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Wärtsilä: shipping can be more intelligent and more sustainable

Shipping is faced with huge challenges. The new emissions law is on the horizon, digitisation is ramping up and efficiency is becoming ever more important.

But which choices should you make - as a small or large shipping company? What's the right decision? Should everyone reinvent the wheel for himself? Not if it's up to Wärtsilä. General manager for Market Innovation Teus van Beek sketches how Wärtsilä is steaming toward the future - and what this means for shipping companies, charters and harbours. In concrete terms.

The new emissions regulations (see also elsewhere in this WeHighlights) represent a challenge to shipping. For example, how do you design a ship that needs to last for 20 years and that will soon have to generate far fewer emissions than it does now? You can't simply continue on well-worn paths - you have to think about new concepts that are largely ready for the new regulations. But what do such concepts look like?

Another challenge facing the maritime sector is related to the aforementioned: developments in the area of electricity as a power source. In the automotive world, we see that driving electrically has become much more affordable. But this is a consequence of the large-scale production of batteries for cars - a scale that doesn't apply to the shipping sector.

The same thing goes for the digitisation that is enveloping all of society. Despite the terrific opportunities in that area, intelligent systems are still used only to a small degree in our sector. The scale of the maritime sector plays a large role in that as well. There are only some 1500 shipping companies worldwide; and not only that, but two thirds of these own fewer than 10 vessels. Many of the smaller shipping companies, in particular, are reticent to invest and are often still completely analogue sailors.

This brings us to a following challenge: profit. Because you may indeed wish to invest in a system for (semi-) autonomous sailing, for example, but you will then have to pass these costs through to your customers. And your customers aren't exactly looking forward to that. In other words: efficiency is becoming even more important.

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As the market leader, Wärtsilä is uniquely positioned to understand the stories, questions and dilemmas. With this, we acknowledge the huge importance of new technologies, particularly that of digitisation. We want to deploy this to improve inefficient processes throughout the entire chain of transport. We developed a new strategy for this: the smart marine ecosystem. With this strategy, we will develop this sector together with our customers and other partners into a healthy, future-proof sector. We are doing this by presenting ourselves as a technology provider. We no longer think in terms of products, but in terms of solutions to the challenges mentioned above, in cohesive systems. Keywords for this: digital and electrical.


All of the pieces of equipment on a ship must communicate with each other. Data must be jointly shared - also with customers - and used to structure transport more efficiently. Wärtsilä has considerable knowledge in its product portfolio in this area, so we can help operators with their steps toward efficiency. The acquisition of Transas (software solutions) and Eniram (data analysis) fits into this picture. While we used to focus primarily on a ship's yield, these days we look at the transport in practice, including routing, trim optimisation and the use of equipment.

Take the story about the Norwegian ferry elsewhere in this WeHighlights, for example. We had this ferry dock automatically without the intervention of a captain. This is faster, and so more efficient, than docking manually. We also did a test in which an offshore supply vessel off the coast of Aberdeen was steered remotely from San Diego, California. Not because we think that fully autonomous sailing will be business as usual within a couple of years, but to show that it's already possible with what we now have in-house. This technology allows a shipping company to have fewer people in the engine room. Consider the scenario in which there is a problem, for example. This then gets read off remotely by an expert. In a manner of speaking, even the cook could then solve the problem with the support of that remote expert. Another example that is still under development: 3-D printing. We are constantly looking at what's applicable, what's not and at the opportunities that this presents.

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Propulsion is increasingly electrical. At this time, we can't have an 80,000 kW oceangoing ship sail without fossil fuels. That's why we're also working on dual-fuel, LNG engines with gas tanks and gas bunkering so that emissions can be significantly reduced. But even though we can't dismiss the diesel engine completely, we can make it much smaller using batteries. So what was inconceivable just a few years ago is increasingly becoming reality: hybrid sailing. Wärtsilä has even created a separate department for this: Wärtsilä HY.

For example, until recently, you had two diesel generator sets running as a backup. This can now be done with a single diesel generator set and with batteries as a spinning reserve. This is much cleaner and is already used on offshore supply vessels. For shorter distances, full electric is even an option today. In this manner, we're also busy cleaning things up in inland waterway shipping as well. Since power requirements are lower there, you can get by more quickly with cleaner energy. The experience we gain with inland waterway shipping also provides good learnings for solutions for marine shipping.

We believe that the future lies in the combination of propulsion plus storage. More and more systems are coming about here and we can do clever things with this. Cleaner engine starts, for example, without extra fuel. Or placing additional capacity on engine, for example, charging the batteries and then sailing into the harbour under full electric power. If you can then recharge the batteries with green energy in the harbour, then you are truly involved in making shipping greener.

In Norway, this is already the reality. The fairy that we docked automatically sails 100% on batteries that are charged wirelessly by means of an induction system placed close to the hull of the ship. This results in some 20% more time for charging: a step forward in efficiency. Furthermore, 90% of the electricity in Norway is hydroelectric, so you can really approach zero-emissions shipping there.

Or considered things in a broader perspective: you can also use the batteries to stabilise the electrical grid. Since increasing amounts of energy are being generated locally in the Netherlands, problems occasionally arise with the alignment of supply and demand - consider the large power outage around Amsterdam at the end of April, for example. At this point, considerable amounts of foreign electricity must sometimes be purchased to keep the Netherlands running. But if you have containers full of batteries and link these to a windmill farm, for example, then you have more storage capacity at the ready and you can prevent that foreign purchase. Wärtsilä is a majority shareholder in Convion, the company that develops solar cells for land-based installations. That technology is now fairly expensive and not yet suitable for higher power levels. But we're keeping a close eye on future possibilities for applications.


In short, there are huge challenges, but options keep presenting themselves. We know that customers are uncertain about the future and consider it hard to make choices. They do have ambition, but don't want to have to charge extra costs through to their own customers. That's why, when they ask us for a recommendation, we don't say: just choose engine A and see what happens. No: we listen to the customer's question, to his challenges, to what he wants. And we think about what can be or must be more efficient, where the customer may already see opportunities himself; and then we develop a concept together that is future-proof to a certain degree. This is the core of our working method, elaborating sustainable concepts together with customers. Efficiency is paramount in this, because investments must pay for themselves.

When making the entire chain of transport more efficient, we need additional parties. That's why intelligent ports are also part of our smart marine ecosystem strategy. Harbours face the same challenges as shipping itself: what do we do with LNG, with electricity on shore, and what will the fuel of the future be? Perhaps the biofuels that we are currently testing? If you want to include the entire chain in a true ecosystem, then you can't do without the harbours, the operators, the charters, the technology providers - the whole kit and caboodle. The maritime sector is fragmented, but in order to create a good future for the entire sector, we must collaborate more strongly. For it is only in this way that we can profit together.

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Teus van Beek
General manager Market Innovation