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Home » Germany, International, Shipping, Transport

Clean Shipping: Things are Moving

Submitted by on 15 Apr 2014 – 15:14

By Gesine Meissner MEP, Member, Committee on Transport and Tourism

The main issue for ships operating in German waters will be as from next year the extremely low sulphur limits of 0.10% as these waters are part of the Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs). Heavy fuel oil which is used for international shipping contains 2,700 times more sulphur than road fuel. Sulphur emissions have a major health impact for humans living at the coast and they also cause environmental problems as acid rain affecting soil and water. Therefore the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced SECAs for the densely populated areas of the North Sea, the English Channel and the Baltic.

Ship owners warned that there won’t be viable alternatives to heavy fuel oil available to comply with the low sulphur limits required in SECAs. The use of low sulphur fuel is the easiest solution although shipowners fear there won’t be enough of such fuel on the market. And it is more expensive than heavy fuel oil. Ships could also filter the sulphur emissions by using so-called scrubbers which chemically bond sulphur dioxide. But this technology is disputed as there have been incidents with scrubbers catching fire. There are also concerns about the weight of the system and problems of retrofitting ships. But it might become a cost-effective alternative to low sulphur fuel.

The most promising solution, though, are ships not propelled by oil anymore. Methanol is tested as an alternative but mostly Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) is described to be the ship fuel of the future. LNG reduces sulphur emissions by between 90 and 95%. Also nitrogen oxide emissions are extremely low and LNG’s lower carbon content leads to a reduction CO2 emissions by 20 to 25%. Current LNG prices in Europe and the USA suggest that LNG could be offered at a price comparable to heavy fuel oil.

In the European Parliament we intensively discuss LNG as a cleaner fuel for shipping. I very much welcomed at the beginning of last year the Commission’s proposal on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure which was accompanied by an LNG action plan. This legislation is crucial to break the current chicken and egg situation. Ship owners don’t invest in LNG-ships because there are only few ports with LNG bunkering facilities. Ports don’t invest in LNG infrastructure as there is only little customer demand.

Although the Council was very reluctant on binding infrastructure targets in general we found an agreement which will allow circulation of LNG-fueled ships throughout the TEN-T Core Network within the next decade. The Trans-European Transport Core Network comprises 329 key seaports in the EU. But not every port must build its proper infrastructure. We should consider actual market needs and existing bunkering points to build up the LNG network. We need a flexible and market-driven approach also taking into account mobile supply solutions by LNG-trucks.

Apart from the legislative work in the European Parliament on cleaner shipping I also saw some creative initiatives in my North-German constituency. Beluga Shipping, a shipping company from Bremen, attracted some attention by operating the world’s first commercial container cargo ship co-powered by wind energy. MS Beluga Skysails was partially powered by a 160-square-metre, computer-controlled kite. It was launched in 2007 with a first passage from the northern German port of Bremerhaven to Guanta in Venezuela. While the kite was in use, the ship saved an estimated 10-15% of fuel.

The kite did not become widely accepted and Beluga Shipping went bankrupt a few years alter. But we need to think out of the box for innovation in shipping. Ship owners are still suffering from the economic crisis, as amounts of cargo transported around the world remain lower than before 2008. Therefore they are less likely to invest into alternative propulsion systems.

Nevertheless Scandlines, a ferry company operating in the Baltic Sea, is thinking about a Zero-Emission Ship. It has been designed by FutureShip, a subsidiary of the German-Norwegian classification company DNV-GL. The Zero-Emission Ship could be deployed by 2017 on the ferry service linking Puttgarden (Germany) and Rødby (Denmark). This service transports passengers, cars and trains on a 19km long passage over the Fehmarn Belt with departures every 30 minutes.

The propulsion of the Zero-Emission ferry is based on liquid hydrogen. On-board wind turbines can also contribute to propulsion when possible. Solar panels on the roof feed additional electricity into the electrical board system. Excess on-board electricity is stored in batteries for peak demand. Total energy needs are reduced by optimizing hull lines, propeller shape, ship weight and procedures in port. This ship would produce neither CO2 nor sulphur and nitrogen emissions. Maybe too good to be true?