Viewpoint: Using technology to enhance fuel efficiency at sea

GE’s Marine Solution’s Andy McKeran discusses environmental sustainability in the cruise industry
Viewpoint: Using technology to enhance fuel efficiency at sea

By Elizabeth Robinson |

In a recent blog post, Andy McKeran, general manager at GE’s Marine Solutions, discusses the technological advancements that allow the cruise industry to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions whilst increasing their fuel efficiency, and how shifting emissions regulations should be seen as a strategic opportunity, rather than a box-ticking exercise.

The marine industry as a whole is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Shipbuilders and fleet owners have spent the last two decades adjusting to shifting emissions regulations since the introduction of the MARPOL Convention 1997 protocol, which included specific regulations for the reduction of air pollution from marine vessels.

Since then, there have been additions and amendments to ensure that the industry is doing its bit to better support the environment, with the latest regulation pulling forward lower caps in global emissions. Being able to match this new pace of change with the right technology can be a challenge, driving operators to reconsider everything from vessel design to vessel management, fuel choice and maintenance.

But bringing in new technologies shouldn’t be seen as just as an outlay to check the “compliance” box. They can also bring operating efficiencies that lead to a healthy return on investment and strengthen market position for operators.

There are four key technological approaches to enhance fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, which offer strategic value:

Low-emission power generation

Exhaust gases from ships are a major source of air pollution, largely generated by diesel engines that burn fuel oil with a high sulphur content. The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has implemented various regulations in an attempt to prevent and control these emissions, including emission control areas. Those who break these regulations face hefty fines.

A raft of technology is available to help shipbuilders and feet owners to ensure they don’t break regulations, such as GE tier-4 diesel marine engines, which operate more efficiently and meet the most stringent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and IMO MARPOL environmental regulations to date. The engine range provides a significantly less complex solution compared to urea-based selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems, requiring no additional on-board SCR equipment or storage provisions for urea as well as no dockside support infrastructure for urea storage and processing. Eight years in the making, this technology reduces key emissions in the range of 70% and more and enables in-engine compliance with EPA Tier 4 and IMO Tier III emissions standards.

The solution can both be deployed to meet today’s and tomorrow’s environmental regulations for both new build vessels and existing fleet updates, allowing operators to plan for shifts in compliance requirements in decades to come. It also thereby reduces capex and opex costs and allows fleet owners to invest more resources into revenue-generating activities.

Using cleaner fuels

In addition to after-treatment solutions that clean fuel emissions, technology is now available to allow vessel operators to use cleaner fuels from the get-go. This is particularly important given the impending 2020 global sulphur limit, which limits the sulphur content of ships’ fuel oil to 0.5 mass by mass from 1 January 2020. GE’s compact Combined Gas turbine Electric and Steam (COGES) system relies on fuel-flexible gas turbines that support cleaner fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas, natural gas, marine gas oil and other bio-synthetic paraffinic kerosene blends. These efficient marine engines enable ship owners to use different fuels to reduce wastage, lower operating costs and generate less emissions than traditional types of diesel engines.

Embracing electrification

Electrical power and propulsion naturally presents less of a burden on the environment due to lower fuel consumption and emissions, but that can also translate to fuel efficiency savings when compared to traditional mechanical systems.

Electrically powered propellers, like GE’s SeaJet can generate fuel savings up to 10% over conventional propulsion. They also liberate machinery spaces, allowing room for more revenue-generating cargo, improve manoeuvrability and operational performance.

Power take off/power take in (PTO/PTI) solutions are also now able to harness excess mechanical energy from the shaft and turn it into electricity to power the systems on board; they can also provide additional motor power—beyond that of the diesel engines—to propel the vessel. The result is significant fuel savings and operational flexibility. GE’s PTO/PTI solution has been installed on the world’s largest container vessels, aiming to reduce carbon emissions per container ship by 10%.

Embracing digitalisation

Digital technology can also contribute to a cleaner marine environment. By analysing weather conditions and currents, it can optimise the propulsion rate and speed to improve fuel efficiency. Furthermore, it can help operators make smart decisions to change and use cleaner fuels on the course of the route depending on the speed needed, further curbing emissions and cost of fuel.

One example is GE’s mariner-friendly Ecomagination qualified SeaStream dynamic positioning system. Its “Energy-Efficiency” mode results in a greater degree of position tolerance with substantially reduced fuel consumption. Studies have shown that fuel savings may be 10% or more with an associated nitrous oxide reduction of as much as 20%, depending on environmental factors and the exact operational profile.

With environmental regulations continuing to be a global priority and the marine ecosystem’s hunger for energy showing no signs of abating, the need to invest in environmentally friendly technologies will continue to be an imperative. And with the innovative solutions that are available to help shipbuilders and fleet operators capitalise on additional business benefits from doing so, there is no longer any reason to view emission regulations as a box-ticking exercise. Rather, compliance with environmental regulation can be used as a profitable catalyst for change.

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