The Struggle to Make Diesel-Guzzling Cargo Ships Greener

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Unlike vehicles and power plants, cargo ships remain conveniently out of sight to most of us. Yet shipping is the linchpin of our modern economy, moving about 90 percent of all globally traded goods, including T-shirts, bananas, and smartphones along with medicine, fuel, and even livestock.

Around 93,000 container ships, oil tankers, bulk carriers, and other vessels now ply the world’s waterways, delivering some 10.3 billion metric tons of goods in 2016, according to United Nations trade statistics. That’s four times the cargo delivered in 1970.

Netherland takes first green step

The ferry, IJveer 61, near Amsterdam’s central train station, carries commuters from the city’s historic center to the borough of Noord. Hybrid vessels like the IJveer 61 are increasingly common in the Netherlands, where officials are pushing to limit toxic air pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the maritime sector.

Patrol vessels and work ships are turning more to batteries and using less petroleum-based fuel; so are crane-carrying boats that pluck fallen bicycles from Amsterdam’s famous canals.

Some of these vessels recharge during off-hours, pulling from the harbor’s electric grid connection.

In other boats, diesel generators recharge batteries as they run. As the harbor’s electricity infrastructure expands, more vessels could ditch diesel entirely, says Walter van der Pennen from EST-Floattech, the Dutch energy-storage company that oversaw installation of the IJveer 61’s series hybrid system.

Zero emissions to decarbonisation

As emissions climb and environmental policies strengthen, shipping companies and engineers are accelerating their pursuit of so-called zero-emissions technologies—a category that includes massive battery packs and fuel cells that run on hydrogen or ammonia.

Hundreds of large cargo ships are also switching to liquefied natural gas, which produces less toxic air pollution than the typical maritime “bunker fuel” and is widely considered a stepping-stone on the path to full decarbonization.

ABB tests greener ships

The Ampere was a turning point for battery-powered shipping, says Jostein Bogen, the global product manager for energy storage systems in ABB’s marine and ports division. “The big start came from Norway, but now we see it coming all over the world,” he says from his office in Oslo, citing ABB’s electric ship projects in China, Turkey, and across Europe.

ABB recently converted two diesel ferries, the Tycho Brahe and the Aurora, into the world’s largest battery-driven ferries. The vessels, which connect Denmark and Sweden via the Øresund strait, each carry batteries that can deliver 4.16 MW of power and have a combined storage capacity of 8,320 kWh—equivalent to 10,700 car batteries. The ferries will quickly recharge at automated shore-side stations.

Although, automated system had been tested successfully in a simulated factory environment, but it needed additional testing to make sure it could operate reliably in the real world, ABB said.

ABB said it continues to make adjustments to the charging procedures.

The biggest contributors to the shipping industry’s carbon footprint are the container ships, tankers, and bulk carriers who must operate on fuel cells, batteries, and other technology alternatives and possibly reduce costs associated with each voyage to their supply chain.

Meanwhile, at a nearby shipyard, another company is building what it dubs the “Tesla ship”—an all-electric river barge, like a Model 3 for the sea. Its makers at Dutch manufacturer Port-Liner expect to complete five small barges and two large barges this year to edge out the area’s diesel-burning, soot-spewing versions.

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Source: IEEE Spectrum

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