A look back at this year’s decarbonisation journey on Insights

A review of 2021 Wärtsilä Insights on decarbonisation – from future fuels and energy-saving technology to hybridisation and vessel electrification.

With the end of the year fast approaching, it’s time to look back over the last 12 months of Insights. Unsurprisingly, decarbonisation was the star of the show – and rightly so. This was the year when a viable pathway to maritime decarbonisation – through future fuels, energy-saving technology, hybridisation and vessel electrification for example – became tangible and actionable. So let’s rewind and refresh our memories about the insights we’ve uncovered during what has been a year packed with developments and progress.


The overall message this year has been that although decarbonisation has been on everybody’s radar for many years and uncertainty still exists around the edges, the undeniable truth is that it is now clearly possible to take immediate concrete steps. 


The path ahead becomes clearer

Whether through regulatory necessity – EEXI and CCI being the most pressing – or pressure from cargo owners wanting to clean up their supply chains, or even the first sustainability-linked loans becoming available, everybody is beginning to feel the push or has at least seen the unavoidable direction of travel.

Whereas previously there may have been a prevailing “let’s wait and see” mentality, where owners and operators were understandably reluctant to invest in one technology over another, these pressures have – or very soon will – necessitate immediate decisions. As many experts and visionaries from within Wärtsilä have pointed out in their Insights articles and webinars, these decisions are not nearly as difficult as people may think. And to a great extent, the technologies to make them a reality are already available.

In his article in February, Roger Holm, President of Wärtsilä Marine Power, highlights integrated efficiency upgrades and digital solutions as perhaps the fastest and most commercially viable way to cut fuel consumption and therefore emissions. Hybrid technologies and electrification will also play a key role in maritime decarbonisation. The range of proven, readily available technologies was neatly summarised in September in our article, Complying with EEXI – how to speed up decarbonisation without slowing down vessels.


Future fuels and fuel conversions

While some alternative fuels remain future fuels, that future is getting nearer.

Wärtsilä has successfully tested its first ammonia-fuelled engine, and we reported on the ZEEDS initiative, which hopes to have its first green ammonia-powered vessel in operation by 2024.

We also took a deep dive into ammonia and methanol and reported on a successful methanol conversion project on the Stena Germanica. 

The key future fuel takeaway is that there is no need to place all your eggs in one basket. The important thing is fuel flexibility enabled by multi-fuel engines that can run on, or be easily adapted to run on, a variety of fuels. These engines mean that whatever fuel, or fuels, come out on top, vessels powered by Wärtsilä engines will be able to take advantage of them.


Electrification and hybrid systems

Shaft generator systems, which have been around for several decades, aim to cover a vessel’s onboard electricity needs while sailing by utilising the main engine as opposed to the auxiliary engines to generate power. With the help of modern converter technologies and smart software, these systems can generate electricity across a wide engine rpm range. A hybrid system typically combines an energy storage system and a conventional engine to take even greater advantage of electrical power.

Hybrid systems deliver optimised engine load and can dramatically reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the need for auxiliary engine power with a corresponding reduction in fuel costs and emissions.

All vessels, regardless of type or size, can benefit from such systems, but as we reported in June large ferries are particularly well placed to take advantage.

With hybrid setups, smart integration of the various components is the key to success. As part of its hybrid power module for ship propulsion, Wärtsilä has developed a highly sophisticated and fully integrated energy management system (EMS). This acts as the ‘brain’, controlling the energy flows between the different power producers and consumers. In November we published an article dispelling the myth of high losses in modern electrically enhanced propulsion systems.


Energy-saving technologies

Energy-saving technologies – devices that can help vessels use less energy to perform the same job – have become a hot topic with EEXI and CII waiting just around the corner. As Elias Boletis, Director, Propellers and Transmission made clear in his article back in May, “Increasing propulsion efficiency is central to reducing emissions, and Wärtsilä’s propulsion portfolio is one of the broadest on the market, but the key to optimising energy efficiency isn’t found in individual products.” 

Rather it is found in combining technologies based on a thorough evaluation of each vessel’s operating profile, and Wärtsilä is uniquely placed to help vessel owners and operators in this regard. For example, we have partnered with Silverstream Technologies to offer their Air Lubrication System and added Kuribayashi Steamship Co.’s Gate Rudder and Anemoi Marine Technology’s Rotor Sails to our offering.

Integrated systems

The integration of all these technologies – alternative carbon-free and carbon-neutral fuels, electrification and efficiency enhancements – was the focus of an article with
Grant Gassner, Director Integrated Systems & Solutions at Wärtsilä back in April. In the drive to future-proof both new and existing vessels, he sees fuel-flexible engines as the driving force, electrification and energy storage as key enablers and efficiency enhancements as the new standard.

Wärtsilä’s unique strength is not only that it has all these technologies in its portfolio but that it also has the expertise to integrate them seamlessly so that they deliver benefits far greater than the sum of the individual components. We reported on two great examples of this approach, the ultra-efficient ferries Eleanor Roosevelt and Aurora Botnia, both packed to the gunwales with integrated technology packages from Wärtsilä.

So as we sail into a new year, the last full one before EEXI and CCI come into force, we look to the future with optimism. We know that while there is still much to be achieved, with the stepping stones to decarbonisation covered in this end-of-year wrap-up, we are well prepared for what lies ahead.


Written by

Ian Hamilton