The Paris Agreement makes it pretty clear: If we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the shipping industry, too, must become carbon-neutral by 2050. This goal can only become reality if we retrofit the existing international fleet. By converting a container ship to LNG in the world’s first operation of this kind, MAN Diesel & Turbo and shipping company Wessels Reederei are pioneering a maritime energy transition.
The Baltic Sea is one of the most heavily trafficked shipping regions in the world, accounting for up to 15% of the global cargo transportation. It is also one of the most heavily regulated shipping zones and is becoming a model for green maritime transport. The same can be said for MAN Diesel & Turbo. In converting a container ship’s propulsion system to LNG, the Company has reached a technological milestone on the road to a carbon-neutral global fleet.
Drastically lower emissions as a result of retrofitting
Launched in 2011, the Wes Amelie is a modern 1,000-TEU carrier owned by the German shipping company Wessels Reederei and operating in the North and Baltic Seas. The vessel’s propulsion system was successfully retrofitted to dual-fuel operation in September 2017.
Christian Hoepfner, General Manager and Head of Business Development & Special Projects at Wessels, outlines how the retrofit was motivated primarily by more stringent environmental regulations: “The Wes Amelie’s shipping routes span the North and Baltic Seas, two highly regulated regions. As these are both within Emission Control Areas, the ships need to meet the highest environmental standards and the strictest limits for emissions. By converting to a low-emission fuel, we are safeguarding the future of this container ship as well as our own competitiveness within the market.” Once it became foreseeable that regulations could be tightened in the North and Baltic Seas, Wessels started investigating how it could improve the competitiveness of its container ships for charters in this zone. This is what they found out: By running on LNG, the Wes Amelie could lower its SOx emissions by over 99%, produce approximately 90% less NOx, and cut CO2 emissions by around 20%.
Protecting the environment has always been important to Wessels as a company, so it soon became clear that switching to LNG was the only way forward. While adding a scrubber for exhaust gas cleaning, another feasible alternative, would have made it possible to continue using marine diesel oil, this may have resulted in waste water containing sulfur being discharged into the sea.
Pioneering the maritime energy revolution
No trivial matter
A retrofit of this caliber is no trivial matter and required specialist knowledge, components, and the help of specialists. The Wes Amelie was originally fitted with an MAN L48/60B diesel engine. MAN’s considerable experience in converting this type of engine to the dual-fuel operation made it the partner of choice for this task.
Establishing LNG as the number one fuel for ships
“We are delighted that we have been able to complete this project successfully as a result of working together with Wessels Reederei, which went extremely well,” Stefan Eefting, Head of MAN PrimeServ in Augsburg, admits. “By using LNG, we can drastically reduce the emissions produced by the maritime industry that are damaging to the environment. In light of this, we are working hard to establish LNG as the number one fuel for ships.”
Raising environmental awareness in the maritime industry
The world’s first container ship to be converted to LNG is part of the maritime energy revolution, something the Company has been campaigning for over the last few years in order to raise environmental awareness in the maritime industry.
Dr. Uwe Lauber, CEO of MAN Diesel & Turbo, called for a “maritime energy revolution” back in 2015, not satisfied with the speed at which the industry was moving toward the more eco-friendly alternative of gas. Now that the first ship has been retrofitted, that goal is more within its reach: “By providing our customers with the technology they need to retrofit their existing fleets, we are driving what we call the maritime energy revolution,” Dr. Uwe Lauber explains. “Around 40,000 freight ships are currently chartering global waters, with less than 1% of those powered with gas. This means that if we want our shipping industry to be carbon-neutral by 2050, we have to start doing something about it today.”
“If we want our shipping industry to be carbon-neutral by 2050, we have to start doing something about it today.”
Scalability makes follow-up projects easier
When searching for the right ship to be retrofitted, particular attention was paid to the project’s scalability, which could significantly reduce the costs of follow-up projects. The Wes Amelie has 23 sister ships, with 16 of those structurally identical, which would drive costs down if the entire fleet were to be retrofitted gradually – that’s the plan, anyway. It has now been agreed that at least three more ships from the Wessels fleet will be retrofitted.
This multiplier effect was also the deciding factor in securing additional financial support for the project from the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur – BMVI): Once the Ministry recognized the contribution this sort of a project could make to the industry’s eco-friendly development in the long term, it agreed to provide the funds. This was a great help to Wessels, enabling the investment to be amortized in three years.
The successful pilot project has been catching on ever since: In August 2017, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure launched a sponsorship scheme for fitting and retrofitting seagoing vessels to run on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) with the aim of promoting the use of LNG in the German maritime industry. It has now been agreed that MAN Diesel & Turbo will convert at least three more Wessels container ships. In addition to the above, the Company has also been forging ahead with its initiative for a maritime energy revolution on a global scale: As part of Our Ocean 2017, an international conference hosted by the EU Commission in Malta, MAN Diesel & Turbo managed to secure price reductions totaling €2 million to implement ten LNG retrofits. This should provide the market with the incentive it needs to convert even more ships to LNG.