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Electric Cargo Ships are Making Waves

Sept. 21, 2023
With more eyes on sustainability, ocean carriers are using electric ships to help reduce CO2 emissions and minimize their carbon footprints.

Much like the rest of the transportation sector, ocean shipping is also setting its sights on using vessels that use less fuel, generate fewer emissions and that are generally better for the environment. Electric power is one avenue that ocean carriers are exploring as they work to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

According to Allied Market Research, the electric ship market is on track to reach nearly $24 billion by 2032—up from $4.6 billion last year. It says the growth of the global electric ship market will be driven by factors such as new environmental regulations, growing demand for high efficiency and lower life cycle costs, and a surge in the retrofitting of hybrid systems in existing ships.

The move to electrified ships is a positive one for the electronic components and parts distribution market, where companies like Chip 1 Exchange are committed to operating in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.

How do Electric Ships Work?

Electric ships rely on electricity for both generating power and propelling themselves, versus traditional ships that employ fossil fuel engines like diesel or steam. “With the growing awareness and concern regarding climate change and environmental pollution, there is an increasing demand for transportation solutions that are cleaner and more sustainable,” Allied Market Research reports.

“Electric-powered ships contribute to this by decreasing fuel usage and minimizing emissions from oil-based sources,” the firm continues. “Furthermore, the compact design of electric propulsion systems takes up less space, creating additional cargo capacity on the ship. Moreover, electric ships offer cost savings over their lifetime due to lower fuel consumption and reduced maintenance expenses.”

Steps in the Right Direction

This month, Singapore announced the upcoming launch of its first electric cargo vessel. The Goal Zero Consortium developed the “Hydromover” as part of a consortium chosen by Singapore to help electrify marine craft, Bloomberg reports.

The Goal Zero Consortium is led by Singapore-based SeaTech Solutions International, designer of the Hydromover, which has capacity to carry 25 tons of cargo and has a battery that can be swapped in minutes when depleted, Bloomberg adds. It says Singapore provided $6.6 million (USD) in funding in 2021 to Goal Zero and two other consortiums led by Keppel FELS Ltd. and Sembcorp Marine to develop electric vessels.

The Hydromover won’t be alone when it hits the seas later this year. In 2022, Yara Birkeland became the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container vessel to have zero emissions. With this vessel, Yara wants to remove 40,000 diesel-powered truck journeys every year and reduce NOx (Nitrogen oxide) and CO2 emissions, improve road safety, reduce road dust formation and traffic noise.

The Yara Birkeland was put into commercial operation in Porsgrunn in the spring of 2022. During the first two years of operation, the vessel is going “through a gradual transition towards full autonomous sailing,” Yara reports. The zero-emission vessel transports mineral fertilizer from Yara’s production plant in Porsgrunn, Norway to the regional export port in Brevik.

On the technical side, KONGSBERG handles the development and delivery of all essential technologies at Yara Birkeland. This applies to the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous operations, as well as electrical propulsion, battery and control systems.

Cutting Global Emissions

A major contributor to air pollution, international shipping produces approximately 20 million tons of sulfur oxide annually. A single large cargo ship can emit as much CO2 as 70,000 cars, while international shipping accounts for 18-30% of atmospheric nitrogen oxide emissions, according to Innovation Origins. Most ship emissions occur within about 250 miles of the mainland, raising public health concerns and making the case for electric ships even more compelling.

“With international shipping accounting for 2-3% of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020, the need for rapid decarbonization is urgent,” the publication notes. “Without action, shipping could contribute up to 17% of global emissions by 2050.”

Looking ahead, Rapid Transition Alliance says that while most cargo ships are still using diesel and oil, the growth in fully-electric ships is “picking up pace.” Big players like Siemens AG, General Electric and ABB are all getting in on the action.

“If coupled with moves to reduce the total material bulk of trade in favor of more localized production and consumption, [and as] existing fossil-fueled shipping [is] retired,” the Alliance says, “steps like this could propel rapid ocean shipping decarbonization.”

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