From well to wake, sustainability is key

Susan Parker asks Linden Coppell why MSC Cruises is focusing on multiple options in its mission to improve the entire environmental life cycle of its ships

From well to wake, sustainability is key
Guests to Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve can learn about the importance of preserving the oceans and coral reefs

MSC Cruises’ participation in the European Union-funded Project CHEK (deCarbonising sHipping by Enabling Key technology symbiosis on real vessel concept designs) alongside companies such as Wärtsilä, Climeon, Deltamarin, and Lloyds Register, is one part of its drive towards sustainability and increasing environmental efficiencies. 

Linden Coppell, director of sustainability at MSC Cruises, says: “CHEK is a reflection of the fact that not only is there no silver bullet to address decarbonisation, but that we also need to consider and integrate multiple technologies. It is about how we work logistically to maximise potential.” 

The first step in this three-year project is to create a baseline operational profile of a ship. This will allow improvements from multiple technologies, such as antifouling, waste-to-energy conversions and hydrogen engines, to be measured in terms of power consumption and the amount of fuel burned.  

Meanwhile, an itinerary optimisation tool will look at all aspects of itineraries and the ways in which they can be implemented to improve energy efficiency. This will be trialled on MSC Meraviglia. 

 “These projects are really important to bring the right people together,” says Coppell. “We can only make the right decisions if we see how technologies work in practice.” 

When it comes to alternative fuels, it is clear that the subject is far more complex than it first appears to a layperson. “The challenge with synthetic fuels is that you need vast amounts of energy to produce them,” explains Coppell. “Unless we use renewable energy to create the ‘green’ hydrogen feedstock through electrolysis for example, we are simply transferring the energy demand further up the supply chain, replacing one environmental challenge for another. The issue with batteries is that they need recharging and this must also be done in a green way, again using renewable energy sources, to be of benefit.”  

Solar or wind farms could be a possible source of that renewable energy, says Coppell. She adds: “Green energy is currently in short supply, and we are not the only industry to compete for potentially a limited amount of this, so we have to be incredibly flexible with our approach. Fortunately, there are lots of options available, and we are keeping an open mind, recognising that the decisions we make now are critical given that the lifespan of a newbuild ship is 30 years and more.” 

As part of CHEK, Wärtsilä is testing engines using hydrogen, with support from MSC Cruises in terms of engine operation and experience onboard its fleet. “This project will help understand the requirements for putting a hydrogen-powered engine on a ship in future – we need these detailed trials and results to give us the confidence to do this,” says Coppell. 

She is keen to point out that the company is not being constrained by setting timelines. “We are keeping an open mind in terms of future technology, looking at every potential solution. When it comes to new fuels, we have to make the right decisions as an industry, not only vis-à-vis the environment but also the future regulatory environment.” 

Despite the pandemic, Coppell has not seen any let up by the industry in its quest for decarbonisation. With an industry target of 40 per cent improvement by 2030 compared to 2008, MSC Cruises is already well on track to meet that and early, having achieved 28 per cent by 2019.  

In 2022, the company’s first LNG-powered ship, MSC World Europa, will come into service. Further down the track, a drop in lower- or zero-carbon fuel could be used in the same engines. “BioLNG and synthetic LNG are two options in this respect but getting the quantities we need will be a challenge,” notes Coppell.  

Meanwhile, the lower carbon profile of LNG will help the company to meet its carbon intensity goal. The carbon saving could be between eight and 20 per cent, supporting the goal of an annual 2.5 per cent efficiency improvement across the fleet.  

Coppell explains that fuel efficiency is very important, not only to meet company targets, but also because new fuels have a lower energy density, meaning a greater volume of fuel is required to generate the same amount of power. This leads to some questions. Should future itineraries include more frequent bunkering calls, or should there be more volume onboard for storage?  

Last but not least is MSC Cruises’ digital twin ship system, which is “a very important part of the energy efficiency equation,” says Coppell. Comparing ship performance with design criteria and engaging crew in looking at data onboard and suggesting changes, for example reducing engine operation and using waste heat elsewhere, has resulted in some positive improvements. 

“The crew have been given this opportunity to work with experts onshore to support their existing expertise and we continue to rely on them to feed back their ideas and suggestions to support our efficiency goals,” says Coppell. “We now have systems to collect data much more efficiently so we can compare the real vessel with the virtual ship. This will also help with designing future ships.” 

MSC Cruises has an internal goal of being net-zero carbon neutral by 2050 for ship operations. Coppell says: “We are incredibly committed to this goal, with no ideas off the table right now. We are listening to many, many technology providers, and the results of our collaborative work, such as Project CHEK, to narrow down opportunities so that we can make the right decisions.” 

It is clear that MSC Cruises is committed to sustainability and the wider world, researching every aspect of the company’s footprint from well to wake.

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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Susan Parker
By Susan Parker
10 November 2021

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