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The biggest change in shipping will be the improvement and spread of connectivity between ship and shore, with vessels and their sensors and systems transmitting a constant stream of data. The fleet of the future will be in an ongoing digital “conversation” with its managers and perhaps even with a new “traffic control” system that is continually monitoring vessel positions and speeds.
Fleet managers will be able to analyze this data, enabling them to advise the captain and crew on navigation, weather patterns, fuel consumption and port arrival. This will help reduce the risks of human error leading to accidents, increase cost efficiency and help improve environmental performance. Data will be widely shared. Ports will use it to help them plan and optimize loading and unloading.
Classification societies will analyze it to check the status of machinery and hull, letting owners and operators know when a survey is required, based on the condition of the systems, thus reducing downtime and unnecessary maintenance.
The way that ships are powered will also change. The world’s modern fleet will rely on a broader range of fuels and propulsion solutions. On the long-haul trades, we could see a move toward dual-fuel engines, or pure gas-fueled, with newly developed renewable biofuels as part of the mix. The use of batteries to complement main engines will grow, to smooth power delivery, drive auxiliary systems and maximize energy efficiency.
In some sectors, such as ferries and coastal vessels, we could see many more vessels powered completely or largely by electricity. At DNV GL we are excited to be a part of this coming transformation. We will continue to work with stakeholders to realize the potential of our industry.
By introducing virtual reality into our design process, we have already taken our next big step into the future. Using our virtual reality software ShipSpace, I can be in Denmark, but also in the same room as a client in Australia. The software allows us to actually walk through and experience a full-scale ship, discuss the design, and decide together whether we should include, move or remove something. Virtual reality is perfect for seeing vessel concepts and designs, understanding how spaces work and what’s needed, while we are still at the drawing-board stage. This is changing the design process, making it easier, smarter, faster. And it really works.
In the future, it could work on even more levels. Imagine being able to tour the engine rooms in the virtual world together with service engineers, suppliers, designers and ship owners, discussing the service space, accessibility and maintenance. The next step would be individual reality, when the ship has been delivered.
Virtual reality could help in maintenance, allowing an engineer at sea to pull up a manual on the glasses and communicate with the supplier back in the office in Europe. Virtual reality will change the industry, for sure. Ships will be more sophisticated and more hybrid. It’s hard to say, however, which system will win out, and there will be more than one winner. Wind power will definitely increase in importance.
One of our ideas is that on certain routes, where time is not crucial, wind power will come in as an alternative to normal combustion. We investigated the feasibility of wind-assisted commercial vessels in our Windship project and concluded that such ships could be significantly more fuel efficient, and produce less pollution, than mechanically driven ships. A back-up engine, maybe burning on gas, and advanced technology in the engine room will, however, always be needed for the ship’s propulsion.
Safety and cost are driving my vision of unmanned ships. Many accidents at sea are caused by human error, so lowcrew or no-crew vessels – equipped with innovative technologies and sensors for navigation, linked to fleet operation centers – will invariably improve safety.
Such centers will control the ship just as the captain and the crew do now. In terms of costs, we see savings that are twofold, in construction and in operations. Although the technology will add to the construction costs at first, in just a few years’ time the cost of building such a ship will be lower than for a vessel with a full “hotel system” on board.
The challenge for unmanned shipping lies in technology but also in legislation. Until international shipping law is overhauled, autonomous ships will not operate in international waters. But by 2025, small unmanned ferries will operate within the territorial waters of a single country. By 2040, we will see autonomous, unmanned oceangoing vessels, connected via communication links to center on shore.
Autonomous shipping won’t work in ships powered by heavy fuel, however, as this will always require an experienced crew and lots of manual work. Other fuels, such as LNG, and maintenance-reducing innovations in engine design and propulsion are needed. The aircraft industry should serve as our inspiration, where all the maintenance is possible on the ground. But we will need to completely rethink the whole design of a ship to reach our target
The simple one-fuel-for-all picture will change. Innovative answers are needed to meet the goal of low or zero emissions. Traditional liquid fuels are most likely here to stay, but in the future we are going to see a whole basket of hybrid systems and fuel types. Already engines have been developed so that they can change between traditional liquid fuels, low-sulfur designer fuels, and either natural gas, methanol, ethane or LNG. This increases the flexibility of the engines and results in lower operation costs for the owners. As a result, propulsion systems will become more complex, but also more environmentally friendly. Wind propulsion is on the cards, but we don’t expect to see ships that are purely wind driven. They couldn’t reach today’s requirements for speed and reliability. We just don’t see vessels being built without some sort of traditional propulsion system as part of a hybrid system.
Our propulsion systems can work together with wind-hybrid propulsion systems, supplementing wind power with the required thrust for maintaining the desired constant speed, whatever system is used to harness wind power, whether it involves sails, rotors or kites. For wind-hybrid propulsion, we recommend installing an MAN Alpha controllable pitch propeller with the latest MAN Alphatronic 3000 propulsion control system featuring the MAN Alpha Eco Speed Pilot. Furthermore a reduced environmental footprint can be achieved by complementing the hybrid propulsion systems with our highly efficient MAN Alpha Kappel propeller design with its characteristic forwardly swept blade tips.
A complete, well-matched system. What was once seen as auxiliary equipment is now essential for building a vessel that is compliant. It includes the gas-supply system, the engine with the propulsion system, as well as the exhaust gas after-treatment system. For instance, the exhaust recirculation systems and selective catalytic reduction systems already used in the automotive industry are now available for the marine industry and can reduce NOx to close to zero levels. And it doesn’t stop there. At MAN Diesel & Turbo we are constantly pushing our R&D further to continuously develop new innovative solutions.
Many projects on harnessing wind energy in shipping are still at a fairly conceptual stage and are supported by public funding or sponsorships.
The EU, for instance, is funding research into the Norsepower Rotor Sail Solution technology, a project involving the largest ever Flettner-type rotor sails. Peace Boat, the nonprofit and nongovernmental organization, is running the Ecoship project, which focuses on developing a flagship for sustainable energy solutions for the cruise and shipping industry.
MAN Diesel & Turbo is closely following such projects, contributes wherever possible and has already developed the technology necessary for wind-hybrid propulsion systems.
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