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An ultra-low emission maritime future is on the horizon

Estimates state that marine transport emits about 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a figure that is still growing. In the last two to three years, governing bodies and industry members have begun to advocate more intensely for a change of course towards a more sustainable future for shipping.


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One pivotal event was the long-awaited adoption of an initial strategy to reduce shipping emissions by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in April 2018. The UN agency set out a vision to reduce GHG emissions from international shipping and phase them out “as soon as possible in this century.” 

The wording of the IMO’s statement is among the reasons why Andrea Morgante, Vice President for Strategy and Business Development in Wärtsilä’s Marine Business, refers to the colossal task of decarbonising the marine industry as “the challenge of the century”.

“Maritime transport has played a vital role throughout humankind’s history, making our evolution and development possible. What we’re now doing is defining the road the industry will take for the rest of the century and in the future to come,” Morgante says.

The IMO’s initial strategy prescribes that international shipping reduce its CO2 emissions by a minimum of 40% compared to 2008 levels by 2030 and cut its total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050.  

The IMO set these targets in 2018, and the world has listened.

In September of the same year, Wärtsilä launched the SEA20 initiative, an ambitious global call to action exhorting maritime cities to band together to confront the impact of climate change. SEA20, a non-profit initiative, calls on cities to collaborate in using innovative ideas from the marine, energy, and digital sectors to create a sustainable and connected infrastructure for the shipping industry. Helsinki, Hamburg, Rotterdam, the State of Washington, Trieste, Luleå, Vaasa, and Genoa have all joined the charge.   

“It really is the best time to be in maritime because the industry is about to change,” says Morgante, a veteran who has worked in the sector for 17 years.

“We’ve always had a fairly traditional environment, but at the moment there’s so much discussion, activity, and possibility. The conversations we have with our customers today are very different from those we had in 2017. They are aware that these changes are happening,” he relates.

Fuel-flexible combustion engines – a future-proof technology

For much of the industry, the IMO targets served as a starting point. But long before the IMO announced its initial strategy and targets, Wärtsilä had already set its sights on a radically greener future for maritime.

In November 2017, the technology group announced its vision to harness connectivity and digitalisation to lead the transformation towards a Smart Marine Ecosystem – a new era of high efficiency, environmental performance, and safety built on Wärtsilä’s existing solutions and close collaboration among industry stakeholders. Of Wärtsilä’s strides to transform the sector, this was perhaps among the most definitive and furthest reaching.

To expedite the realisation of its vision, Wärtsilä Marine Business has committed to testing the compatibility of alternative future fuels with existing and emerging combustion engine technology. Wärtsilä champions the switch to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a ship’s main fuel, making the case for LNG ­­– a lower carbon fuel that is already accessible today – to be utilised in combination with a dual-fuel engine, a flexible solution that can be retrofitted in the future.

“We are certain that we will be able to reach the IMO’s 2030 goals with the technology that exists today,” says Morgante.  “But in order to reach the 2050 goals, something bolder will have to happen – a new breed of fuels must come to the market.”

In an environment that will evolve in what is a relatively short time from the perspective of a vessel’s life, investing in combustion engines today means that Wärtsilä Marine Business’ customers will be able to benefit from further decarbonisation options as they gradually become obtainable. And as the pioneer that developed dual-fuel engines, Wärtsilä has a convincing point in its favour.

“We are the company who brought fuel flexibility to the market. This makes us the most credible partner to state that if you select a Wärtsilä engine, for example a dual-fuel engine running on LNG, we can support you with retrofits as other fuel alternatives become available in the future.”

The well-to-wake approach as a standard

In September 2019, more than 70 senior leaders from different parts of the maritime, energy, infrastructure, and finance ecosystems formed the Getting to Zero Coalition. Wärtsilä was among the players that joined this alliance, which pledges to lead the push to decarbonise international shipping.

The coalition is just one of many movements that have come to life after the IMO took a stand and defined industry targets. And according to Morgante, the role the agency plays in instigating and shaping change will continue to be crucial in the years ahead.

In his view, there are two areas in particular where the IMO is expected to take a decisive role. The first is in refining emissions targets and how they are calculated, as well as making the targets mandatory.

Today, emissions are calculated at the funnel. Morgante stresses the need for industry to espouse a well-to-wake approach, or in other words, a method of examining GHG emissions that takes the full lifecycle of the fuel, battery, or other energy source into account. This would call attention to the way that the energy source is produced, and not limit the focus to how it is transformed into mechanical energy.

