With the different markets of the world becoming progressively more interconnected, transportation is showing more reliant on the maritime industry. As the industry itself continues to see growth, along with increase in environmental awareness, more opportunities for maritime entrepreneurs are opening up, in both the demand and supply side.
Factors Influencing Demand for Green Vessels
There are several factors driving innovation in the maritime industry and reshaping the way the industry operates in general. Regulatory bodies, and security and commerce associations are implementing tougher environmental and emissions regulations. There is also a growing public pressure demanding for a more environmentally conscious industry, not to mention owners favoring more fuel-efficient vessels to get better returns. With all these factors, along with skyrocketing fuel cost and growing surge of technological advances, there is an emerging trend for development and production of more cost effective, greener marine vessels.
The move towards a cleaner, more efficient industry are prompting companies to try out several efforts to curb emissions, such as utilizing hydrogen fuel cells for propulsion and installing scrubbers. Other attempts to go green are energy-efficient lighting, installation of wind turbines or solar panels to charge electronic equipment, use of recycled materials in the vessels’ interior and use of vinyl marine film void of heavy metal on the exterior instead of paint.
Environmentally-Friendly Fuels as Power Source
Hydrogen fuel cells, although a relatively new technology, are showing promising future in the maritime business. Compared to Selective Catalytic Reduction or SCR units, a technology that reduces nitrogen oxide emissions, hydrogen fuel cells are more efficient and less expensive. Hydrogen fuel cells in marine vessels provide an efficient power source while reducing the amount of carbon footprint.
Another growing trend in manufacturing marine vessels is companies opting for retrofitting old vessels to convert them into greener vessels instead of building one from scratch. The process saves a lot of electricity, and is therefore more environmentally friendly.
Hornblower Cruises and Events, a company engaged in the cruising business, have engineers working on a control system that will utilize different alternative power sources such as hydrogen fuel cells, energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels, and batteries to supplement low-emission diesel fuel. A vessel retrofitted with this system is expected to be more efficient, because the type of power it will pull from will depend on its power requirement. Other green features that the company is focusing on are energy-saver LED or light-emitting diodes lighting, paint with low-VOC or Volatile Organic Compound (harmful gases or pollutants that create ground level ozone or smog) on the boat’s exterior, certified green carpeting and countertops made from recycled materials.
A former coast guard vessel in Canada is retrofitted to serve as a research vessel to scientists and is joining the ranks of environmentally friendly marine vessels. The vessel is retrofitted with an electric propulsion system, which will be powered by multiple sources of energy–hydrogen fuel cells, batteries and low-emission diesel generators. The research vessel will use hydrogen waste from an industrial plant.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority or WETA is operating four green catamarans. The engines of these ferries run on five percent biodiesel and ninety five percent ultra-low-sulphur diesel, both deemed cleaner than ordinary diesel. Solar panels provide the light and electronics in the pilothouse.
Maritime entrepreneur Jerry Hill owns and runs a small tourist ferry business Yankee Fleet. The young company landed the contract to transport tourists from Key West to Dry Tortugas. Their state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly catamaran gave them the added advantage and helped them land the contract. According to him, it is a challenge for his small company to build a green boat. However, since the company’s standard is all about going green, building a green boat is not an option but a decision.
Challenges of Going Green in the Maritime Industry
With the abundance of technology available, the challenge arises from being able to come up with the most efficient and cost effective way of manufacturing a green vessel. After all, the cost of production and the functionality of the product will end up influencing the product’s price and ultimately, its marketability.
Currently, concepts to create greener marine vessels are technologically possible. However, there is a question of affordability and reliability. Considering how marginal profits are in the private sector, it is a possibility that this technology may not be affordable to some companies. Building greener vessels can be done, but at a price. The question of who shoulders the cost is the bottom line.
There is a tremendous amount of financial pressure put on businesses with the implementation of tougher emissions regulations. It is easy to push for environmental consciousness and usually, people are more than willing to do their part. However, there is a need for balance, and it is important to think of the commercial aspect. After all, companies are in business to make money and achieve financial success.
Another obstacle hindering use of fuel cells in the maritime setting is reliability. Like in any new technology, reliability is always a concern. With only a few experimental projects going on, manufacturing process is still unclear, along with the cost associated with it.
The initiatives of several companies to pursue various solutions to address these challenges are sure to benefit the industry as whole. Although the trend for greener vessels is emerging, it is still at the experimental stage. As what has happened in the 19th century with the switch from sail to steam, the maritime industry is definitely looking at the beginning of a significant change in propulsion technology.
Kimberly is an internet researcher, writer, and contributor at entrepreneurweek.com blog network. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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