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Cleaner ships for greener energy

16 February 2021

Workboats are in demand as offshore wind turbines proliferate around the UK. But operators need to take a hard look at their fleets if they are to avoid becoming green energy’s weak link, hears Sarah Robinson

With offshore energy in the process of transitioning from fossil fuels to wind generation in the UK Continental Shelf, the vessels that support construction and maintenance are under pressure to improve their own green credentials.

Cutting engine pollution from workboats needs to be a sector-wide effort. Industry bodies including the Workboat Association, Commercial Marine Network and the UK Harbour Masters Association have therefore teamed up to run a series of events aimed at helping the UK workboat fleet achieve the government’s Clean Maritime Plan target of net zero emissions by 2050.

The plan is to run a free online series of expert panels looking at decarbonisation compliance in the workboat industry, under the banner of ‘Get Set for Workboat 2050’. If pandemic restrictions are eased, the final event in the series will be a real-world session at the June 2021 Seawork commercial marine and workboat exhibition in Southampton.

Reducing pollution from engines leads to a healthier working environment for crews – particularly when it comes to cutting emissions of particulate matter

So what do these sessions mean for seafarers working in the sector? For one thing, the existence of Get Set for Workboat 2050 indicates confidence in a sector which is expected to thrive for decades to come. Employers will be committing to investment in their vessels as they seek to meet environmental targets – and vessels provide jobs for seafarers.

In addition, reducing pollution from engines leads to a healthier working environment for crews – particularly when it comes to cutting emissions of particulate matter, a serious health hazard both onshore and at sea.

Seafarers should also be aware of the new skills they are likely to need to operate vessels with battery power or non-traditional fuel. And it was alternative fuels that formed the subject of the first Get Set for Workbook 2050 webinar in November 2020.

In this interesting session, speakers introduced the audience to ‘novel fuels’, some of which are already being adopted on a small scale, with others still in development. Novel fuel projects include Gleams – investigating glycerol as a main fuel – and Plaxx, which aims to process plastic waste into diesel or heavy fuel oil.

A little closer to mass adoption is hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), which can be used as a ‘drop in’ replacement for diesel in existing engines. Considered at present a premium product, HVO is expected to fall in price as increased orders and production lead to economies of scale. Meanwhile, the fuel is already available in a few locations, including the Port of Rotterdam.

Much thought still needs to be given to some of these products, noted the speakers. Is it really that green to burn repurposed plastic waste, for example, even if it removes garbage from the environment? And what has happened to methanol, which was at one time supposed to be the next great hope in marine fuels?

There are other matters to consider, too, when reducing the environmental harm from vessels, including fuel efficiency – which is often achieved through modernisation of engines and streamlining the profile of the ship. So the next session, in December 2020, looked at ‘re-engining and refitting the fleet’, and in the third session in February 2021, the theme was new hull designs.

The fourth webinar will take place on 6 May 2021, and is set to explore ‘Vessel design and technologies for the future – propulsion systems.’ The final live event at the 15-17 June Seawork exhibition is titled: ‘Long term 2035 onwards: The future fuel race. How do we go about commissioning a vessel in this changing environment?’

  • To attend the remaining events in the Get Set for Workboat 2050 series, register via the Seawork website


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