Investing in a green and flexible finished vehicle shipping future 

Following United European Car Carriers (UECC)'s recent announcement of a major investment in a new generation of cleaner and greener pure car and truck carriers (PCTCs), Simon Duval Smith talks to CEO Glenn Edvardsen about the strategies behind company's drive towards more sustainable shipping power

UECC, jointly owned by Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) and Wallenius Lines, has signed a contract to construct two new generation PCTCs, the vessels will be equipped with a Battery Hybrid LNG Solution which will place UECC beyond IMO’s target for a 40% reduction in carbon intensity by 2030. 

UECC will work with Jiangnan Shipyard and leading ship Designer Shanghai Merchant Ship Design & Research Institute (SDARI) to build the PCTCs to meet the Tier 3 IMO NOx emission limitations coming into force in the Baltic and the North Sea from 2021. To meet the 2021 CO2 reduction regulations, the vessels will also be equipped with dual-fuel LNG engines for main propulsion and auxiliaries and to make the vessels even more environmentally friendly and to cut CO2 emissions further, the vessels will also be equipped with battery packages.

As more biofuels are set to become commercially available in the future, UECC aims to also use carbon neutral and synthetic fuels as part of its future fuel mix.

Heavyweight investments

Glenn Edvardsen says that more of these vessels are to follow and that they will be adaptable to future even more stringent emissions regulations, notwithstanding changes in the global automotive market. "The decision to build further ships needs to be made quite quickly, there is an option window of about four months. It is unlikely that the market will change positively or negatively and we are negotiating a longer window between signing a contract and the exercise of the option to build further vessels."

PCTCs such as these do not come cheap so Edvardsen's desire to have more time to decide on purchases is understandable. "The cost of these is in the upper-$40 million bracket so we do need to gauge the effectiveness of such a big investment."

Keeping up with changing legislation

The Battery Hybrid LNG Solution will place UECC beyond IMO’s target for a 40% reduction in carbon intensity by 2030; I ask Edvardsen if he sees see the legislation changing over the next years and will these ships be adaptable to even more stringent environmental rules, should the laws change. He says future-proofing the vessels is a key point. "It is very difficult to comply with the 40% by 2030 IMO target if you can't run just on batteries - as some local ferries can - or run on non-fossil fuels and some people enthuse about using scrubbers in the exhausts. While these cut sulphur and particulate emissions they actually cause more CO2 emissions as they increase fuel consumption, typically by about 4%. The 2030 rules are based on 2008 measurements so some modern vessels will be some way towards the target already, using strategies such as slow steaming, and LNG will give you between 25% and 28% reduction in CO2. Combining this with optimised routes and speeds and battery hybrid technology will give us a head start on future legislation."

Edvardsen explains how battery power will help 'smooth' the power requirements of the vessels: "The batteries will give us peak shaving capabilities; when extra power is demanded by weather conditions and other sudden demand situations. The battery power allows us to run the engines at their optimum clean speed and load and use battery power for sudden demand and also for maneuvering in ports."

A dual fuel strategy

As Edvardsen says, the LNG solution will reduce the CO2 emission by about 25% and UECC has also spoken of using a dual-fuel strategy. I ask Edvardsen to tell me a little more about this strategy and question whether he will find bunkering of all the fuel needed at all the ports these ships will operate to and from. He says that dual fuel in UECC terms does not include heavy oil, pointing out that there simply won't be heavy oil available in the future. "You won't be allowed to take heavy oil on board from 2020 unless you have exhaust scrubbers fitted so we don't even think about using that fuel. We are considering marine gas oil (MGO) and LNG. We have already built up the infrastructure for these fuels in the trade routes that we intend to use and the availability of these fuels is growing quite rapidly right across Europe. " Biofuels and other alternative energy sources may well be developed to suit marine applications in the future and Edvardsen says that these possibilities have been factored into UECC's plans. "With our dual fuel strategy we are prepared for new fuels, this is what the investment gives us and of course we have the gas tanks built-in to the design as well as large enough tanks to run on an oil or other liquid fuel for our complete journeys."

More than just a dual fuel vessel - wind power?

Many shipping companies and designers have talked about adding sails to their ships but this now seems to be out of fashion. Edvardsen thinks it is not such a far fetched idea and will have a place in future vessels. "I think that while we may not see a commercial vessel running with 100% wind power, I would not surprised to see a vessel equipped with sails. For deep sea applications, such as when you are crossing the Atlantic and you have favourable wind and weather, sail power could really make a contribution. When you compare the cost of installing masts and sails with that of an engine or a battery pack, and of course the savings in fuel, even if you only save a few percent in running costs, the price of the wind power structure would be very rapidly amortised. I think we will see this coming, albeit on a very small scale to start with."

Investing in a flexible vessel solution

The new ships are specified to be extremely flexible enabling them to accommodate a multitude of high & heavy and break-bulk mafi cargoes in addition to car carrying and I ask Edvardsen if this flexibility is essential given the ever-changing nature of the global automotive industry? He says that there are almost no investments being made in short sea shipping vessels and that UECC is determined to make its ships as flexible as possible. "There is a lot of old tonnage in the short sea segment and these old vessels were not designed to be flexible. We are building-in more very strong heavy cargo lifting with liftable decks that can handle the new generation of heavy passenger cars with their battery packs. The loading ramps must be stronger as well as these need to handle heavy vehicles such mafi trailers, off-highway machinery and also the trains that we carry. We will have ramps with a 160-ton capacity and this will set us apart from the competition."

A group approach to tomorrow's vessels

As UECC's fleet can be considered as being part of the NYK and Wallenius Lines family, so the exciting initiatives of the group filter down to all the lines, both short sea and deep sea, as Edvardsen tells me. "Both of our owners, NYK and Wallenius, are at the forefront of environmentally sustainable marine technology and they consider investment in this area to be their top priority. We get great economies of scale in designing and building better and more efficient ships, due to the size of the group."

Power sourcing strategies - supplier opportunities

As the ships are being built in China one might expect the batteries and engines to be sourced in the region but Edvardsen says that these choices have not been made yet and that UECC are looking globally for these power units. "We have several suppliers in mind for the batteries, not necessarily in China, and we are talking to all of them. The same goes for the engines, we are still researching suppliers for these." 

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