The green shipping revolution is around the corner

The shipping industry is in the middle of a green revolution

There is increasing pressure to waste less energy, produce fewer emissions, and in the long term, be emission-free. ABB plays a pioneering role in sustainable transportation. Our fast-charge stations for vehicles can eventually contribute to fully electric-driven ships in the future.

Shipping is responsible for 3 percent of global CO2-emissions. In order to prevent a further increase in harmful emissions when promoting transport by water, the shipping industry is working hard to make fleets greener.

The time when heavy fuel oil powered the propellers of ships – including high sulphur emissions – is coming to an end. Large parts of Europe have already implemented a strict sulphur standard, which requires shipping companies to use less polluting marine fuel. Fortunately, heavy fuel is increasingly replaced by cleaner diesel, which is a positive step forward.

Rising energy-efficiency

ABB is helping the shipping industry to go even further. We have extensive experience with both electricity and automation. The shipping industry can bring together those two worlds.

By electrifying and automating ships, we ensure much higher energy efficiency. On the basis of the weather, the current, the number of nautical miles still to be sailed and numerous other indicators, our software automatically determines which capacity must be supplied by which diesel generators. This software is integral to the ABB Ability program, and custom-made applications for AC500 and AC 800 controllers are also available.

Thanks to this approach, diesel generators now only operate at full power when this is absolutely neccessary.They no longer operate at full power non-stop, as used to be the case. Improved energy management is realised by configuring the power plant in a different way. In general, batteries (replacing one of more diesel generator sets)  are used in combination with advisory software (Octopus), an energy management system that determines  which power source is used, shore power and, of course, a VSD (variable-speed drive) controlled propeller. This way, much less energy is lost, while the emission of harmful substances is also significantly reduced.

In addition, the ABB system that controls the generators also improves safety on board. Every generator is monitored, and in the event of a defect or – worse still – a fire, a message is immediately sent out. Ships will also have a longer lifecycle, because the integrated software can perfectly indicate when it is time for maintenance. This ‘ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operations for Marine’ software is delivered within the Marine business unit.

Fully electric vessels

But that is not the end of it. Not by a long shot. Hybrid ships are already in use, some of which are powered by LNG. Like with cars and trucks, this is an excellent intermediate step in the transition, but just as with land transport, waterborne transport will be 100 percent electric in the not too distant future.

The group of non-believers is loud and persistent, but don’t be fooled by it: diesel fuel will disappear. And when that happens, shipping must also be ready for an electric future. Many ferries covering shorter distances are already fully electric No emissions. No noise.

And ABB has also made a contribution to this development. Our fast charging stations can already charge cars and trucks in a very short time. A non-maritime solution, but if we can quickly recharge cars and trucks, why not ferries?

Ferries travelling the same route throughout the day often stay in port for less than ten minutes, before returning to the other side of the water for new passengers. These vessels should therefore be able to charge sufficient power very quickly to make the crossing. One ferry requires as much electricity as two lorries, or even a little less. It is, therefore, also perfectly possible to use our quick charging stations for ferries.

Innovation at full speed in shipping

The massive ships traversing the seas will not be sailing fully electrically anytime soon. Reaching  Rotterdam or Antwerp from China or South America would be difficult purely on electrical power. However, even in this case, we are hopeful. Batteries that can hold onto the power they contain are in full development. They are already becoming more efficient and cheaper. At present the batteries would not be able to power a cruise ship or container ship across the ocean, but if they continue to develop at the current rate, they will be able to do so at some future point.

And batteries are not the only innovation that can radically make shipping more sustainable. Research into fuel cells – which convert chemical energy into electrical energy – is also progressing rapidly.

We don’t have a crystal ball. We wouldn’t dare to predict when ships will fully stop emitting emissions. But the sustainable transition – although perhaps less visible to outsiders – is right at the top of the agenda in the shipping industry. The steep rise of transport by water can definitely go hand in hand with the reduction of harmful emissions.

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About the author

Maurice Seijkens

Benelux Sales Manager ABB Marine & Ports. Commercial responsibility for the activities of ABB Marine & Ports in the Benelux. With ABB since 2015, more than 25 years of experience in the maritime industry.
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