The previous UN Climate Change Conference, COP26 (literally: the ‘Conference of Parties’), took place in Glasgow in early November 2021 as the UK hosted the 26th meeting of signatory nations to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was first agreed on back in 1992.

In terms of shipping, COP26 was a timely set of discussions ahead of an important session of the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee, which planned to discuss cutting GHG Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from ocean vessels.

The ‘shipping’ meetings at COP26 ended with many ‘calls to action’ and pledges from organisations and coalitions asking the IMO to demonstrate its commitment to the urgency of climate change by replacing its current target of reducing by 50% GHG emissions by 2050 (versus 2008 levels) with a target of net-zero by the same date.

Critical challenges exist for shipping

Ocean-going zero-carbon ships must be in operation as part of the global energy transition. The industry’s current goal is to produce zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by utilising renewable energy sources as fuel by 2030.

But there are currently no ready options for mass deployment, and ships built today are predicted to last 30 to 50 years. As a result, the shipbuilding industry has been preparing for “readiness”, or the capacity to ensure that a vessel can use zero carbon fuel once this becomes feasible, either by building new vessels that have this capability from the day they are built or by ensuring existing vessels can be easily converted.

However, there is no standard or agreed definition of that readiness, so it can refer to anything from a vessel that is ready to bunker with alternative fuel right now to a ship that might eventually switch from fossil fuel power. Many so-called “ready” vessels will need retrofitting, which will have a serious impact on their safety and may be too expensive to make the option viable.

Currently, a wide variety of different vessel types are being referred to as “ready”. A feasibility study for a design to convert the ship to zero carbon fuel has been done by some, but there is no clear strategy for how the change would be carried out in practice. Others already have part or all of the necessary machinery (such as an engine, tank, piping, and fuel management system) installed.

Another kind of vessel has dual-fuel engines that might use zero-carbon fuel, however, doing so might call for an engine upgrade. Zero carbon fuel is another often-used concept that is not defined. There are ships that can use hydrogen for propulsion, although these use hydrogen for auxiliary power rather than primary propulsion. This indicates that their current emissions reduction impact is minimal.

VARD: Countdown to Zero

In late 2021, VARD announced its ‘Countdown to Zero’ initiative to develop cutting-edge ocean vessel classes using developments in renewable energy sources for its ship designs. It is exploring electrification, dual fuel, LNG, Ammonia, Methanol, and other renewable alternatives to power vessels.

As a result of this, in March 2022 the company unveiled its revolutionary ‘ZeroClass’ range of zero-emission smart vessels.

The design architecture of these vessels maximises energy efficiency. Operational profiling, big data analysis, real-time simulation, digitalisation, and artificial intelligence have all been the subject of extensive research.

Improved automation to minimise crew size, optimised hydrodynamics for sea-going efficiency, and integrated clean fuel and hybrid battery solutions to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are some of the features. Waste energy can be used again with the help of smart solutions, which also optimise energy management and system integration.

The ships are equipped with sensors and intelligent systems that enable them to run with a smaller crew and ensure the best data communication. In addition, VARD has considered the life of the vessel, including its design and operation.

The company is offering a practical and adaptable concept that can be applied across various vessel types while zero-carbon technologies continue to evolve, and carbon-neutral fuel becomes more widely accessible and financially viable.

Shipowners are in a challenging position as global emissions laws tighten in response to climate change targets being brought forward, since even relatively new ships will struggle to pass the test in terms of carbon emissions. Marine companies will need to ensure any new vessels for their fleets run on renewable energy with zero-emission profiles.

End-users across all ocean-going industries will increasingly ask for nothing less as they strive to reduce their organisation’s carbon footprints in line with market expectations. At the same time, shipping companies, their investors, and other financial institutions are focussing on shipbuilders who can help them achieve their own environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals.

Steps to renewable energy driven vessels

Zero and net-zero fuel alternatives such as ammonia, hydrogen, methanol, and biofuels have their own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the technologies to utilise them are still young, but they are evolving quickly. The validated design process of VARD examines each baseline to determine the best option for each customer. All conceivable renewable energy sources can be used with VARD ZeroClass, providing the greatest flexibility.

Vessel designs currently available are:

  • Platform supply
  • Windfarm support
  • Fishing

Exactly where and how the vessel will operate is the first step in VARD’s design process. Its hydrodynamics engineers are able to improve hull design and power configuration using sophisticated big data modelling based on operational data from comparable ships combined with historical weather data.

Analysis of operational profile data shows that the design and fuel were chosen correctly. With VARD, the design process can now more properly account for both real wave heights and the distribution of wave heights.

Designers can then use power differentials at various speeds, wave heights, and dead-weights to obtain a concentrated operational profile. Based on actual conditions, VARD designers take both calm water and wave resistance into account.

The green mindset is also defined by better operational efficiency and energy conservation. Utilising the most recent smart technology optimises the usage of energy by all onboard systems. The plus is that drastically increased efficiency also translates into lower operating expenses.

The most crucial factors in hull form are speed, draught, and waves, while designing the hull for the lowest fuel usage essentially involves striking a balance between power distribution, water resistance, and stability. Throughout the design process, VARD is able to quickly integrate design changes by assessing all operational aspects and trade-offs.