All about technology and forces shaping the energy transition in shipping
‘Climate Positive’ Holiday Greetings!
December 22, 2023

Let’s dive right into the math and geeky details behind the emissions footprint of my AI-assisted ‘holiday greetings’ LinkedIn post!

3 A’s for maritime decarbonisation: Ambition
July 1, 2023

The IMO is set to convene next week for MEPC 80. Many anticipate more ambitious 2050 goals as well as interim targets. New milestones will affect everything – the fuels that vessels will run on, the technologies that are on board and most likely, the way we fundamentally do business. It’s a fitting time to pick up on where I left off with a previous post and talk more about Ambition for maritime decarbonisation. Why is deep decarbonisation of shipping necessary? Almost every discussion that brings together climate and shipping provides these statics: over 90% of traded good are transported by sea, and shipping accounts for about 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions. But what do these really numbers really mean? Though out of sight for most people, the maritime industry is massive. Over 10.6 billion tons of cargo is moved by ships annually. That is a whopping 1.3 tons of goods – about equal to the weight of 6,500 medium weight cotton t-shirts – for every single person on our planet, every year. The physical footprint of all the cargo transported by vessels in 2020 was 58,865 billion ton-miles – that is equivalent to shipping 1 kg of potatoes from the earth to Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to us after the sun, over 42 times. Consequently, shipping also has an enormous impact on climate. Each year, shipping emits over 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. If the shipping industry were a country, it would be the 6th largest polluter, with a footprint lower than that of Japan and higher than Iran. The types and sizes of vessels, the goods they carry and the routes they ply will change to reflect changes in the global economy. But shipping will continue to underpin life as we know it. We would be doing ourselves, our planet, and the future of humanity an immense disservice by not thinking big in the context of shipping. Where did the 1.5°C target come from and where do we stand today? The idea that temperature could be used to guide society’s response to climate change was first proposed by an economist half a century ago. In a 1975 paper on the economics of climate change, William Nordhaus (winner of the 2018 Nobel prize in economics), pondered about what might constitute a reasonable limit of global temperature rise for humanity to achieve. Subsequently, […]

Shipping’s new energy technology ecosystem – 2023
April 11, 2023

I published my first overview of shipping’s clean energy technologies at the end of 2021. A lot has changed since then, and decarbonisation has slowly but surely made its way to the top of the maritime agenda. I’ve been keeping tabs on the different technologies and companies that have been making waves in a dynamic, open-source database in the Ship Technologies section of this website. Here is an updated, non-exhaustive, TRL-agnostic, 2023 overview of the industry’s new on-board hardware technology ecosystem. The top changes during the last 18 months are: Do you know of any other company or technology that should be included here next time?Let me know!

3 A’s for maritime decarbonisation … it’s time to bake!
February 16, 2023

Until recently, I had the privilege of working for a company that has pushed the limits of European inland shipping by going beyond mere feasibility studies and embarking on the journey to build a fleet of zero-emissions vessels. I have spent these last 6+ years steeped in all things shipping and decarbonisation. As I set my sights on the future, and work on finding a new path to contributing to large-scale positive climate impact, I have tried to distil my learnings into a framework for what I think is needed to supercharge shipping’s energy transition, or that of any other hard-to-abate sector for that matter. This will guide my own choice of what I dedicate the next decade of my life to and how. I hope that it will give you something to chew on or inspire you to share your own perspectives. Ambition Whether it is because we are caught up in the vagaries of everyday life, or because we pride ourselves on being modest, we don’t often dare to dream big and consider the possibility that crazy, audacious goals can propel us much further than modest ambitions. You know what they say — fortune favours the bold. We begin to think in possibilities and constantly look for opportunities when we believe that the sky is the limit, instead of making peace with the suboptimal. What might inspire you to take up baking? The hope that you can recreate your grandma’s scrumptious chocolate cake one day, or the need for some bread for tomorrow’s lunch? SpaceEx created reusable rockets and changed the face of space exploration. Would they have accomplished that if their dot on the horizon had been ‘make a better rocket’ instead of ‘colonise Mars’? Action Flour sold out very quickly in grocery stores across Europe during Covid because many of us picked up a new hobby — yes, you guessed right, baking. Accomplished bakers will tell you that it is ‘a science, not an art; it requires precision and planning’. So when we started baking, we looked up recipes, found the right tools, and researched and purchased the appropriate ingredients. All the preparations helped a lot — to a certain extent. Beyond that, they only delayed learning. At some point, you had to actually bake to figure out if your recipe, technique and ingredients worked. When I made carrot cake for the first time, it turned […]

Shipping’s new technology ecosystem
November 15, 2021

The maritime technology ecosystem is evolving quickly and the shipping industry’s future most likely holds a multitude of alternative fuels and energy technologies. What’s already out there? Who’s building which technology and what does this new ecosystem look like? Here’s an overview. Notes:

