New solutions and technologies are needed urgently to reverse the trend in greenhouse gas emissions from maritime transport amid pressure from regulators.
Even though maritime transport only accounts for 3.5 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union, it has been one of the most rapidly growing sources of emissions that contribute to climate change in the transport sector – the only economic sector in which emissions have increased since 1990.
Emissions from maritime transport rose by 32 per cent in the two decades preceding the coronavirus pandemic, mostly as a result of surging passenger trade volumes. The volumes rebounded last year from the initial pandemic-induced shock at a rate not witnessed since 2012, validating pre-pandemic estimates that the emissions could grow by 50–250 per cent by the midway point of the century.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted the goal of at least halving emissions from international shipping by 2050, spurring shipyards, shipping companies and technology suppliers to step up their efforts to develop more sustainable solutions for the industry.
At the front and centre of many recent advances in the industry has been Wärtsilä, a Finnish technology provider for the marine and energy industries with roots dating back to 1834.
Wärtsilä in January announced it will supply five engines capable of operating with methanol for an offshore wind installation vessel built in China for Van Oord, a maritime contracting company headquartered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The order is its first for new-build methanol-fuelled engines and is expected to consolidate its capacity to promote both the decarbonisation of the maritime industry and the use of methanol as a maritime fuel.
The equipment is scheduled for delivery in early 2023.
Green methanol – that is methanol made using hydrogen from renewable electricity and recaptured carbon – is viewed as one of the most promising future fuel candidates in maritime, offering benefits such as low cost, good availability and ease of storage.
“We see methanol as one of the alternatives to meet the industry’s goals to reduce its environmental impact,” said Harold Linssen, project director at Van Oord.
Wärtsilä recently signed a long-term co-operation agreement with the shipyard building the vessel, Yantai CIMC Raffles. The aim of the co-operation is to design and develop future-proof solutions for new-build vessels, including technologies enabling the use of carbon-free fuels.
“Enabling the use of methanol fuel is an important step along the path towards decarbonised operations,” gauged Roger Holm, president of Wärtsilä Marine Power. “These co-operations will speed the work in bringing these fuels to market and in building ships that meet and exceed the regulatory and operational requirements for the coming decades.”
Wärtsilä in January also revealed it has signed a 13-year agreement on maintenance and planning support for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier vessel powered by three of its dual-fuel engines. The vessel is operated by NYK Shipmanagement, a company headquartered in Singapore.
The Finnish company was selected to supply range of solutions – from dual-fuel auxiliary engines to integrated control system, propulsion control system and sewage treatment plants – for LNG-fuelled container ships ordered by France’s CMA CGM.
In December, it announced the launch of a four-year research, development and innovative project with a view to establishing a zero-emission marine ecosystem and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the industry by 60 per cent by 2030. The ecosystem is to develop sustainable technologies with potential applications also in the energy industry.
All products created in the ecosystem should be either carbon neutral or carbon negative by 2050.
“No one can achieve these ambitious targets on their own, but this unique maritime co-operation body can turn vision into reality,” declared Hannu Mäntymaa, managing director of Wärtsilä.
Among the more concrete goals of the project are developing energy storage systems for sustainable carbon-neutral fuels such as ammonia and hydrogen; methods for carbon capture and storage; and digital technologies that reduce fuel consumption in vessels.
Business Finland has granted the project 20 million euros in funding.
Mäntymaa said Wärtsilä has demonstrated its commitment to developing a sustainable society by adopting a set of climate targets known as Set for 30. The company has also made significant investments in research and development with a long-term focus on fuel flexibility, energy efficiency and emission reductions.
Breaking ice at both ends of the world
Helsinki Shipyard in January reported that it has finalised contracts for purchasing the main machinery and propulsion for an icebreaker designed for Moscow-headquartered Nornickel by Aker Arctic, an engineering company operating an ice model test basin in Helsinki.
