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BIMCO’s evergreen dream of energy efficiency

The drive towards ever greater energy efficiency looks set to remain paramount whether the shipping sector continues to use hydrocarbons or switches to cleaner alternatives, writes Brian Dixon.

While it is never easy to predict the future, one trend affecting the global maritime sector that looks set to not only continue but accelerate is that of decarbonisation. Indeed, in its newly published Reflections 2020 document, the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) identifies this as one of the key challenges facing the industry over the coming decade, with deputy secretary general Lars Robert Pedersen writing that “the pathway to the decarbonisation of shipping will likely be one of decreasing use of fossil fuel”.

After all, he reasons, as current carbon capture and storage (CSS) techniques “are simply not feasible for large-scale use in ships”, the sector will have little option but to switch “to increasingly higher hydrogen-content fuel” to achieve the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 2050 target of cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% compared to 2008 levels. While this will result in “a different and smaller air pollution footprint”, such a transition will not be easy and will require the provision of new low or zero-carbon fuels “on a large-scale and worldwide basis”, something, he notes, that is not “a given”.

Research and development

“The shipping industry will, therefore, have to depend on research and development with the specific aim of delivering the necessary solutions,” he states. In line with this, BIMCO has thus drafted a proposal to the IMO seeking to establish “a global research and development fund to facilitate substantial and sustained development of decarbonisation solutions that work on transoceanic ships”. This proposal, which was revealed through the International Chamber of Shipping last year, Pedersen reports, will be discussed by IMO member states at its next MEPC meeting, later this year.

However, regardless of what fuels the sector uses, the need to maximise energy efficiency seems unlikely to diminish anytime soon. While the current requirement to cut emissions may well recede with the advent of new fuels, the economic argument for greater efficiency appears poised to gain only greater traction, with Pedersen observing that these alternatives “will be more expensive compared with the fuels of today, and lower consumption will mean less of a premium to be paid”.

One means of ensuring that “the efficiency of a ship remains high” is to minimise biofouling on a vessel’s hull as this will otherwise lead to increased drag that in turn requires greater power consumption and ergo fuel use. With this in mind, BIMCO has now embarked on a project to develop an international standard for underwater hull cleaning. “Equipped with such a standard, and a way to certify hull cleaners meet it, the shipping industry should be prepared to accept global regulations requiring clean hulls on ships. However, such regulations could only be enacted if coastal states are prepared to allow certified hull cleaning to take place in their waters,” he states.

More then just the ship

Moreover, energy efficiency, Pedersen continues, “is also about making voyages between ports using as little energy as possible” and “converting waiting time currently spent outside ports into sailing time between them”. To make this a reality, though, requires “the active participation of ports” and “a more dynamic and timely exchange of information” between ship and shore.

Indeed, to this end, BIMCO will continue to actively pursue the standardisation of data elements at IMO. “Such standardisation is a must before the exchange of data can be automated and embedded in digital equipment and services,” he says. “Digitalisation is often mentioned as a vehicle for decarbonisation, and it can be. Therefore, we must work hard to engage the port and solution providers in this important area to build the foundation for this efficiency gain.”

Copies of the Reflections 2020 document can be freely downloaded as a PDF from the BIMCO website

About Author

Brian Dixon is a business and industry journalist with more than 20 years' experience writing about ports and logistics. A member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, he has covered stories on six continents. He divides his time between the UK and East Asia