Comparing battery technologies: Nickel-H2 vs. Iron vs. Li-ion
October 14, 2021

As the world clamours to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets to mitigate climate change and electrify different sectors (especially cars), lithium is fast becoming a hot (pun intended) commodity. A recent outlook by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence mentioned that ‘there isn’t enough capacity within the supply pipeline to meet the demand we’re anticipating over the next decade’ and that ‘the deficit of LCE (lithium carbonate equivalent)* is expected to grow to 50,000 tons by 2025.’ Moreover, soaring lithium demand is expected to exhaust the residual lithium reserve on land by 2080. The largest producers of lithium today are Australia, Chile China, Argentina, US, Brazil, Zimbabwe and Portugal. In 2020, the total annual production of lithium amounted to 82,000 tons. Total identified (land-based) lithium resources stand at 86 Million tons; Bolivia, Chile and Argentina (the ‘lithium triangle’) are home to > 50% of these. Several initiatives are looking into potentially extracting significant amounts of lithium from seawater. Environmental, social and ethical issues have long been bones of contention in lithium production. Several companies and researchers are working on different battery chemistries that aim to store energy at lower costs than lithium-ion batteries, have lower lifecycle climate impact, and reduce our dependence on lithium. A few such chemistries that have made big waves recently are EnerVenue’s nickel-hydrogen battery, ESS Inc’s iron flow battery and Form Energy’s iron-air battery. The following table compares these on a few basic parameters to the ubiquitous lithium-ion batteries. It is important to note at this point, that there are several lithium ion battery chemistries in use today, including Lithium-Iron Phosphate (LFP), Lithium-Cobalt Oxide (LCO), Lithium Manganese Oxide (LMO), Lithium-Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC), Lithium-Nickel Cobalt Aluminium (NCA), and Lithium-Titanate Oxide (LTO) and they could use different types of anodes, including carbon (graphite, hard carbon, soft carbon, graphene), silicon, and tin. The cost per kWh is compared below without taking into account the balance of plant (all the components surrounding the battery cells) and the integration specific to each chemistry or application (automotive, marine, etc.). These additional costs can be quite significant, especially in the case of maritime batteries. For marine applications, batteries are required to meet more stringent safety and operational parameters when compared to batteries used in cars or for stationary applications. They also tend to be much larger, as even the auxiliary power systems of inland or short sea cargo vessels would require far more capacity than a Tesla model S for example. The number of vessels operating with […]

Making our planet and shipping resilient together
June 6, 2021

Decarbonisation is shipping’s white swan (I refer to the kind made popular by Nassim Nicholas Taleb), or rather, a bevy of little white swans if you will. Complete decarbonisation is inevitable; the only question now is when, not if. It is necessary for the industry to survive, and thrive in the world we will be living in. Vessels built in 2050 will be very different from the ones we build today. But given the longevity of vessels, those that we build today can co-exist with the ones built in 2050; only if we make them and the ecosystem they operate in sufficiently resilient. Commercial shipping is a low margin business and only the very forward-thinking cargo owners are willing to pay a premium to ship goods sustainably. We don’t yet know what the technology, fuel or regulatory landscape will look like in a few years. Yes, we have a ton of limitations. And this forces us to innovate from the point of view of scarcity, with a focus on optimisation and incremental change. But the scale of the problem ahead of us requires fundamental change, delivered rapidly. Instead, if we think about this from the point of view of abundance, where we don’t have to make the business case for each single vessel work right now, would we come up with different solutions? And could we bring those solutions to scale, in turn making the economics work? When I thought about this — giving priority to resource efficiency and rapid deployment — here’s what I came up with. (As I do not want this to be a which-is-our-future-fuel debate, my fuels and technologies are called Q,W,E,R,T and Y. If you have spent too much of your lockdown watching detective series like me, and are trying to figure out if there is a subliminal link between an alphabet and a particular fuel or technology, don’t. It’s completely random, my keyboard just threw the alphabets at me in that order.) We can push the boundaries of flexibility further We are already working on flexible and modular solutions and are developing concepts where fuel storage, and energy systems are containerised and swappable. But is there a way in which we can push this concept further, to increase our preparedness, and consequently resilience, in the face of uncertainty on multiple dimensions? Let’s start with the vessel as a whole. We are preparing ships to operate on fuelQ, W or E in anticipation of future […]

Could gravity speed up the shift to renewables?
May 21, 2021

I’d like to believe that an apple did hit Newton on the head, and that led him to discovering gravity. The story is just more fun that way. But whether or not the apple actually fell on his head, according to the manuscript in the archives of the Royal Society, an apple definitely seems to have been involved. Newton’s Principia, explaining the phenomenon of gravity was first published in Latin in 1687. And it created quite a ruckus. Now, over 300 years later, climate change is hitting us on the head in no uncertain terms, and gravity seems to be making a comeback. As we rapidly transition towards producing more and more energy from intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar, we must find efficient and effective ways to store this energy at scale, and reuse it when needed. I’ve been curious about sustainable ways to store energy over long periods of time, so I started looking into what’s out there. This post is focused on exciting gravity-based solutions and the companies working on them. The underlying ‘gravity’ concept is similar to that of traditional pumped hydropower. To put it very simply, energy is used to pump water up to a height. When the water is released, and it passes through a turbine, it releases this energy. The challenge with pumped hydro, however, is that it requires a suitable location with water and appropriate surrounding topography (hills for reservoirs at different heights for example) for us to be able to harness it. Novel solutions, using this concept, but replacing water with other materials (like bricks and weights)b, or creating the possibility to tap into hydropower in more widely available locations are being developed. Why are these gravity-based technologies potential competitors to large, grid-scale battery systems? Who is building these technologies and what are the systems like? Here’s a non-exhaustive list – Energy Vault (Switzerland, founded 2017):Energy Vault’s solution replaces the water in pumped hydro with custom made 35-ton composite blocks made from low-cost materials. The concept video reminds me of playing Tetris, but with real-life bricks going in two directions — ‘recharging’ when the bricks are taken up and placed on top of the tower and ‘discharging’ when they are brought back down. Energy Vault estimates the round-trip energy efficiency to be between 80–90%. The plants are designed for ranges of 20–35–80 MWh storage capacity and a 4–8MW of continuous power discharge for 8–16 hours. They are […]

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