Turning uncertainty into opportunity – flexible solutions for the challenges of tomorrow

Turning uncertainty into opportunity – flexible solutions for the challenges of tomorrow

3 min read

03 Mar 2021

Text

Amanda Thurman

Photo

Christoffer Björklund

3 min read

03 Mar 2021

Text:

Amanda Thurman

Photo:

Christoffer Björklund

It has been clear for a while that the maritime industry’s ultimate destination must be decarbonisation. What is less clear – and what has been causing a great deal of uncertainty for vessel owners and operators – is how we will get there and what the various waypoints along the way will be. Wärtsilä is working hard to provide certainty and choice, building on its decades of leadership in providing power system solutions to vessels in all segments. Stefan Nysjö, Vice President of Power Supply, Wärtsilä Marine Power, shares his thoughts on where we are now and what the future holds.

“The current market landscape is characterised by change and uncertainty,” observes Nysjö. “On the one hand the industry is battling financial instability, partly caused by the pandemic but also present in no small way before it started. On the other hand there is the drive towards decarbonisation, making investment decisions ever more pressing. While the market is changing, ship owners are unsure how to futureproof their businesses and are waiting for clarity in order to make those decisions. This uncertainty is mirrored by financiers, who are increasingly reluctant to finance ships that are not clearly futureproof.” No-one has full clarity and all the answers, so how can the industry move forward?

Looking for answers when the only certainty is change

Finding clarity in uncertain times is something that Wärtsilä is well placed to help with. “We’ve been at the forefront of the industry for many decades, developing the technology that has helped bring the industry to where it is today,” Nysjö points out. “This gives us a lot of experience to draw on. There is currently a lot of hype in the market, but many of the ideas being suggested are still far from reality. We take a very practical approach to making things real and are known for this among our customers – people turn to us because of our track record and credibility, earned through our experience and advanced power solutions technology.”

Stefan Nysjö

Stefan Nysjö, Vice President of Power Supply, Wärtsilä Marine Power

“We have taken the time to master multiple base technologies, such as gas systems, exhaust abatement systems and propulsion, and we are capable of building systems and solutions around them,” continues Nysjö. “Integration is key to our strategy as we find time and again that it offers a more optimal solution. The traditional process, where owners turn to a shipyard to configure and build a ship, is becoming outdated because it doesn’t produce an optimal vessel. When we are involved at an early stage we can talk with owners to discover their pressures and goals and then demonstrate the benefits that can be achieved with an optimised vessel. This approach also brings benefits for shipyards – they’ll have better security of delivery and better schedules with just one provider offering proven solutions, not to mention that building better vessels will enhance their reputation overall.”

Research into the collaborators and fuels of the future

“But what we’ve done in the past is not enough to take us all the way to our decarbonisation destination,” continues Nysjö. “Although decarbonisation is at the core of our strategy, we know we still need technology that doesn’t yet exist, so we’re investing heavily in solutions and research. And we are not too proud to admit that we don’t expect to find all the answers alone – being thought leaders goes hand in hand with recognising other expertise and innovation in the marketplace, so we are actively collaborating with other players. For example, we have deepened our portfolio through work with third parties to integrate fuel cells and battery storage. This unlocks the benefits of hybrid solutions in many applications.” 

“We are also investing heavily in research and development into future fuels, as well as the products and technology that will work with them,” explains Nysjö. “Many future fuels are hazardous or toxic, so this requires special safety precautions, equipment and systems – not to mention regulatory approval, which we have now been awarded for our new future-fuels test lab in Vaasa. We will soon start with full-scale laboratory tests on ammonia and then turn to hydrogen and methanol, to determine the most reliable and efficient technology and fuel combinations. 

In our work we collaborate closely with Wärtsilä Energy – after all, decarbonisation is not just a maritime issue so there are lots of co-development and research opportunities. We are also working with customers on research, for example, we are partnering with two customers and a testing facility in Norway to set up a demonstration laboratory focused on ammonia. All our learning and experience will be transferred to the facility, so the knowledge share should supercharge the research.”

Specialised support for all market segments

“Product portfolios have traditionally been organised from the perspective of the products themselves, but we’re making ours customer-centric to help customers find the right product with the highest added value for the vessel,” points our Nysjö. “Because of our history at the forefront of technology development, our work has often been with specialised or high-value vessels like cruise ships, ferries and special vessels, but our portfolio also addresses the needs of vessels on the merchant side of the market that potentially require even more assistance getting started on their decarbonisation journey. 

“One focus area is helping the maritime industry to realise that to futureproof vessels it is essential that they can run on both gaseous and liquid fuels. In most cases, the design of the ship itself is a more important consideration than the extent of the engine conversion: if you haven’t designed a ship to hold a gas tank from day one it will in many cases not be economically viable to add one later. Designing a vessel for gaseous fuels will futureproof the vessel – it might be an LNG tank today, but correctly designed it could hold biogas, synthetic methane or ammonia in the future. The transition to full decarbonisation will be long and diverse in terms of what fuels are being used and their global and regional availability, so there is no option to just wait and see which fuel comes out on top. We are making products that can handle fuel diversity, which will be a market certainty for a long period of time.”

- Stefan Nysjö, Vice President of Power Supply, Wärtsilä Marine Power


Charting a course through uncertain times

“Although the timing is uncertain, we all know where we’re headed: our destination will be decarbonisation,” emphasises Nysjö. “Our work aims to help end the uncertainty experienced by the industry, with flexible solutions that help to speed up this journey. Whatever direction the world goes in, Wärtsilä will be there – we are living in extremely exciting times and it is a privilege to be living through the industry’s transformation, helping to empower the changes that need to happen. Our mission is nothing less than to enable the decarbonisation of the maritime industry with our technology. That’s why we’re here, providing dependable options in an uncertain world.”