Turning The Tide: How Seaborne Trade is Pivoting Towards a Greener Future

By Aneesh Vasudev

Seaborne trade is one of the fundamental economic activities and according to the International Chamber of Shipping, its contribution to global GDP is around $1.6 trillion. It is one of the most efficient means of transportation, wherein over 11 billion tons of goods are transported annually, accounting for nearly 90% of global trade, as estimated by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). However, the industry is primarily based on fossil fuels, of which nearly half (as of 2021) is powered by heavy fuel oil (HFO), a sludge-like residue left over from petroleum cracking. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) forecasts that CO2 emission from commercial shipping could increase by 50-250% before 2050.

Emphasized by the urgency to reduce carbon footprint, the challenge is not technologically trivial as electrification of the entire sector. For instance, one of the most successful battery electric technology demonstration till date is Yara Birkeland, a 120 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) capacity vessel, which covered a range of 65 nautical mile. Disregarding complexities in raw materials and sourcing electric power, a mix of solutions are necessary, and the topic of energy transition is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

The drive for decarbonization in the shipping sector, at present, mainly follows legislation, with IMO introducing radical changes. This began with cleaning up of the combustion process from usage of HFO via implementation of the Global Sulphur Cap (2020). Furthermore, the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and more recently Carbon Intensity Index (CII), aim to holistically account for and reduce energy consumption on board. Compliance with these regulations presents many options for merchant vessel operators such as engine upgrades, exhaust aftertreatment systems, hull and propeller overhaul or use of clean fuels. Worth noting that each percentage point improvement in efficiency translates to roughly  €40,000 annual saving in operational costs.

Being located in close proximity to the energy cluster of Finland, our research at the university deals with this issue, especially focused on the propulsion systems. Our state-of-the-art laboratory facilities and close collaboration with industry enable us to lead large projects such as:

Clean Propulsion Technologies

Decarbonizing Shipping by Enabling Key Technology Symbiosis on real vessel concept designs

Silent Engine

Computationally Aided Systems Engineering for Marine Advanced Technology for the Environment

About the author:

Aneesh Vasudev is a PhD scholar in energy technology at University of Vaasa. He holds a MSc degree in mechanical engineering from Eindhoven University of Technology. His speciality lies in reacting fluid flow, and his research deals with advanced fuels and combustion concepts, numerical modelling and optimization. His current focus is on reactivity controlled compression ignition (RCCI) and the development of associated control-oriented modelling tools, especially for the marine sector.