Although recent studies have suggested that the situation is not quite as rosy as often assumed, there is a consensus that sea transport is in terms of carbon footprint and other measures, generally the least environmentally-damaging method of moving goods around the globe.
But that is not to say that shipping doesn”t damage the environment. WWL, the car-carrier line, is aware of this, and a recent presentation by Fridtjof Naess, WWL”s head of tonnage and trade, illustrated what his company is doing, and by implication what other lines should be considering.
A range of technological innovations are being applied to new vessels currently being built (and where practical retrofitted to existing ships) but several approaches are more a case of management than technology. For example, from June WWL is reducing the cruising speed of its heaviest ships from 19 knots to 18. That is not a major change – perhaps adding a day to many voyages, but a power law operates with ship velocity, and that reduction could save 15 per cent on fuel – handy at a time of astronomical prices for bunkers. Where they can, WWL are introducing this unilaterally, but they are also talking to customers to convince them of the environmental benefits.
Another four per cent saving in fuel may be achievable simply by using more advanced weather forecasting. Accurate prediction of currents, wave patterns and so on can optimise the speeds required to meet the ”arrival slot” at a port without having to burn extra fuel to make up lost time. Slightly slower transit times have an impact on capacity, which is currently in short supply.
Longer term, could alternative energy sources be viable? WWL has concept studies looking at alternatives ranging from Liquified Natural Gas to auxiliary wind and solar power, and looking at scenarios out to 2025. None of these look viable yet, but Naess does suggest that LNG may be attractive for feeder services, taking vehicles from main ports to smaller destinations.
In new build, WWL is going for longer, slimmer vessels. Slimmer underwater lines reduce resistance and thus fuel consumption; equally they tend to require less ballast water. Why burn fuel shipping water around an ocean?
But WWL has many more aims, not all connected to fuel. On new ships, the exhaust will power onboard electricity generation; new and innovative ways of rating ballast and bilge water to avoid pollution are being introduced, as is the use of bio-degradable stern tube oils. On old and new ships alike, attention is being paid to the specifications and environmental impacts of paints, cooling agents, oils and so on. Low sulphur fuel is a must and measures have been taken to reduce the emission of oxides of nitrogen.
Some of this is standard; some is being forced by current or impending regulation (although WWL is in most areas well ahead of the International Maritime Organisation, and as a ”first mover” will doubtless have some influence over what rules are imposed on their competitors). But the company is taking a yet more holistic view of its environmental impact – as Naess puts it ”Not just the ship but the whole system”. This creates a range of initiatives, from setting environmental standards for ship builders and maintainers, to sub-contractors: questions such as the source of shoreside electricity, or the environmental performance of stevedores” trucks and cranes.
None of this is necessarily hugely expensive. What makes WWL stand out is the way they are trying to mitigate their environmental impact across all their activities, rather than focusing on the current headline issue. It”s an approach other logistics companies could follow, and not just those using ships.