Economics trump environment in engine choices

If the momentum WinGD saw in 2017 was any indication, the market has embraced LNG as an alternative fuel choice. This positive uptake is due, in large part, to the fact that LNG is supported by technology that is available and proven, allowing owners to be compliant in 2020. (The IMO Tier III regulations require the reduction of nitrogen-oxide (NOx) emissions by approximately 76%, compared to Tier II, with a global sulphur cap of 0.5%.)

By no means should these recent growth figures downplay the complexity of the decisions faced by Ship Owners today. Their landscape looks considerably different than it did in the past.

While the social pressure is there to suggest that all decisions faced by Ship owners today should be with the environment in mind, the reality is that the economics of their choices still play a bigger role. When planning a new vessel, the decision-making process used to involve decisions based on the required vessel design-speed for attractive tonnage and the most efficient machinery concept with the best possible tuning.

Today, in light of 2020 and beyond, the decision-making strategy has far greater complexity. Ship owners need to consider the variation of different possible fuel prices, their availability and the impact this will have on the ship’s CAPEX. Alternative fuel choice options will lead to different technologies which inherently influence the OPEX and operational complexity, not to mention the question of the fuel’s reliable availability. All of this must now be considered with the over-arching view of the impact on the environment and if their investment will not only meet the 2020 regulations but does it also support the sustainability goals of the industry towards 2050. Those not in a position to pursue newbuilds are looking at the potential of non-compliance penalties vs. the potentially high cost and complexity of exhaust-gas after-treatment.

Ship Owners who choose to “stay-the-course”, unwilling or unable to embrace alternative fuel choices, hope the gamble will pay off. HFO fuel prices are anticipated to be low post 2020 as the demand for alternate fuels rises. But in the long run, will those cost savings be lost through the need to install scrubbers and the subsequent increased fuel consumption due to the higher electricity demand? Considering that CO2 and NOx emissions are not reduced with HFO/scrubber solution, additional investment into SCR (selective catalytic reduction) or EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) equipment is necessary in order to be compliant, further increasing a vessel’s OPEX and operational complexity.

Given the litany of complex scenarios facing Ship Owners today, some might suggest, it places too much of the burden on them for reducing emissions within this massive industry. Suggested by John Platsidakis, Chairman of Intercargo and Managing Director of Anangel Maritime Services, “such an approach will take us nowhere. Therefore, we are asking the providers of assets to come up with adequate solutions and we will be the first ones to adopt it.”

Owners today are only able to make decisions based on the technology that is proven and available. Decisions based on speculation of what fuels and alternative energy sources might be available in the future are risky and only adds to the hesitation in an already complex time.

Owners must simultaneously consider both operational and environmental efficiency, with the key being in finding solutions which improve the environmental gains without creating an unsustainable OPEX.

Speaking in Greece, during Posidonia, Platsidakis also said “Shipping is moving ahead and there’s no way to stop it. We are doing an excellent job [and] what we want is options not regulations.”

Therein lies our role, as the engine designer, we must continue to provide the shipping industry with the solutions that will enable their success in meeting the regulation targets.

Similar to when the industry made the move from coal to oil, the scale of that change was daunting and was faced with scepticism, denial and fear. The move to a zero-emission industry is an even bigger challenge. But, as with coal-to-oil, this challenge is not insurmountable if we all work together towards the same target.

WinGD has proven that our low-pressure dual-duel, two-stroke design, is a viable, reliable option. With over 18,000 running hours on the first X-DF in operation and 100,000 total running hours of the fleet as a whole, the uncertainties and doubts are quickly being erased. The option to retrofit our Generation X engines, converting existing engines to dual-fuel operation, provides owners with cost-effective options for their existing fleet as well.

Power solutions beyond LNG

While continuing to optimize our X-DF technology we are simultaneously exploring the substitutes for LNG which will use our same technology. Earlier this year we demonstrated a fuel mix using liquid volatile organic compounds (VOC) on our RT-flex50DF test engine in Trieste, Italy. With a combination of up to 20% VOC to LNG this is a viable choice which gives crude oil carriers options to consider the switch to LNG propulsion.

We’re also currently participating in two different EU funded projects to explore alternative fuels. The HERCULES 2 project is looking at ethanol as fuel which we are running in our test rigs. Under the FALCON project we’re exploring lignin, a biofuel production waste-product, which has the potential of becoming a heavy fuel oil substitute. That said, too much choice in fuel options may lead to niche markets and customized vessels with complex technical challenges; not a sustainable future. Supply and demand requires a reliable, cost effective fuel choice. We still believe that is LNG. Even bio-LNG, as a future-fuel, is being explored for its potential; the opportunity to continue to evolve and improve the environmental footprint of this technology has only just begun.

Outside of fuel choices and emission abatement solutions there are still steps to be taken to further realize improved efficiency, compliance and overall enhanced fleet performance.

For many, the solution may lie in the access to their ship’s data so that there can eventually be a shift away from calendar-based inspections and maintenance towards predictive and intelligent condition-based maintenance.

Solutions like our WiDE system (WinGD Integrated Digital Expert) allow owners to benefit from the full awareness of their ship’s operating condition, giving them the necessary control needed to optimise their asset and their fleet operations.

At the end of the day, the solution which provides the greatest operational simplicity, competitive CAPEX, safety, sustainability and proven reliability for today and for the future will be the solution which comes out on top.•

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