Sea the difference – how digital tech is driving maritime fuel efficiencies

According to the World Economic Forum, if the shipping industry were a country, it would be the sixth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Conversely, the industry’s importance to the global economy cannot be overstated: maritime transports over 90 percent of the world's trade and it is by far, the most cost-effective way to move bulk goods and raw materials. Can technology help balance these two significant issues?

What is the maritime industry doing today?

Technology is set to play a big role in helping the maritime industry drive greater fuel efficiency. Remote monitoring and control technologies are increasing in use, and are already being deployed on board offshore support vessels such as tugs and workboats, as their operating companies look to manage fuel consumption and reduce costs. This practice started with maritime operators monitoring basic fuel consumption and engine performance levels on vessels, but it is set to expand: in the next three years the practice should extend to the unmanned surface vessels (USVs) that oil companies use for controlling remotely operated vehicles underwater.

Examples of smart fuel monitoring using Internet of Things (IoT) tools are already in place. Orange has worked with Russian maritime specialist Dobroflot to develop IoT tools that helps optimize fuel consumption, as well as analyze weather and vessel position, with the end goal of cutting fuel costs by as much as ten percent. The IoT solution also utilizes a fully-managed satellite solution that connects Dobroflot’s vessels to onshore operations, enabling real-time monitoring to not just reduce fuel costs but also prevent unauthorized fuel usage.

What can come next – technologies that are helping

The shipping industry has recognized that technology is the way forward when it comes to reducing fuel consumption and streamlining operations in general, and is investigating a number of techniques.

Some examples of new techniques to reduce fuel consumption include:

1. Air Lubrication – this method is designed to reduce resistance between a ship’s hull and the sea itself using air bubbles. The reduction in friction is designed to reduce CO2 emissions by between 10 and 15 percent and also achieve significant fuel savings.

2. Fuel Saving Propeller Attachment – developed by Hyundai, an energy-saving fin is attached to the ship propeller that makes propulsion more efficient and can help save up to 2.5 percent of fuel versus similar vessels that don’t have it. The fuel saving has been calculated to equate to as much as $19 million over the lifetime of a ship.

3. Smart grid technology. Smart grids are typically associated with land and smart city use, but ABB has introduced and onboard DC grid system that helps vessels reduce fuel consumption and lessen environmental impact. It has been measured to reduce specific fuel oil consumption by as much as 27 percent.

4. Low Loss Hybrid Energy System – the LLH utilizes different power sources combined with energy storage devices to get engines using fuels as optimally as possible. It reduces transient engine loads that would previously drive increased fuel consumption and increased emissions, making ships more cost-effective and less environmentally damaging.

Targets are already in place

The global shipping industry has not been sitting idle. In March 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) implemented a new mandatory fuel consumption data collection system named the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) for international shipping. The plan requires ships above 5,000 gross tonnage to collect and report fuel consumption information from the start of 2019, and is designed to address the emissions issue, as well as marine and atmospheric pollution, in shipping in general.

The worldwide shipping industry has also committed to tracking and monitoring fuel usage with a goal of reducing it dramatically, to the benefit of all. Ships currently account for 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and some industry experts have predicted that if this is not reduced, the figure could rise to as much as 20 percent by 2050.

With that in mind, and with the supplemental benefit of making shipping simply more profitable through greater fuel efficiency, the IMO has said it will halve carbon emissions from global shipping by 2050. Digital technologies including data analysis tools, IoT devices and even artificial intelligence (AI) – already being used by Stena group to maximize fuel efficiency - are all likely to play a big role moving forward.

To read more about how maritime companies can drive benefits from digital transformation, please download our white paper, Sea Change:

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.