Wärtsilä helping to propel waterborne transport towards zero emissions

As a member of the Waterborne Technology Platform, Wärtsilä is helping define strategic development priorities on the road to decarbonised shipping.

Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in the waterborne transport sector requires a coordinated effort from governments, regulators and businesses. As a key player in the Waterborne Technology Platform, Wärtsilä is at the heart of the maritime industry’s cooperation with the EU. By helping define strategic development priorities, the platform ensures that European taxpayers’ money is spent on projects that result in concrete steps forward on the journey to decarbonised, zero-emission shipping.


Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, with a budget of over 95 billion euros for the period 2021–2027. “Within this programme there is a section dedicated to surface transport, and waterborne transport naturally falls under that,” explains Sebastiaan Bleuanus, General Manager, Research Coordination and Funding at Wärtsilä. The aim of Horizon Europe is to improve Europe’s competitiveness and solve societal challenges like climate change by providing funding to create and utilise excellent knowledge and technologies.

In recent years the focus has switched firmly to decarbonisation. The Zero Emission Waterborne Technology Partnership is a collaboration between the EU Commission and the whole maritime sector set up to jointly define the challenges and research and innovation priorities. “The fact that the priorities are jointly agreed and that the funding process is so competitive is of course great news for European taxpayers because it ensures that their money goes to help the most promising projects,” continues Bleuanus.


No such thing as a free lunch

Securing funding is a highly complex and time-consuming process that requires meticulous preparation and the ability to bring together a diverse group of partners under a clear common goal. “You can’t just put together a consortium on a Friday afternoon, fill in some forms and get some ‘free’ EU money,” says Bleuanus. “You need to have your finger on the pulse, make sure you’re aware of what is happening in the background and prepare well in advance. It’s a very competitive arena, and if you’re not on top of your game you will be wasting your time.” 

“Creating a consortium is all about building relationships and trust, striking a balance between the different interests at play and making sure everyone’s goals are aligned,” Bleuanus highlights. “To make a solid proposal, you need a solid consortium and fortunately this is something that we as an organisation have been quite successful at.”

“You can’t change your mind every three months; you need clear and steady long-term objectives. The goal of the funding has to align with your business strategy because if it doesn’t the resulting projects are at risk of becoming nothing more than an expensive distraction.”


Tangible and intangible results

An injection of external funding provides technology leaders like Wärtsilä with a way to research and develop ideas and concepts that, while there is a risk that they do not end up as commercial products, produce very valuable knowledge and insights. In addition to helping develop new solutions, the funding can also be used to scale up existing ones and take them to market through pilot projects. 

“In this way external funding helps both individual companies and the whole maritime industry to operate closer to the bleeding edge of technology by lowering the financial risks involved with possible failure. 

Wärtsilä participated in the EU HERCULES cooperative research programme. Beginning in 2002 and concluding in 2014, the programme had an overall budget of EUR 101 million and concentrated on the development of tools and technologies to make shipping cleaner and more efficient. 

“Through initiatives like HERCULES we have researched two-stage turbocharging for marine engines, which is now more or less the industry standard,” says Bleuanus. “We have also done a lot of work on fuel flexibility, which is now a cornerstone of our marine power offering for decarbonisation.” 

EU funding is also used in other areas of the business. Wärtsilä’s EnergoProFin energy-saving device is another great example of a product that came about as a direct result of the organisation’s participation in EU projects, in this case RETROFIT.

Bleuanus goes on to point out that as well as fostering innovation, projects of this type are a fertile breeding ground for relationship building and creating lasting bonds between partners – which can include other commercial organisations, public research institutes and universities. 


A range of ongoing projects

As part of a consortium led by the university of Vaasa in Finland, Wärtsilä is playing a major role in a project aimed at reducing emissions from shipping through the integrated use of low-carbon energy and technologies. Project CHEK (deCarbonising sHipping by Enabling Key technology symbiosis on real vessel concept designs) was granted EUR 10 million by the EU as part of its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

“The goal of CHEK is to design two 99% decarbonised concept vessels – a bulk carrier that will use rotor sails to capture wind energy and a cruise ship that will operate with a Wärtsilä-designed engine running on hydrogen,” explains Bleuanus. “As part of the project we will demonstrate several key enabling technologies onboard real operational vessels.”

Together with six other industry and academic partners, Wärtsilä is also participating in the SeaTech project, which has been awarded EUR 6 million in EU funding and will have reached the halfway mark in November 2021. The consortium has been formed to develop two symbiotic ship engine and propulsion innovations that, when combined, could reduce vessel fuel consumption by as much as 30%. “Through precise engine control we are hoping to achieve radical reductions in exhaust emissions,” says Bleuanus. “The second innovation is a biomimetic dynamic wing, mounted on the bow, that captures wave energy to generate additional thrust by utilising and dampening ship motions.”

Wärtsilä is also a participant in the EU’s ShipFC project, which aims to develop fuel storage systems for the world’s first ammonia-powered vessel. The company already has several years’ experience of designing cargo-handling systems capable of handling ammonia for use on LPG carriers. The systems developed as part of the ShipFC project will supply ammonia to fuel cells that will be installed on Eidesvik Offshore’s supply vessel Viking Energy by 2023.

“Wärtsilä is playing a major role in a project aimed at reducing emissions from shipping through the integrated use of low-carbon energy and technologies. 


Piecing together the decarbonisation puzzle

Projects like these represent different parts of a highly complex puzzle that no one organisation can solve alone. As a leading player in the industry, Wärtsilä sees these collaborations as an opportunity to take concrete steps to achieve its own strategic goals as well as those of the EU. “When all the players are pulling in the same direction, we have demonstrated that we can achieve great things by using public money responsibly and effectively to help address the climate challenges we are facing as an industry and as a global society,” Bleuanus concludes.

Find out more about decarbonising maritime: https://www.wartsila.com/marine/decarbonisation


Written by
Charlie Bass