing, discussions are turning to how shipping companies can operate in a much greener future
Floating factories, sharing assets and crewless fleets sailing in convoy – these are just some of the ideas revealed by Finnish manufacturing company Wärtsilä in its recent brief, Visions of Future Shipping. But could any of them actually work?
Certainly, the future demands more innovation. The green energy transformation will undoubtedly change the marine industry. New business models and technologies will disrupt the whole value chain as it is today, while heavy pressure from new global trends will call for more agile business models. Added to this, large investments in the car industry and energy production field in particular will drive energy storage in battery technology forward at an increasing speed.
New solutions, such as bacteria producing hydrogen from water, have already been demonstrated. From sunlight to sundown, production of electric power is showing increasing efficiency while the price continues to plummet. Hydrogen driven fuel cells are also being introduced by major car companies to become an emission free source of power – a concept that could also be applied in ship transport, suggests Wärtsilä.
“A few years ago, it would have seemed ludicrous that an online bookshop such as Amazon would buy its own ships, but nowadays the only rule is that there are no rules.”
Sensors, equipment and systems will, at an increasing speed, interact and perform autonomous actions from artificial intelligence and by means of robots, it says, adding that self-learning systems will also become available in shipping operations.
Information will also be available to everybody all the time through new communication technologies. And, the introduction of block chain technology into trade will inevitably change the business; there will be more common sharing of assets and information, making it easier for new players to enter the field of shipping transportation.
What effect will these new trends have on the business of the established players in the market though? Well, Wärtsilä predicts that the common pressure to reduce cost as well as emissions in shipping will lead to a higher use of renewable energy.
Prompted by the inevitable effect that growing global energy demand and increasingly stringent environmental legislation to combat climate change will have on the shipping sector, Wärtsilä foresees a variety of difference scenarios that could shape the way that shipping companies operate in the future.
Battery energy storage capacity will dramatically increase over the next 10 years, predicts Wärtsilä. “This implies that pretty much all short sea needs can be solved in battery operation of the vessel, while charged from a clean energy source,” it says.
Accordingly, Wärtsilä recently revealed its latest brainchild, EXERGO: running on batteries, the ship will be emissions and noise free. At the same time, the operator can check-in from afar through a streamlined and user-friendly interface to make sure that the vessel operation is as safe, cheap and clean as it can be.
“Imagine yourself entering the cruise port of Shanghai to step onto a ship that is only powered by batteries,” says Wärtsilä. “Laying silent in the port without any emissions, and leaving the harbour without sound or any visible exhaust.”
Wärtsilä adds a 20 times increase in today’s battery energy density will make a voyage from Europe to Japan possible.
More interestingly, it says, is combining vast energy storage with high efficiency solar panels. “Maybe it will be possible to power the cruise ship’s utility from it,” Wärtsilä speculates.
Wärtsilä says that sharing assets could also provide dividends for the shipping industry. “Imagine Wärtsilä joining new global players in a new platform for shipping transportation, where the principles of everybody sharing the same information all the time applies,” it says. “The middlemen will disappear, and the transportation on sea will be much more efficient.”
Apply this to the wider industry, and it claims there is a plethora of benefits to joining up old and new ship operators with a digital tool that makes sure no containership sails cargo-free. “Sharing assets saves money,” says Wärtsilä. “A few years ago, it would have seemed ludicrous that an online bookshop such as Amazon would buy its own ships, but nowadays the only rule is that there are no rules.”
Wärtsilä also suggests that one way for the industry to potentially reach its ultimate goal of emission free transportation at sea is to build artificial islands along the largest shipping routes. “Local production of renewable and clean fuel could take place there, and maybe emission free hydrogen for powering fuel cells produced from solar or wind power,” it says.
In addition, Wärtsilä estimates that up to 30% of fuel could be saved by operating fleets of ship in a convoy with one master leading a fleet of crewless ships. “The master could accommodate the operating and maintenance, as well as anti-piracy crews,” it says, adding that the convoying of crewless ships requires autonomy, artificial intelligence and advanced connectivity.
Another of Wärtsilä’s ideas is to begin manufacturing raw materials while they are being transported on ‘floating factories’, saving valuable time to market, and increasing quality and profitability. For example, Wärtsilä says: “Imagine coffee beans being processed during the journey from Brazil to the market in Europe or Asia – freshly made and ready for consumption at arrival in the port.”
Not only would this improve the quality of the end product, starting manufacturing soonest after harvesting, but it would also save valuable transportation time, says Wärtsilä.