When the current issue of Ship&Offshore went to print, the meeting of the seven most powerful country leaders in Bavaria was coming to an end. Important decisions had to be made; international stability and security and not least the continuation of humankind on earth are at stake.
The coming weeks will show to what extent the agreements reached in Elmau will actually achieve a noticeable improvement in the current crisis situation – especially for the people severely affected by the war in Ukraine.
The G7 group and selected invited countries also agreed on joint efforts for climate protection. The aim is to “accelerate a clean and equitable transition to climate neutrality while ensuring energy security,” according to a joint statement published by the German Government.
At the same time, the EU Council of Ministers is voting on the planned ban on combustion engines from 2035 onwards – for new cars. This debate is heated; some countries want to postpone the phase-out to 2040, others – such as Germany – may abstain.
The decision is also critically expected from other industries: internal combustion engines are used in many sectors. Experts are certain that a general move away from them could have farreaching consequences.
Climate-neutral initiatives such as synthetic fuel development can support the continued use of internal combustion engine technology alongside the expansion of electromobility, emphasises the German Engineering Association, VDMA. Instead, by moving away from it, Europe is putting its technology leadership and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk. It is also making itself further dependent on countries such as Russia or China, which supply the raw materials for the electronic powertrain.
Whether and to what extent this debate will also be conducted in the shipping industry remains to be seen. What all industries have in common, though, is the pursuit of climate-neutral operation – whether of a car, an agricultural machine, or a ship.
In this regard, it is not the combustion itself that should be put to the test; it is – as mentioned – the fuels used and their production.
On the other hand, it is important to consider here that some experts question whether there would even be enough green fuel available for a maritime energy transition in the coming years. Notably, energy-intensive industry sectors on land are likely to rank before global sea transport when it comes to the low- or zero-carbon fuels of tomorrow.
In view of the costs and limitations of conventional emissionfree fuels, some even argue that the economic viability of nuclear energy for powering vessels is once again coming into sharper focus. This, by the way, is a discussion that is also taking place in Germany for a general autonomous energy supply.
However, in comparison with nuclear power plants that are at the end of their lifetime as their disconnection was decided more than a decade ago, it will take a long time to develop a specific regulatory framework for the shipping industry. Also, high capex and of course safety aspects would have to be taken into consideration.
At the recent Posidonia show in Athens, Christos Chryssakis, business development manager at classification society DNV, estimated that as the industry would have to work on multiple aspects in this regard, the technology may not be commercially viable before 2035.
When asked what the right way forward would be in order to achieve climate-neutral operation while staying competitive, he called the coming ten years “a decade of exploration”.
And while this is definitely a useful approach, the exploration of meaningful alternatives and possibilities must not, of course, be at the expense of other important goals.