Wärtsilä innovative ship design - new marine concept ZERO

Another hundred years

A team of futurists have spun gold from global trends that threaten to disrupt the marine market. But disruption’s not really a threat – it’s a good thing when it saves money and is kinder to the environment. Wärtsilä’s six new marine concept designs are now set to sail into the future.

Text: Campbell Black Photo: Helge Hansen & Wärtsilä

When Willie Wågen met colleagues from across Wärtsilä in late 2015 to discuss nothing less modest than the future, people could barely contain their imagination. “It made me confident that this company will be around for another hundred years,” says Wågen, who now heads a team of innovators that works as a complement to the traditional R&D department. 

The team had summed up three trends that can’t be ignored: green energy, digitalisation and the sharing economy.

“You read about these very general trends in the paper every day, and a normal reaction is to stick your head into the sand and wait for them to go away,” says Wågen. “But we need to pull our heads out from the sand and ask what can they mean for us, and what they can do for us.”

The assembly gave the team fuel for thought, and they headed back home to the drawing board. They then crystallised ideas rather than fully fledged blueprints: designs meant to stir the imagination, whet the appetite and make the market want to fill in the blanks because the possibilities are endless.

So what’s in a name? Quite a lot of tech appeal, to start with, as Wärtsilä unfolds its new concepts: Exergo, Zero, Z3, Liitos, Bean to Cup, and Convoy.

Wartsila new ship concept Excergo
A visual of the EXERGO, the first of the six new revolutionary vessel concepts.


Described simply, the Exergo is a remote-controlled, battery-powered ship with a hull streamlined for greater efficiency and a crew on-shore. The Exergo could become the go-to for the cruise industry, for example. As ships grow larger, this would be a way to keep noise and emissions low, not least in ports where many residents have started to grumble about this swelling industry.


Zero grumbling is also in the cards if you move the on- and off-loading of goods out to a nearby artificial island rather than keep large and noisy container ports on land. And that artificial island would run on seawater, no joke. Or rather, on hydrogen produced from seawater with a helping hand from solar and wind power.

Excess hydrogen can also be sold to visiting ships as fuel, keeping them clean and emissions-free, too, while small battery-powered ships ferry the goods to shore. These artificial islands could then also work as fuelling stations along the main trade routes.


Can Wärtsilä enter the value chain of shipping in a new and radical way? The key would be to provide propulsion power that’s reliable and green, and, crucially, doesn’t require that customers come up with a huge upfront investment.


Imagine joining up old and new ship operators (both Amazon and Huawei have plans to ship their own stuff) with a digital tool that makes sure no container ship sails cargo-free. Sharing assets saves money.

A few years ago, it would have seemed ludicrous that an online bookshop such as Amazon would buy its own ships, but nowadays the only rule is that there are no rules. The marine market needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

Bean to cup

And if that coffee was ground just before the beans from far, far away arrived in your local port? That morning coffee, so beloved in so many places, is the best way to illustrate Wärtsilä’s new concept of working with raw materials while en route. A floating factory, in essence.

“The salmon farmers in the North Sea have already picked up the same idea,” points out Wågen. “They are designing a ship that picks up the fish at the farm, prepares them on board, then starts to pre-process on its way to continental Europe, saving five days of transportation time and saving them millions of euros.”


Another real money saver is transforming wakeboarding from sunny Sunday sport to a Convoy of ships. Travelling in a pelo­ton formation saves fuel because there’s less resistance when you tailgate the ship in front. The lead ship would probably be manned, including an anti-piracy crew, but would also carry spare parts.

On tour

As Twentyfour7. went to print, Wågen’s team had hit the road to get feedback from and bounce ideas around with colleagues around the world. They’ve found that similar thoughts have been percolating in the minds of even the most conservative of marine market players.

“When we think of radical innovation, maybe my best example would be the iPad,” Wågen says. “When it was made, it was not a radical technology. There was nothing new in the technology, and any of the big players could have made a tablet. But when it hit the market, it was completely new because it disrupted the Palm makers, the PC makers and the other market players.”

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