By Julie Gedeon

Major shipping companies are leading the efforts to reduce air emissions with huge investments in new vessels, state-of-the-art technology, as well as unprecedented attention to best environmental management practices.

Fednav has just completed a retroactive assessment of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that indicates the shipping company is emitting only 48.57 per cent – less than half – of the GHG that its ships released in 1990 per tonne-mile even though more vessels are in use. The company is set on further reducing that percentage by spending well over $500 million to build 23 new ships – a few of which have been launched so far. The new-builds will significantly lower the overall age of its already young fleet (now averaging 9.5 years).

“Our new ships emit only 65 per cent of the GHG of vessels dating back to 1980 which, of course, were among the most efficient of their time,” says Marc Gagnon, Fednav’s Director of Government Affairs and Regulatory Compliance. The new ships emit only about 70 tonnes of GHG per day, compared to the 115 tonnes released by the 1980 vessels. The calculations are based on the accepted formula of one tonne of fuel generating three tonnes of GHG.

“New ships are so much more fuel-efficient and that’s really the key to lowering GHG emissions,” Gagnon says. “Of course we also employ real-time weather and other data to chart the smoothest course for every itinerary and have our vessels slow-steam to their destinations to maximize fuel efficiency.” Other efforts to improve fuel efficiency include a new program to regularly clean propellers between drydock visits in addition normal ship hull maintenance and, thereby, save an estimated additional three per cent of fuel per journey. “It’s difficult to prove these fuel savings, but based on manufacturing and maintenance recommendations, we think it’s worth doing,” Gagnon says.

Huge Maersk efforts

Maersk Line has pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions by 40 per cent per container (TEU) over its 2007 benchmark by 2020. “It’s an ambitious target, but we believe we’re on track to achieve it,” says Lee Kindberg, Director – Environment and Sustainability at Maersk Line North America.

Last year, Maersk attained its earlier objective of reducing CO2 emissions by 25 per cent per container over the 2007 baseline – eight years ahead of schedule. The goal was obtained by approaching the issue from every possible angle. For instance, Maersk worked closely with ports and terminals to reduce berth times. “This reduces fuel use and emissions at berth and enables a vessel to steam slower after departure, which again requires less fuel,” says Kindberg. “Reduced berth times are especially helpful when a service has multiple calls, such as the Vancouver and Seattle run, or the route calling on Montreal, Halifax and New York.”

Voyage Management Systems (VMS) assist vessel captains in optimizing routes to have ships arrive just in time on slower by steadier steaming, by providing the captains with real-time data on weather, currents and port congestion.

“Internal metrics compare the performance of each voyage to the optimum for that journey,” Kindberg adds. “Slow steaming has proven to be so efficient that we now design vessels to work optimally at lower speeds and have been re-rating engines and making other modifications to operate more efficiently under these new norms.”

Every feasible change is being made towards Maersk’s Drive towards Zero SOx campaign, starting with Maersk being the first global shipping company to voluntarily use low-sulphur fuels at American ports. The use of marine gas oil (MGO) in port areas has resulted in a 95-per-cent sulphur oxide reduction and 86 per cent less particulate matter compared to when standard bunker fuel was used. MGO containing 0.1 per cent sulphur comes at a price, costing almost $1,000 per tonne compared to approximately $650 for a tonne of bunker. “Fortunately, we’ve had good support from ports through programs such as Port Metro Vancouver’s EcoAction initiative,” Kindberg says. EcoAction is among the port initiatives that reward ships with lower harbour dues based on their efforts to reduce air emissions.

Fuel alternatives sought

The hunt is on at Maersk for renewable fuel alternatives. “With an annual fuel bill of $7 billion for vessel operations, the Maersk Group must continually search for ways to reduce its bunker fuel consumption,” Kindberg says. “Biofuels need to be available at a scale suitable for global shipping.”

Maersk currently has scientists exploring the feasibility of lignin – a complex organic polymer contained in plants. Lignin is a residue produced in large quantities during paper-making, as well as advanced bio-ethanol manufacturing. “It already has a variety of industrial uses because of its chemical characteristics, energy content and its abundance, but its potential as a marine diesel fuel is a relatively uncharted area,” Kindberg says. “Success in this project would not only secure a future fuel supply but greatly further reduce our C02 and SOx emissions.”

Energy-saving technology is making a big difference as Maersk adds new-builds to its fleet. The more than 50 new vessels introduced over the past few years all have waste-heat recovery systems that boost energy efficiency by about 10 per cent by recouping smokestack heat. More efficient pumps and valves require less energy to operate. “Our new Triple E vessels incorporate all of these innovations, and have a more efficient hull design along with dual engines and propellers,” Kindberg says.

“We’ve also reviewed the existing fleet and are retrofitting vessels to improve energy efficiency,” she adds. “Changes range from simple to highly technical modifications. For example, we’re doing a ‘nose job’ on some vessels – modifying the bulbous bow to improve energy efficiency at lower speeds.” All hulls are being polished more often based on a cleaning schedule that maximizes efficiency. Hull coatings are being evaluated for their energy performance.

A new temperature control system has reduced the energy consumption of chilled cargo (above freezing) by 47 per cent (and more with the latest upgrade). Called QUEST, the system was developed with the University of Wageningen, a Dutch school that focuses on healthy food and living environments. “Whereas traditional cooling systems regulate the air temperature inside a container, QUEST manages the temperature of the products themselves,” Kindberg explains.

Maersk Container Industry has joined the United Nations’ Save Food initiative with the aim of using its container technologies to eliminate food waste. “Technologies such as Star Cool Controlled Atmosphere (CA) and Automated Ventilation (AV+) enable an operator to adjust the intake of C02 and O2 so that it precisely fits the respiration rate of the goods being carried and can greatly minimize food loss over long distances,” Kindberg says.

Determined APL target

APL is on track with its goal to cut 30 per cent of its carbon emissions by 2015 (using a 2009 audited baseline). The shipping line is introducing 34 new more fuel-efficient container ships as it also makes the best use of its existing fleet through vessel trim, speed and routing optimization.

“Our vessels were the first to plug into shore power at the port of Oakland,” notes Robert Clark, APL Americas’ Director of Security and Environment. “And shore power continues to be used by selected APL vessels.”

An Exhaust Gas Cleaning System that uses seawater to scrub pollutants from marine diesel engine exhaust has been installed on a vessel and is now being tested. In the meantime, APL is following and/or exceeding current regulatory requirements for low sulphur fuel use.

“One of our effective emissions reduction strategies is to reduce overall bunker consumption through, for example, the deployment of larger, more fuel-efficient containers on our new-builds, which consume less fuel per TEU,” Clark says.

APL is also introducing zero-emission cargo-handling equipment at its terminals, along with environmentally-sound upgrading of existing equipment.