Over the next few decades, the global shipping industry is likely to see several major changes in the technologies and fuels it uses to meet the changing challenges in the environment, regulation, and markets. We already seeing the adoption of pioneering new technologies, materials, and fuels used by shipping worldwide.
Here are a few examples of ongoing developments that the shipping industry seems to be adopting today.
Increasingly we are seeing the adoption of smart ships equipped with the Internet of things enabled sensors able to watch the vessel’s operations and performance. Already, we are seeing vessels equipped complex net of sensors able to detect all aspects of operation including the finding of faults and identifying proactively the need for any maintenance, such as provided by GE’s marine systems solutions.
In addition, we are seeing improvements in real-time ship to shore communication, the ability of land-based fleet managers to watch vessels operations in real-time.
The concept of mega-ships has been around a long time with the operation of very large oil tankers e.g. the 458.46-metre Seawise Giant.
But we are also seeing similar mega vessels in other maritime markets including ferry operations, decommissioning, pipe laying and even container vessels. For instance, one of the world’s largest container ships is the MOL Triumph. It measures 400m long (for comparison, and it is longer than the Shard office skyscraper in London, which stands at some 310 metre in height). This giant ship will carry up to 20,150 TEU (Twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers. Ship operators are adopting ever bigger sized vessels so it can take advantage of better economies of scale.
In many countries, operators are seeking alternative fuels that have a cleaner carbon footprint than traditional fuels like bunker oil. As a result, we are seeing a whole range of new fuel solutions being tried out in including usage of hybrid engines, electric batteries, LNG, and hydrogen fuels. For instance, Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten is investing in ships with a hybrid engine developed by Rolls Royce that aim to offer quieter sailing through tour routes in the Arctic and Antarctic. Also, Port Liner is constructing a series of new battery-powered E-barges to connect inland river ports with major coastal ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp.
In addition, we are seeing improvements in the design of vessels hulls and propellers, and further improvements in voyage planning to cut fuel consumption. Also, the application of better friendly hull coatings to cut fouling and even experiments with air cushions to cut friction as the colour passes through water.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel
To date, there is thought to be around 500 LNG fuelled vessels, with a further 200 on order. Amongst the LNG fuelled cruise liners, which has been recently completed include the AIDAnova in Germany and the Costa Smeralda in Finland. In addition, we are seeing an increasing use of this fuel by specialist vessels such as car ferries, cruise liners, and offshore support vessels, as sees ship operators seeking to meet ever tougher International Maritime Organisation and EU environmental standards on greenhouse gases as especially attractive. Operators of LNG vessels see many benefits, these include, and that LNG is cheaper than bunker oil and has a smaller carbon footprint than oil.
Solar and wind power for ships
Also, shipping is looking at traditional sources of power, these include both solar and wind. With solar a catamaran known as the Turanor PlanetSolar powered by 29,000 solar cells has successfully circumnavigated the globe. However, the likeliest application for this technology in commercial shipping will be systems that cut fuel consumption by supplementing the existing power supply with onboard wind turbines or solar panels, plus the storage of any surplus power in batteries.
In addition, Skysails GmbH & Co. KG is a Hamburg-based company that sells kite rigs to propel cargo ships, large yachts and fishing vessels by wind energy. Ships are pulled by an automatically controlled foil kite of some hundreds of square metres. For multiple reasons, they give many times the thrust per unit area of conventional mast-mounted sails. The systems save fuel and reduce carbon emissions and shipping costs, but a market failure is slowing their adoption
An exciting future for marine technology
For many in the industry, the future is an undiscovered country full of new opportunities for all concerned. This is especially for those involved in providing game-changing innovative technological solutions.