Op-Ed: What Should You Look For When Considering Maritime Clean Tech?

Courtesy Silverstream

Published Apr 5, 2023 10:17 PM by David Connolly

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently pledged to respond to industry concerns over the criteria and implementation of its Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) rating system after the review process is completed this year. With this in mind, maritime executives should expect CII to become even more influential as enforcement mechanisms and unintended consequences are addressed.

One such unintended consequence of the regulation that is already becoming apparent is the industry’s focus on slow steaming to improve CII ratings. Relying solely on slow steaming, and taking a static view on CII regulations more broadly, is a significant risk. While it’s true that slow steaming can improve CII ratings, it is by no means a silver bullet and it certainly has flaws.

Vessels will slow down, meaning that the global fleet will need to expand to transport the same volume of goods. Ultimately, this will increase the global fleet’s lifecycle emissions – so slow steaming is counterintuitive to the environmental aims of CII. Once widely recognized, this makes it likely that the IMO will incentivize other solutions for attaining A and B ratings, which will themselves grow in importance as a mark of pedigree between different shipowners.

While the regulatory penalty for CII non-compliance is currently minimal, the commercial impact may yet be substantial. For example, if freight rates are high, a competitive advantage is held by those who can move fast while maintaining a favorable CII rating. Additionally, as more customers press for carbon-neutral shipping of goods, a superior CII rating may become a license to operate for reputable cargo owners.

Ultimately, vessel efficiency and charter rates, emissions and profits, are only set to become more intertwined. For those who recognize this clear direction of travel, and appreciate the need to look beyond slow steaming for true solutions, clean technology is an obvious place to start the search.

Retrofit-ready technology

Clean technologies, such as air lubrication systems, offer a logical opportunity to improve vessel efficiency, thereby reducing fuel use, and in turn reducing OPEX and emissions. Plus, saving fuel becomes even more important as more expensive, less energy-dense alternative fuels are introduced to the mix.

If the shipping industry is to complete its decarbonization puzzle, improving the efficiency of the massive existing fleet must not be overlooked. While newbuilds do remain a key piece of that puzzle, it is simply too emission-intensive to build all of the new ships required. Bearing that in mind, most, if not all shipowners will seek to retrofit some of their existing vessels to improve efficiency.

Having said that, it may be challenging to determine which clean technology or technologies will lead to genuine, proven efficiency improvements on existing vessels. So, what should shipowners look for in a clean technology?

The first step is to check whether, from a technical perspective, it is feasible to retrofit a specific clean technology to a specific vessel – making sure to properly understand the payback equation given the remaining lifecycle of the vessel.

The next step is to check that a solution can be installed efficiently. A lot of clean technologies can be installed during a ship’s scheduled drydocking period, maximizing trading time. Looking at the full lifecycle of, and total cost of ownership for, a technology is also key. Systems with minimal impact on the vessel’s equipment footprint and that are easy-to-use and maintain should be prized.

Efficient installation depends upon resilient supply chains. For example, at Silverstream Technologies, we focus on supply chain resilience, which requires a diversity of suppliers as well as strong relationships with OEMs and local entities. This enables us to deliver systems within six months, on time and within budget.

Verified emissions data

As is the case with most strategic decisions in the modern shipping industry, clean technology choices should be underpinned by data. A proven track record of emissions reduction claims and case studies spanning each specific vessel type are vital. At Silverstream, for example, looking at the hydrodynamics, we know that our technology works well for almost all vessels that have a large, flat bottom such as LNGCs, cruise ships and VLCCs.

In general, shipowners should be skeptical of clean technology providers that lack transparency and don’t openly publish performance data for their technology. Shipowners and operators can also help move the data conversation forward by bringing strong operational data and a clear understanding of their ship’s operational profile to the table.

Shipowners and operators should also look for emissions savings that have been independently verified. This is often achieved when a technology goes through systematic testing phases in collaboration with class societies. Technologies that can be switched on and off can also offer a simple way to accurately measure real-life operational performance.

It is also important to consider the emissions reduction data across the entire operational range of the vessel, not only a single point of optimization, as well as whether that voyage was typical of how the ship is usually operated. Exploring how the new technology will interact with other equipment and clean technology onboard the vessel, and supporting this with data and simulations where possible, is also valuable. While some clean technologies complement each other well and lead to greater efficiency gains, others can actually hinder one another. Factoring all of these data points into the set will make the insights more realistic and accurate.

Shipowners large and small, from all over the world, can leverage the opportunities to gain competitive advantage presented by the industry’s decarbonization transition. If they have done their due diligence, and they have considered the key factors outlined above, it’s a case of being decisive, taking the decarbonization bull by the horns, and installing the right clean technology to make an impact today.

David Connolly is Chief Technologist at Silverstream Technologies.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.