How the marine industry is embracing sustainability, with a little help from turbocharging

A view from a ship
2020's World Maritime Day focuses on sustainable shipping for a sustainable planet, and it's an area where turbocharging can make a sizeable impact. We take a look at how the humble turbocharger is helping the maritime industry to embrace sustainability.

The IMO’s World Maritime Day takes place on September 24, embracing critical and topical themes each year. Following on from 2019’s drive to empower women in the maritime community, 2020’s event focuses on sustainable shipping for a sustainable planet, and it’s an area where turbocharging can make a sizeable impact, both now and in the future.

This year, World Maritime Day is taking place online, with a series of industry panelists and experts gathering to discuss one of the planet’s most critical issues: the need for the maritime industry to transition towards a greener future.

“Shipping needs to secure its own sustainability, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim explains in a World Maritime Day 2020 address. “Shipping activities must be balanced with safety of life at sea and the long-term health and diversity of the oceans. A major part of IMO’s role is to ensure that shipping continues to make its contribution to the global economy without upsetting nature’s delicate balance.

“Supported by IMO’s regulatory framework, shipping is engaged on a journey of transformation towards this sustainable future,” Lim adds. It needs to be, as a reputation for the best reliability and the lowest costs has turned the shipping industry into a truly global force, carrying more than 80% of international trade.

Building the foundations for a more sustainable future in the maritime industry begins with efficiency, and this is where turbocharging can make a massive difference. Adding a turbocharger to your ship’s engine makes it vastly more efficient, offering more power, better fuel consumption and lower emissions, which are ideal attributes to meeting challenging targets facing the maritime industry over the next three decades.


How turbocharging is driving efficiency

With sustainability at the forefront, and the IMO committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the benefits of turbocharging are already proving invaluable. ABB has been breaking new ground for 115 years, with innovations such as Power2 two-stage turbocharging offering ship owners and operators a useful platform to build a more sustainable future.

Five years ago, we saw Power2 make history alongside the Wärtsilä 31 engine, taking a Guinness World Record for the most efficient medium-speed marine engine, and this set the tone for things to come.

In 2018, COSCO Shipping Universe broke records as the world’s largest container ship, and it did so running with ABB-designed turbochargers. The turbocharging technology helped to deliver an impressive 62% reduction in CO2 emissions, a 75% increase in engine efficiency, and a 62% reduction in fuel.

2019 was another notable year for turbocharging and ABB, as our A200-H turbocharger for gas engines pushed performance to the limit, with a pressure ratio of 6.5 setting a new industry benchmark. At higher pressures, more power can be squeezed from smaller engines, helping ship owners and operators to benefit when it comes to cutting both costs and emissions.

In the same year, ABB also designed the most advanced mixed-flow turbine, providing an incredible >90% efficiency. Incremental innovations like these can really make a difference in the lead-up to IMO 2030, where the shipping industry needs to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% compared to 2008 levels.

Such innovations could also make an impact when working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 – a topic under discussion at this year’s World Maritime Day – with the IMO setting out the following goals:

  • Enhance maritime safety and digital shipping
  • Ensure and enhance the professionalism, competence and workplace environment of the world’s seafarers
  • Decarbonization of international shipping and reduction of sulphur in ships’ fuel oil;
  • Protect the polar regions and reduce marine litter
  • Facilitation of maritime traffic in collaboration with port industry
  • Technical cooperation and capacity building of developing countries
  • Enhance gender equality in the maritime community
  • Maintain a robust response system to meet threats to safety and security at sea, and protect the marine environment
COSCO Shipping Universe container ship

Even bigger innovations will be required to infrastructure and technology if the shipping industry is to meet challenging IMO 2050 targets, requiring a 70% reduction in CO2 and a 50% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2008 levels, but once again turbochargers can play their part in a truly sustainable future.

Helping to meet stringent targets on the way to a more sustainable future

In a recent article, Lars Robert Pederson, Deputy Secretary General at BIMCO, and a panelist at ABB’s upcoming Industry Expert Day, highlights a decoupling of world trade and emissions, demonstrating a projected rise of between 50-100% in demand for shipping while emissions are expected to remain 10% below 2008 levels by 2050. This is important, as it show’s we’re actually on the right trajectory, and zero-emission ships could be the all-important link that helps to further accelerate the decoupling of trade and emissions.

As Dr. Dino Imhof explains, the biggest challenge is finding viable alternatives to fossil fuels. At present, it’s looking increasingly likely that fuels based on hydrogen, providing a zero or net-zero carbon footprint, will provide the catalyst required to helping the marine industry to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a future we’re seeing other transportation industries looking towards, with Airbus unveiling plans for zero-emission hydrogen-fueled passenger planes this week, and the shipping industry is already ideally placed to embrace hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels as alternatives to fossil fuels.

Turbocharging is continuing to advance as well, with ever-greater pressure ratios in the pipeline for future turbochargers, promising even better efficiency, and digital offerings providing the ability for ship owners and operators to optimize their vessels for lower emissions. And in the future, working closely with engine builders, ship owners and operators, we’ll see even more innovative turbocharging technology.

All this means that future engines running on hydrogen-based fuels will be more adaptable, providing improved efficiency and helping to abate greenhouse gas emissions. This will become particularly relevant as innovations to hydrogen production, including steam methane reforming, pyrolysis and CCS, lead the way to a zero-carbon footprint.

As Lim points out, the IMO’s future actions and targets for the maritime industry form the foundation for shipping’s part in securing a sustainable future for all of us, and as such, this year’s World Maritime Day theme of sustainability really couldn’t be more important, both now and for years to come.

Image credits: peentho/Shutterstock