De-risking decarbonisation is at the top of Wärtsilä’s agenda

Maikel Arts explains how risk can be reduced in the process of lowering emissions

De-risking decarbonisation is at the top of Wärtsilä’s agenda


Maikel Arts believes cruise lines and ferry operators should take a step-by-step approach to decarbonisation

By Maikel Arts |

With growing pressure from consumers, policymakers and the wider shipping industry, the cruise and ferry segments are at the forefront of measures to address the need for cleaner fuels and energy efficiency, building on the sector’s position as a sustainability leader. In recent months, we’ve seen key players Carnival Corporation, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean Group alongside us to sign the Global Maritime Forum’s call to action for shipping decarbonisation – which aims for net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Going into 2022, new technology is at the forefront of this transformation. Luxury zero-emission cruise ship concepts have emerged, and many ferry operators, well-placed to strike deals with local producers of hydrogen and other low-carbon fuels, are leading the way in trials of new bunker fuels. 

But for the majority of the global cruise and passenger fleet, there is a still a mountain to climb to reduce emissions, before we can even think about achieving net zero. While decarbonisation is at the top of our agenda, its journey can be risky from an asset and commercial perspective, especially for cruise owners and operators. If we stall decarbonisation progress or fail to take the right steps, this could greatly impact a vessel’s profitability or even render it a stranded asset. Add to that the fact each cruise line has a different fleet composition and operation, meaning every decision to determine which pathway to follow will be different across the board. But fleets that can expertly manage the energy transition will be best placed to thrive in a sustainable future. 

Cruise owners and operators are facing multiple compliance pathways and life cycle technologies to support their decarbonisation journey, but this begs the question; what steps should the cruise industry take to reach decarbonisation, and do it at a faster pace?  

To help the cruise and ferry industry steer a course towards the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 2030 and 2050 targets, we take a step-by-step approach to decarbonisation. Envision it as a staircase, where the top of the staircase is full decarbonisation, and each step we take contributes towards the top. 

Therefore, the right place to start for existing cruise ships is for owners and operators to de-risk the energy transition by reducing baseload emissions now. Every step will contribute to a further reduced fuel consumption and in turn, lower emissions. Options here include installing efficiency-boosting technology, such as propulsion system improvements, air lubrication, or hybridisation next to maximising the operational efficiency with the use of advanced data driven solutions. The main reason for this is that changing from fossil to sustainable fuels is currently, and will remain, quite expensive – hence the need to reduce baseline emissions. Many different studies project a range of expected cost differences for the various future fuel options but given the combined factors of cost and energy density, it would be safe to count on a unit of energy being three times more expensive than today. Although with generally fixed points of departure and arrival, the passenger ferry segment is better placed than others to take advantage of alternative fuels, availability will continue to be challenging – so the less that a vessel has to rely on any fuel will be an advantage in the long run. The technology to reduce emissions, however, is readily available at both newbuild and retrofit stage. Each of these steps is available to operators and owners today and can be essential in terms of staying competitive in the future fuels era. 

The other key area to invest is the engine room. For many cruise vessels, LNG will be an attractive choice for some time to come, not least because it has a proven and trusted safety record. It also keeps the door open for drop-in, zero-carbon fuels, and is easy to convert to hydrogen, methanol or ammonia in the future. With the energy transition well and truly on its way, investing in an engine now that unlocks a wider range of fuel options and possibilities for the future is a good insurance premium indeed. 

Because the future fuel pathways are so complex, and fleet compositions are so different, owners, charterers, and operators each need to find their own way up the staircase. The good news is that the technologies that enable zero-carbon fleets of the future are already here. Technology is not the barrier; scale and the available capital to scale are. Investment in the right retrofits, infrastructure, or newbuilds equipped with tools and technologies that already exist will enable owners and operators to meet and exceed the requirements of the IMO, their customers, and society.  

Managing the energy transition needs expert counsel and a new level of collaboration. Together, we play an important role in decarbonising the sector where every step counts. The challenge is finding the right fuel and technology mix for each cruise ship’s individual needs. So which step will you take first on your path to decarbonising the cruise industry?   

Maikel Arts is general manager of market innovation in cruise and ferry at Wärtsilä

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