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'NO SILVER BULLET' FOR GHG EMISSIONS SAYS CIMAC

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 

CIMAC, the International Council on Combustion Engines, says that although IMO's decision to decarbonise and at least halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 was an important milestone, largely welcomed by the global engine builders’ community, improvements in existing technologies will not be enough.

Although some parties found that the IMO target could have been even more ambitious, it clearly marked a paradigm shift. Only through cross-sector cooperation and an increased focus on R&D in carbon-neutral technologies (such as batteries, fuel cells, or synthetic fuels) will shipping stand a chance of reaching the IMO 2050 target.

If new technologies can be developed and brought onto the market in time, there is a good chance that market mechanisms will enable the fulfilment of the IMO targets. In any case, failure is not an option: not only for the sake of shipping’s reputation but, looking at the big picture, for the good of future generations. Whatever the future may hold, there is no immediate “silver bullet” to meet the challenge of the IMO targets. There are some promising technical solutions, such as battery driven ships or fuel cells, but as of today, these are unable to cover the propulsion of – for instance – sea-going container vessels. We always need to keep the end-user in mind. Some technologies may have the development potential to become viable solutions for short-sea shipping, whilst others may need to be engineered to cover the demands of deep-sea.

Moreover, current changes such as the switch to LNG are necessary and helpful, but should only be considered as bridging technologies, if they are still fossil-fuel based. Hydrogen and carbon-neutral (bio or synthetic) fuels could be considered a solution but are currently far from being competitive. Other ideas may include innovative ship design (more efficient hulls, system integration and optimization) as well as broader digitalisation (including optimisation of port calls and the supply chain at large). These all call for an even wider scope of parties to be involved.

To support the development of technical solutions in the medium and long-term, an efficient cross sector R&D framework must be defined and supported without delay. Moreover, there is a need for other short-term measures. These need to focus on efficiency improvements and take account of existing and close to market-ready technical solutions, such as LNG retrofits or system optimisation.

There may be some unintended consequences to seemingly quick fixes such as a direct call to speed reductions; they do not incentivise technical progress and the switch to new technologies. Such short-term measures must be part of a larger toolbox. They must be specifically focused on the least efficient ships, and part of a range of solutions that shipowners may choose from. Moreover, some thought should be given to the fact that power limitation may be a much more efficient way to address this issue. Indeed, de-rating the engine offers the possibility of lowering the vessel’s maximum speed and thereby optimising the actual load point with the design load point. Such a measure, based on a power limitation on the vessel, would inherently provide a speed advantage for the best performer / best design.

In advance of the upcoming MEPC74 meeting, CIMAC calls on IMO to continue to promote and support cross-sector initiatives and R&D in shipping.

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