By R. Bruce Striegler

Around the world, owners of fleets of container ships, tankers, dry bulk carriers and ferries have been coping with the uncertainties surrounding the introduction of the International Maritime Organization’s new low-sulphur fuel regulations (IMO 2020. Canadian Sailings contacted a number of domestic fleet owners to talk about their future fleet propulsion plans.

Captain Jamie Marshall, VP Shipbuilding & Innovation at BC Ferries begins by describing the company’s Clean Futures Plan, which reflects “BC Ferries strategy going forward in terms of what we want to do to see a carbon-neutral future.” Cpt. Marshall says the extensive plan covers some of the time goals, and the technologies that are evolving and developing right now. “The landscape for energy solutions is probably at a point that it’s moving the fastest it’s ever moved. This is our 60th year in operation as BC Ferries and for the first 50 years, the energy source was never debated, it was diesel, the cleanest diesel we could get. Now, other technologies such as batteries or LNG, or hydrogen fuel cells, these technologies are developing very quickly, and all ferry operators are trying to figure out which source we should we bank on. When we build a ship, we’re building it to operate for 40 to 50 years.”

Fleet operators learning as they go with new propulsion technologies

Cpt. Marshall notes that some of the technologies being employed are already changing. “For example, two new Island Class ferries built in Romania and which just arrived, are diesel-electric hybrid ferries. They are battery equipped vessels, designed for future full electric operation, but are fitted with conventional engines which will bridge the gap until shore charging infrastructure and operating subsidies become available in B.C. The design of the new vessels reduces underwater radiated noise, and lowers emissions. Batteries for these two new vessels are supplied by Corvus Energy of British Columbia. “When electric charging technology matures to make electricity available in quantities required, BC Ferries plans to operate these ships as all-electric ferries, using only renewable energy. We’re working with BC Hydro to identify and partner to find the shore infrastructure charging solution that we can install in our terminals.”

“We are members of Interferry, an international association representing the ferry industry worldwide, with more than 260 members, representing in excess of 1000 people from 40 countries.”  Cpt. Marshall notes that current and former BC Ferry executives are associated with the organization. “There’s a lot of ‘best practices’ and information-sharing through that organization. We’re also members of the Canadian Ferry Association, and we do a lot of information-sharing in terms of issues such as fuel sources. This has been at the top of the discussions at both organizations over the past number of years.” Cpt. Marshall explains, “We also consult with different industry partners.” He illustrates by telling us how BC Ferries partnered with Seaspan Ferries to develop the fueling solution for its three Salish class vessels. Those three ships entered service in 2017, and are capable of running on either LNG or ultra-low sulphur diesel. BC Ferries’ use of LNG for the Salish Class vessels resulted in the reduction of an estimated 9,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which is the same as taking 1,900 passenger vehicles off the road annually.

“We took a page out of Norway and the Baltic States. Norwegian ferry operators are sort of leading edge, and have operated LNG ferries since about 2000. We took a lot of advice from them, that’s what led to us building the Salish Class.” Cpt. Marshall says that LNG represents a huge cost saving compared to diesel, almost 50 per cent of the fuel costs.”

In January of this year BC Ferries awarded Romentowa Shipbuilding of Gdansk, Poland a fourth contract to construct a 107-metre Salish Class vessel with the capacity to carry 138 vehicles and up to 600 passengers and crew. The new vessel will be identical to the three previous Salish Class vessels built by the same yard. “Our long term goal is to get to carbon neutral and zero emissions. Cost considerations are a key part of the issue as well, so we must control our fleet efficiency and hold our operating costs as low as possible, so we can maintain fares as low as we can.”

Interest increasing from the marine sector with Liquid Natural Gas (LNG)

A new era started when LNG was used as a primary fuel by the Norwegian car and passenger ferry Glutra in 2000. Following Glutra, several Norwegian ferries and offshore service vessels adopted LNG as fuel, so the first adopters of this fuel were vessels operating in Norwegian waters, and within relatively fixed geographical areas. The past few years have seen the first icebreaker, bulk carriers, car carriers, container ships, roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) cargo ships, and oil/chemical tankers, as well as dredgers and cruise ship using LNG. It took 13 years for LNG fuel to be used for propulsion outside Norway.

SEA\LNG is a global industry coalition working to address and overcome current challenges impacting the global uptake of LNG. The group says LNG is a global commodity with 20 countries exporting to 35 importing countries. It accounts for approximately 10 per cent of global gas consumption and represents 32 per cent of internationally-traded natural gas. Furthermore, the expansion of the LNG trade has been accompanied by an increase in the number and diversity of LNG players in the upstream sector. There is an increase of investment in LNG solutions for transportation and changes in the marketing and trading of LNG. Small to mid-scale LNG has taken off, increasing market penetration and servicing demand from power projects in areas not covered by power grids – from surface transportation, such as trucks and trains, to the maritime sector.