The second area has to do with finding effective means to incentivise the innovation and adoption of technologies that bring ultra-low emission shipping within reach.

“The change has to start now. We cannot wait,” says Morgante. “These are areas where the IMO has to bravely go because it’s important that the solutions are global. The IMO is working on both topics. The question is how long it will take for the organisation to come together on this.”

Impactful innovation

Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine Ecosystem envisions a maritime industry collaborating to address critical challenges and generating solutions towards a sustainable future. This cooperation among stakeholders will leverage digital innovations and advanced data analytics to eliminate waste caused by overcapacity, inadequate port-to-port fuel efficiency, and waiting times. Vessels will be able to interact with ports in real-time and take advantage of digital services that make voyaging more efficient and more sustainable, not to mention safer.

To a large extent, Wärtsilä’s vision of a Smart Marine Ecosystem is shared by the SEA20 cities. Morgante believes that this vision will also be a major part of the solution that satisfies the IMO’s 2050 targets.

Expounding further on the topics of innovation and collaboration, he highlights Anglo-Eastern’s decision to partner with Wärtsilä to digitalise its fleet operations as a landmark deal for the Marine Business. To achieve it, Wärtsilä combined its established position and knowhow in bridge, automation, and electrical systems, alongside energy management, analytics solutions, and marine navigation technologies gained from its recently acquired companies.

In addition to showcasing Wärtsilä Marine Business’ expertise, Wärtsilä’s Fleet Operations Solution (FOS) also offers a platform through which the company can deploy additional applications to provide different levels of service to customers.

“FOS is a Solution as a Service. This is something new for Wärtsilä, and it’s also a big deal for the industry because we provide the customer with a solution that transforms the role of hardware and enables a new range of services for a subscription fee. This is a major shift from the way the industry has traditionally thought about these things, and we believe it’s going to open opportunities for more ”as a service” businesses. It’s a first step in the transformation of the industry.”

FOS is cloud connected, creating a continuous link between ship and shore, thereby increasing transparency while also allowing the deployment of new services. New information from the cloud enables the subscribing customer to activate and take advantage of different modules using a service structure that is reminiscent of a typical software business model.

In practice, Wärtsilä’s Fleet Operations Solution (FOS) optimises a vessel’s speed, planning, and weather routing. It also facilitates ship-to-shore reporting and fleet performance management to reduce fuel consumption. Once it is rolled out to Anglo-Eastern’s fleet of more than 600 vessels, FOS will reduce the workload for crews, enhance fuel efficiency, and increase navigational safety.

“What customers need today are solutions that improve transparency, reduce the need for training, that put the crew in a position where they are better able to perform their duties, and increase their ability to operate in difficult situations. This was one of the objectives of our Smart Marine Ecosystem vision –– to shift the focus from being about products to being about outcomes and the value we bring to our customers,” Morgante underscores.

Just-In-Time arrival benefits both the environment and the bottom line

Another approach Wärtsilä is employing to tackle inefficiencies while also saving fuel and CO2 is Just-In-Time (JIT) arrival. The company redoubled its efforts to raise awareness of JIT in the industry in 2019.

The concept, which the Marine Business is piloting with a few customersconnects ship captains with ports in real-time, enabling better coordination so that vessels can adjust their speed and reduce, among other things, fuel consumption and unnecessary anchoring time.  

Most ports today are not equipped with centralised platforms for exchanging data with vessels. Typically, information is still transmitted by radio communication or email – methods that are highly vulnerable to limitations. With ships arriving too early and having to wait at anchor for berthing slots, precious time and other resources go to waste – a scenario Wärtsilä Marine Business strives to make into a thing of the past.  

As Morgante points out, “We believe in the purpose of JIT, which is why we’re investing to make it possible. Awareness has increased a lot, and it will be easier to implement this going forward. All the new navigation solutions we are sending out are JIT-enabled. It’s a big benefit, particularly when you consider that the cost is relatively small. This is what I call impactful innovation, because it benefits both the environment and our customers’ bottom line.” 

“The reality of the industry is that if the cost of decarbonisation is at the expense of the company, then there’s a reluctance to invest,” Morgante explains.

“The best solutions that we can take to the market right now are those that create an advantage for the company while also bringing a clear benefit to the environment,” he emphasises.


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