The construction of the vessel will begin by the end of the year, with the delivery scheduled for late 2024.
The icebreaker will be equipped with a dual-fuel power plant capable of utilising both liquefied natural gas and low-sulphur diesel and feature facilities for transporting cargo and supporting helicopter operations. It will be able to break snow-covered ice up to two metres in thickness regardless of whether it is moving ahead or astern.
The Russian nickel mining and smelting company will use the vessel to secure access to Dudinka, the largest port in Siberia, through the basin of Yenisey River, Yenisey Bay and Kara Sea.
The icebreaker will be the largest and most powerful diesel-electric icebreaker ever built in Finland.
Aker Arctic is also involved in a shipbuilding project that was green-lit in December by the Government of Argentina. The project was resurrected from a years-long hiatus imposed in order to build a large-capacity cargo and fuel transport vessel capable of navigating the waters around Antarctic for the Argentine Navy.
The vessel is to be built at Tandanor, a shipyard located south of Buenos Aires.
“With Aker Arctic, we now agree on the execution of the basic engineering that will be carried out jointly, much of it will be in charge of the Finnish consultancy that is responsible for the design of about 85 per cent of the polar ships that exist,” Miguel Tudino, president of Tandanor, was quoted as saying by The Latin-American News.
Langh Tech, a Finnish developer of scrubbers for removing sulphur oxides from exhaust gases, reported late last year that it has begun investigating the possibility of capturing carbon aboard vessels.
The company said it has carried out several preliminary tests utilising the closed-loop scrubber system installed on a vessel of its subsidiary, Langh Ship. The tests indicate that injecting alkali into the process water of the scrubber provokes a reaction that effectively captures carbon dioxide from the exhaust gas into the water.
Although the tests were limited by the capacity of the existing alkali pump, even a five-per cent increase in alkali yielded a drop of 3.3 per cent in carbon dioxide emissions with the main engine load at around 85 per cent and one of almost seven per cent with the load at 40 per cent.
Langh Tech believes the results constitute tentative proof of concept and indicate that the capture feature could be installed in any of its closed-loop or hybrid scrubber systems relatively inexpensively.
The Port of Hamina-Kotka in December announced it is taking part in a collaborative project to reduce nutrient pollution in the Baltic Sea. The Baltic Sea Action Group-coordinated project seeks to tackle the issue by accelerating the development of a circular value chain that converts the sewage of vessels into biogas for heavy-duty transport – initially only at the Port of Hamina-Kotka.
Sewage and food waste contain pollutants such as bacteria, nutrients, chemicals, fats and microplastics that exacerbate eutrophication and oxygen depletion, the two most pressing problems of the Arctic Sea.
Elisa Mikkolainen, project manager at Baltic Sea Action Group, viewed that the sea can only be cleaned collaboratively, “one vessel, one port and one country at the time”. “All the waste water discharged on land reduces the nutrient load of the sea,” she said.
The Port of Hamina-Kotka is Finland’s largest general port, serving an average of 2,500 cargo ships a year.
The sewage discharged at the port will be treated by Kymen Vesi, a utility responsible for water supply management, treatment and disposal in Kotka and parts of Kouvola. The utility will also collect samples of the sewage discharged by vessels to gather data on aspects such as nutrient concentrations. The resultant sewage sludge will then be refined into biogas at the refinery of Gasum.
Some 2,000 ships, 95 per cent of which are cargo ships, are carrying an estimated 25,000 seafarers at any given moment in the Baltic Sea. While the IMO in 2021 prohibited passenger ships from discharging untreated sewage in the sea, no such prohibition is in place for cargo ships.
“We at Meriaura view that responsibility starts where the legislation ends,” said Mia Hytti, an environmental expert at Meriaura.
“We want to be pioneers in preventing all emissions from vessels, and we hope that also other shipping companies take voluntary and responsible action to make sure sewage is utilised instead of dumped in the Baltic Sea.”