Worker with ship in dry dock

Shipowners should use pandemic downtime to retrofit

5 min read

19 Nov 2020

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Asa Butcher

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Wärtsilä

5 min read

19 Nov 2020

Text:

Asa Butcher

Photo:

Wärtsilä

The coronavirus crisis has seen different segments in the maritime industry retrofitting their vessels with more efficient and clean technologies. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a diverse impact on the maritime industry. While some shipowners struggle to maintain operations and are furloughing vessels, others are using the downtime to prepare their fleets to meet the IMO’s regulatory targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

With half of Wärtsilä’s retrofits requiring docking or a period of out-of-service, the unprecedented crisis has offered an economically sound opportunity to upgrade and transform old ships into leaner and cleaner vessels fit for the future.

A cost-competitive investment

“The IMO emission targets for 2030 and 2050 have not changed because of the pandemic. If it was challenging before, now it is even more so for our customers because of a strong volatility in the market. However, all shipowners still face those fixed deadlines,” states Giulio Tirelli, Director of Business Development at Wärtsilä Marine Power.

For specific, cost-sensitive markets, like the merchant one, the recent pandemic economic crisis put even stronger pressure on exploring upgrade solutions which should be, at the same time, cost competitive and significantly improving the emissions profile, Tirelli adds.

“The latest rules and regulations put pressure on the bulker segment. For such a standardized segment, where the attention to the cost profile is at the highest levels in the marine industry, it is of utmost importance to find a cost-competitive investment that drives the emission-limit achievement. A few months before the pandemic, we signed a contract to introduce the marine sector’s first hybrid installation for a bulk carrier, a solution which is capable of positively influencing both aspects,” highlights Tirelli.

The innovative retrofit is being installed on the M/V ‘Paolo Topic’ (link) and will see solar panels installed on the weather deck for the first time in the bulk carrier industry. “It offers benefits on emissions and an economically sound investment with a good payback time. So far, the pandemic has been slowing down the delivery of this project, which will happen during the next few months,” he notes.

Research and pilot green tech

There are many fleet owners seeking to meet the new regulations and are trying to find out which technologies will help them to be more competitive with their customers, while at the same time conserving cash. “We are seeing a lot of interest related to efficiency and emissions improvements,” says Sean Carey, Director of Project Sales at Wärtsilä North America, who adds that interest is generally related to vessel electrification, hybridisation, use of new greener fuels, as well as upgrades to engines and propulsion systems.

When asked whether any segment has been particularly active, he adds to Tirelli’s comments about bulkers and container vessels needing to prepare for the new emissions targets. “It’s challenging for them to find ‘easy wins’ to install on their vessels. We’ve been working with that market to dream up the next things we can do,” answers Carey.

Since the obstacle for most segments this year has been cost, Carey advises economically cautious shipowners to use the time to research and pilot what could be done in the future. “Now is a good moment to work with green technology companies, like Wärtsilä, to discuss what can be done to ensure that the coming emissions challenges can be met. We can help them be more efficient, with greener technologies and help them to win with their customers,” he says.

Effectiveness and economical soundness

While the IMO’s 2030 and 2050 targets relate to CO2 emissions, the global shipping regulator has also introduced a new upper limit on the sulphur oxide (SOx) content of ships’ fuel oil at the start of the year. Known as IMO 2020, the reduced limit is mandatory for all vessels operating outside certain designated areas.

Scrubbers are a common after-treatment method to reduce SOx emissions, although Tirelli adds that eliminating it at the source is another approach to meeting the sulphur cap. “Either you switch to low-carbon fuels, like switching from diesel to liquefied natural gas (LNG), or you can increase your efficiency by reducing the need for energy from the vessel,” he advises.

“We are going in the direction of fuel flexibility, with the utilisation of non-traditional fuels, like LNG and ammonia. However, the other big factor in reaching the CO2 targets is increasing efficiency. How do you that? You act on technologies, like hybridisation or reducing hull resistance by applying an air lubrication system, which involves creating a sheet of air to decrease drag,” explains Tirelli.

Innovative concepts like air lubrication underscore the fact that the diversification of technology has never been the issue for the marine industry, but rather finding technology that combines effectiveness with economical soundness. With the  crisis continuing and the IMO’s regulatory targets looming, the opportunities offered by this downtime could become invaluable.