The race for decarbonisation

BAR Technologies’ CEO John Cooper explains how the company is drawing on its experience in other sectors to accelerate the next generation of shipping.

The need to ship cargo around the world has existed for centuries and, as our global trade requirements have evolved, so too has the design of our vessels. From wind-powered galleons and the huge steam ships of the early 20th Century, to modern super-tankers the size of small villages, the maritime industry has achieved some miraculous feats of design and engineering in order to ensure the stability and growth of the global economy.

Now, shipping is seeing a new wave of innovation. The pandemic has presented challenges stretching to the core of society, shifting the boundaries of what it means to be resilient. There is no question that there will need to be a seismic shift in the way the shipping industry operates – if decarbonisation was important before, it’s going to become even more pressing in the wake of the pandemic, as public patience for air pollution has, understandably, deteriorated.

Simply put, in order for the commercial shipping industry to remain viable, profitable operations needs to occur hand in hand with improved performance and resulting emissions reduction – we need to do more for less. A global drive towards net zero emissions by 2050, and a renewed push to retain resilience in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has rejuvenated the digital and technology revolution. As can be witnessed in other industries, digitalisation and technology have a huge role to play when it comes to realising these performance enhancements.

Luckily for maritime, it is not the first industry to be faced with this performance challenge; BAR Technologies is one such business, drawing on its experience in other sectors to bring these advances over to commercial shipping.

One sector which is particularly renowned for its high performance, developed through systems engineering and aerodynamics, is Formula One. The cars are data rich, and the expertise in the teams providing technical support to drivers is second to none.

Recognising this skillset, BAR Technologies brought together a diverse team of personnel alongside their America’s Cup roots, including Formula One and maritime experts, to harness their combined experience in hydrodynamics, aerodynamics and systems control, in support of high performance yacht racing. Teams competing in the America’s Cup invest millions into vessel design to ensure that each yacht is as fast as possible. The resulting vessels are among the most advanced in the world.

While the commercial automotive industry has been quick to capitalise on some of these performance innovations, shipping has been a little slower out of the gate. So the question remains, how can the maritime industry leverage these cutting-edge technologies to modernise the global fleet and deliver the next generation of vessels?

From racing yachts to super tankers

Shipping currently accounts for 2.5% of global emissions, set to rise sharply in the years leading up to the 2050 net zero deadline – unless action is taken now. Adding further urgency, focus and working together as an industry are absolutely key.  Electric and hybrid technologies along with biofuels such as ammonia and hydrogen are still in their infancy. Shipowners and charterers must therefore look at the fundamentals first to make significant, sustainable gains.

At the core of this for newbuilds is intelligent hull design. By integrating highly efficient hull design into the build of the vessel, the maritime sector will have a fleet of proven green vessels on the water by the time alternative propulsion matures. This will increase in significance as regulations such as the Energy Efficiency Design Index come into play, mandating maximum grams of CO2 emissions per ship’s capacity-mile.

Owners of existing fleets face mounting pressure to invest in emissions reduction strategies, which are most often in the form of expensive engine retrofits, scrubber installations or re-designed hulls. However, it’s easy to forget that there are significant gains to be made by simply reducing the amount of fuel used per voyage. Since each tonne of emitted CO2 represents considerable quantities of fuel, any company which can cut its fuel use will be better placed not only compete for contracts, but also reduce their carbon footprint.

The shipping sector has traditionally been cautious in the uptake of the latest technological solutions – on average, maritime’s revenue investment in technology falls under 1%, compared to 10% in the banking sector. However, as regulatory and societal pressure to reduce emissions continues to stack up, operators are increasingly looking to adopt the latest innovations from other sectors.

At BAR Technologies, our engineering team has a heritage drawn from Ben Ainslie’s previous America’s Cup campaigns. Combining vessel design expertise, utilising the latest in machine learning together with powerful computing simulation and system control techniques from both Formula One and the highest class of sailing have delivered significant gains for the maritime sector.

Improvements in speed are a result of improvements in efficiency. And it’s efficiency which will deliver for the maritime sector as vessel operators look to reduce expenditure and slash emissions. That’s why the lessons from high stakes yacht racing and Formula One can be translated so effectively into commercial shipping.

Delivering a step change in commercial shipping

One such exciting new technology is FOSS or Foil Optimised Stabilisation System. BAR Technologies have developed FOSS as a series of systems across a range of vessel types. The common theme across all the variants is dampened roll and pitch for superior sea keeping and increased efficiency for lower fuel consumption. For leisure boats this can also be used for dynamic handling capability – a 4 wheel drive feel in the sea. 

The first commercial vessels to employ the technology have, perhaps not surprisingly, been ordered by operators in the emissions-and-cost conscious offshore wind sector. These vessels set a new benchmark for efficiency in the workboat industry. The BARTech 30, a 30m crew transfer vessel designed by BAR Technologies in association with Chartwell Marine has a multiple order from Seacat Services and will be in service in 2022. Through its new and innovative hull design together with FOSS, the vessel promises an enhanced top speed, efficiency gains of up to 50%, and a ground-breaking reduction in vertical accelerations in the cabin.

Crucially, it’s this superior sea keeping that ensures the technicians arrive at the turbines fit for work and extends the number of days the vessels can operate. This makes it a superior boat in more severe sea states in the North Sea and the Atlantic to serve the new US windfarms. The next step for the BAR Tech 30 is naturally to incorporate batteries. The vessels efficient hull form (together with FOSS) gives it a superior range for the same amount of battery weight (in comparison to competitor boats) giving it a significant advantage.

BAR Technologies have also made significant strides in the commercial shipping world to tackle the emissions challenge, while delivering significant fuel savings for operators. Their patented WindWings technology, is a set of aerofoils which can be installed on bulk carriers and tankers to utilise the ‘original’ zero carbon propulsion source – wind.

A well-designed wind propulsion system, such as WindWings, can deliver efficiency savings of up to 30%. This impressive saving isn’t limited to a specific point in time, with the wind at the perfect angle; this is the average over the voyage and will change the wind propulsion benchmark. And, as we wait for the business case for alternative propulsion methods to become viable for widespread adoption, wind is free and readily available. Even when these greener but more expensive fuels are adopted, WIndWings will remain an excellent financial business case.

Working towards net zero in shipping

A green future is hanging in the balance. The shipping sector has the opportunity to drive forward momentum for low carbon innovation by investing now in new hull forms and foil technologies inspired by cutting edge racing yachts. Crucially, the industry can continue to boost its resilience to ensure that the flow of global trade surges onward through the 21st Century – however, no man is an island.

While the existing expertise in the maritime sector should not be overlooked, it’s vital that we look beyond our own experience and work with other industries. The emissions challenge is truly a global one and will require a global effort if we are to succeed.

Rhys Berry

Rhys Berry