Tackling the challenge of fundamental vessel design efficiency is an increasingly important concern for ship owners and operators.  

Faced with both the broader challenge of decarbonisation and the requirement for near-term compliance with the IMO’s Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII), no stone is being left unturned in the industry’s pursuit of more efficient ships.  

The pressure is mounting because of a simple and growing realisation: it will never be easier than it already is today, with regulation only set to tighten in the coming years. Throw new, more expensive, and less energy-dense fuels into the mix and the rationale for cutting fuel burn has never been clearer.

David Connolly, chief technologist at Silverstream Technologies

Adopting proven clean technology is one of the main ways that the maritime industry will be able to improve vessel efficiency, cut fuel burn, and in turn reduce operational expenditure and emissions. But the clean maritime technology market’s waters can seem murky, with prospective purchasers challenged to make decisions that will stay with them for the remaining lifetime of a vessel.  

The credentials of a green technology and its manufacturer are a priority in a market with an increasing range and diversity of options. Years of experience in providing a proven air lubrication solution to shipowners and operators have enabled us to build a blueprint for clean technology adoption.  

That blueprint warrants sharing, because we cannot afford for the industry’s decarbonisation trajectory to be derailed by unproven clean technology performance claims and stranded assets, nor indeed can we afford for industry to be paralysed by indecision as to what technology to install.

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Clean technology: proven performance data

It should all start with data. A proven track record of emissions reduction claims and case studies spanning each specific vessel type is vital.  

In general, purchasers should be sceptical 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. 

Purchasers should also look for emissions savings that have been independently verified. This is often achieved when a green technology goes through systematic testing phases in collaboration with class societies.

Clean technology that can be switched on and off aids in delivering an initial indication of performance, however the need for systematic and continued performance analysis does not diminish.

While some technologies complement each other and lead to greater efficiency gains, others can actually hinder one another.

Clarity on how performance data should be captured, processed and analysed is essential for understanding the impact of all technologies. This is a key science in its own right, to which investment of time and resources is essential. 

It is important to consider the performance data across the entire operational range of the vessel, not only a single point of optimisation, as well as whether that voyage was typical of how the ship is usually operated.

Exploring how the new green technology will interact with other equipment and technology onboard the vessel, and supporting this with data and simulations where possible, is also worthwhile.  

While some technologies complement each other 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.

Green technology: the role of retrofits

Clean maritime technologies can represent a quick win for shipping’s decarbonisation when they can be efficiently retrofitted.  

Whilst the integration of technologies in newbuild tonnage still reflects the optimum pathway for reducing the emissions of a given class of vessel, retrofits are also key if the shipping industry is to reduce its emissions sufficiently quickly. Bearing that in mind, most, if not all shipowners will seek to retrofit some of their existing vessels to improve efficiency.

The first step is to check whether, from a technical perspective, it is feasible to retrofit a specific technology to a specific vessel – making sure to properly understand the payback equation given the remaining lifecycle of the vessel as well as the cost per tonne of CO2 abated in contrast of competing solutions.

Looking at the total cost of ownership for technology is key in both instances. Systems with minimal impact on the vessel’s equipment footprint and that are easy to use and maintain are also a plus.

Silverstream’s patented air lubrication uses gas to reduce friction on the hull, thus improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions. Credit: Silverstream

The next step is to check that a solution can be installed efficiently. Efficient installation depends upon resilient supply chains. Look for technology companies that have strong supplier, original equipment manufacturer, and local relationships and that have a proven track record of delivering systems on time and within budget.

This is especially important for retrofits where installation is often targeted for execution during a pre-existing drydocking period, maximising trading time and profitability, but the window for installation is often narrow.

These points form just a small part of the green technology adoption blueprint but they can support purchasers in making decisions now that will affect the value, emissions and futureproofing of their fleet for the next 15-25 years, the average operating life of a ship.

If properly informed decisions are made, clean technology will increasingly enable the global decarbonisation transition.