Challenges for the shipping industry according to TNO
Sustainability & Safety

Challenges for the shipping industry according to TNO

While TNO Business Developer and researcher Jurrit Bergsma still wondered two years ago whether ocean shipping would switch to sustainable energy carriers, now, he says, the question is mainly when the sector will switch. “From a technical point of view we are well on the way, now it is important to gain the trust of the ship owners with proven scalable concepts, and to make it financially feasible, so that we can take the next step in practice.”

Electricity, hydrogen, methanol, ammonia and LNG with carbon capture: these are, if it is up to Bergsma, the energy carriers that sea-going vessels will use in about ten years’ time. While the first two energy carriers are mainly suitable for shorter distances due to their limited energy density, the other can also be used for a sustainable journey around the world. Although important steps still need to be taken before that happens. “We must first produce sufficient sustainable energy, because electricity from a coal-fired power station is of course by no means sustainable. I expect that we will be a long way in 2030.” A worldwide infrastructure will also have to be developed to be able to bunk the alternative energy carriers.

“In 2030, the holy grail is that when purchasing or replacing a ship, ship owners in Europe should not ask themselves whether they are going for sustainability, but only how.” 

TNO is conducting a lot of research into the properties and operation of alternative energy carriers at sea.  For example, how they behave at different temperatures and how they can be used safely. “Methanol can already ignite at 60 degrees, and the vapours from ammonia are very poisonous. You have to take this into account if you want to use them, for example when choosing the material for the tank or by installing sensors. But there are also advantages. If diesel leaks, it causes environmental damage. Methanol dissolves in water without causing much damage to humans or the environment. This allows you to see, for example, whether you can place a tank in the double wall of the hull. We investigate all that and draw up frameworks for it.”

Trust and financing

For example, according to Bergsma, it will be technically possible to use these alternative energy carriers on a large scale by 2030. Winning the trust of shipping owners and making sailing on new energy carriers  financially attractive are bigger challenges, he says. “If you know that a ship with new techniques costs significantly more than the current generation of ships, then you must ensure that ship owners have confidence in the new techniques and they must have options for financing.” A widely supported Maritime Master Plan in which the development of the technologies and financing is described should contribute to this.

Bringing parties together

Bergsma explains: “The ship owners ultimately have to make the investment decision, but it also requires many other parties. For example, governments must ensure that investing pays off. This is now also being worked on at European level with a ‘carbon levy’, whereby there will be a price for CO2 emissions from ships. Such a measure improves the business case for alternative energy carriers. In the financial field, you can think of subsidies for pilots or by issuing subordinated loans for sustainable investments, which reduces the financial
risk for ship owners. And don’t forget the customers. They can set sustainable requirements and commit to them by, for example, becoming a co-investor or entering into contracts for a long period or at a higher price. Then there are shipyards that have to integrate the necessary components into the ship. Development of these technological components costs a lot of money, so there must also be a market with sufficient scale. You don’t want to invest in the wrong technology. TNO is also closely involved in this as an objective research partner. The Master Plan brings all these parties together.”

Sustainable business case

The holy grail as far as Bergsma is concerned? “Today we are in the midst of the development and exploration of all sustainable alternatives to seagoing vessels. By 2025, launching customers everywhere with ships will demonstrate in practice what is possible and what is not. For example in essential test areas such as the Wadden area, where emission reduction plays a very important role. In 2030, the holy grail is that when purchasing or replacing a ship, ship owners in Europe should not ask themselves whether they are going for sustainability, but only how. By then sustainability will be the most economically attractive choice based on customer demand, carbon levies and proven safe and scalable sustainable technology. ”

Following on from the Maritime Master Plan, Wagenborg has drawn up its own roadmap, in which the following five tracks are used in parallel:

  1. 2005 - 2025: Fuel efficiency / economical sailing.
  2. 2020 - 2026: Use of transition fuels that can be applied directly to our current ships.
  3. 2020 - 2032: Research into alternative fuels that require modifications and validation of whether these fuels also work in practice.
  4. 2024 - 2035: Conversion of existing ships to make them suitable for alternative fuels.
  5. 2026 - 2040: Construction of new ships in which alternative fuels can be used.

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