According to SEA/LNG there are 170 LNG-powered ships in operation and a further 184 on order. Other analysts place the number of operational/on-order LNG vessels at 600. According to many analysts, when it comes to environment-friendly alternatives to oil, LNG is the only scalable and economic fuel currently available for ocean shipping. LNG producers promote the use of LNG to power ships as a clean-burning alternative to the low-sulphur marine diesel oil and heavy fuel oil plus exhaust gas scrubber options. It is the only option that fully meets the requirements of IMO 2020’s 0.5 percent global sulphur cap and 0.1 percent emission control areas sulphur restrictions, without the need for ancillary equipment. But LNG bunker, as it is known in the industry, offers additional benefits. It meets the requirements for reducing SOx emissions and also generates around 20 percent fewer CO2 emissions.

French energy giant Total has leveraged its integrated business model to forge an ambitious partnership based on liquefied natural gas with CMA CGM, which will have a fleet of more than 20 LNG-powered ships by 2022. The LNG-powered fleet will consist of nine 23,000-TEU2 mega-ships, five 15,000-TEU vessels and six 1,400-TEU container ships. In 2017, the companies signed an agreement covering the supply of around 300,000 tonnes of LNG a year for ten years, starting in 2020. This volume, unprecedented in the history of LNG bunker, will fuel CMA CGM’s nine newbuild container ships. As part of this agreement, Total will provide a suitable solution for the bunkering of these containerships with the positioning of an LNG bunker vessel at the port of Marseille-Fos and a complementary bunkering solution in Singapore.

Seaspan Ferries moves to clean power for its high-capacity ‘drop trailer’ service

Harly Penner, Director, Fleet Engineering & Vessel Development, Seaspan Ferries Corp. commented that, “When you’re considering building vessels for use in a local airshed that will operate for the next 40 years, you must take into consideration the major stakeholders in that region, as well as the technology and availability of emerging and alternative fuels.”  He continues pointing out that one of the major considerations Seaspan put on its list was ‘what is available to us.’ “We need to have something that works for us now, so we can build vessels that can go into operation now, and security of supply is a big part of that. So that put us into a decision-making process where natural gas came out on top.”

In 2019, Seaspan announced it would be adding two new LNG – battery hybrid ferries to its fleet in 2021. The vessels are being constructed in Romania by Netherlands-based Damen Shipyards Gorinchem B.V., and are expected to go into operation in 2021, joining Seaspan Swift and the Seaspan Reliant, the company’s first hybrid ferries, operating since 2016. The new 148 meter vessels will feature 2 MegaWatt batteries, as well as 209 cubic meters of LNG storage. The propulsion system, energy storage system and controls are supplied by MAN Energy Solutions.

Beginning in 1898 as a small company serving BC’s coastal communities, Seaspan today is a prominent marine transportation company operating along the west coast of North America. The company operates a “drop trailer” service eliminating the costs of tractors and their drivers accompanying trailers during transit to or from Vancouver Island and the mainland. Seaspan Ferries operates four roll-on/roll-off, self-propelled vessels, and three articulated tug and barge units, providing eleven round trips per day, each one-way trip taking three hours, between two terminals on Vancouver Island and one on the mainland.

“Alongside availability and security, you must consider environmental effectiveness,” Harly Penner says as he explains that Seaspan procures its LNG from Fortis BC. “In our studies, we experienced a considerable reduction in emissions, based on the transition to clean natural gas from B.C.” Mr. Penner also explained that Seaspan works with the Natural Gas Futures Group as well as the University of British Columbia to complete on-board, real time measurements of the emissions from its vessels.” Penner says that from the company’s point-of-view, these new vessels are more expensive, but “because we built them to use LNG, but there is a positive payback since we are able to get secure supplies of that natural gas at low cost from Fortis.”

Maritime Strategies International, a UK-based market analysis company said in a 2019 study and report that there had been a step up in interest in LNG as a fuel, but that LNG-fuelled newbuilds will remain a minor component of the global fleet going forward. MSI looked at the current fleet and orderbook for LNG-fuelled ships using data from IHSMarkit and other sources. One of the key distinctions in this area is between LNG-ready and LNG-fuelled vessels. LNG-ready vessels have space allotted for LNG fuel tanks along with supporting materials used for low temperatures, engines that can be converted to dual-fuel operation, and space for pipes and ventilation. This affords shipowners and yards the flexibility to limit the future incremental cost of conversion to dual-fuel. One such example is Hapag Lloyd’s conversion of a 15,000 TEU containership Sajir from LNG-ready to LNG-fuelled at a cost of $30 million. Although an LNG-ready vessel is more expensive to build than a standard vessel, the idea is to future-proof the investment, and provide optionality to the owner.