The maritime industry, responsible for a significant 3% of global carbon emissions, finds itself at the forefront of environmental transformation efforts. With the support of EU funding, two groundbreaking vessel designs and retrofit technologies for existing cruise ships and bulk carriers have been developed. Maritime sustainability forms a cornerstone of the EU’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions while fostering green economic growth and job creation.

The vast majority of the world’s goods, from automobiles to cashew nuts, are transported by sea, a practice that poses substantial environmental challenges. A fully loaded container ship consumes approximately 150 tonnes of bunker fuel per day as it traverses the globe.

Achieving zero-emission vessels remains the ultimate goal; however, even if such ships were to enter the market today, replacing the entire global fleet of 100,000 vessels would be logistically and economically infeasible.

Nonetheless, progress towards cleaner shipping is on the horizon.

The CHEK project (deCarbonising sHipping by Enabling Key technology symbiosis on real vessel concept designs ) is spearheading the development of innovative solutions by combining novel vessel designs with technological retrofits for existing vessels, including the reintroduction of sails.

“The primary challenge in creating zero-emission vessels lies not so much in technology development but rather in integrating existing, disparate innovative technologies,” explains Suvi Karirinne, CHEK coordinator and director of the University of Vaasa Energy Business Innovation Centre (VEBIC). “By bringing together leading innovation companies, we were able to overcome these barriers and develop highly promising synergistic solutions.”

The CHEK project commenced by assessing the available technologies from its partners, ranging from technology readiness level (TRL) 1 to 4, encompassing fundamental research to early proof-of-concept stages and laboratory-validated outcomes.

Spearheaded by ship design firm Deltamarin, the team commenced generating ship concepts using digital modeling. “In the initial phase, the models were primarily based on measurement data from reference vessels,” explains Karirinne. “Subsequent iterations involved novel hull generation and simulations of the interactions between the ship’s systems and our technologies.”

The project’s advancements extend beyond in-lab experiments. In August, the bulk carrier Pyxis Ocean embarked on its journey to Paranaguá, Brazil. Culminating years of planning and preparation, Pyxis Ocean stands as the world’s first cargo ship equipped with WindWings: rigid, retractable sails designed to harness wind power, thereby reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

While definitive conclusions regarding the wings’ performance are premature, Karirinne highlights the encouraging nature of the initial test results. “We’re undertaking a 7-month voyage series. The findings will prove invaluable in accelerating the testing process, identifying potential issues, and gathering insights from both our data and the ship crew’s observations.”

CHEK encompasses more than just sails. The project has propelled forward a range of technologies, including Silverstream Technologies’ air lubrication system, which enables ships to glide on a cushion of bubbles, HASYTEC’s prototype ultrasound antifouling hull, designed to prevent the accumulation of barnacles and other marine organisms on submerged surfaces, and Climeon’s waste-heat-to-power technology.

Beyond individual vessels, MSC Cruises’ itinerary optimization technology empowers ship operators to plan routes that prioritize environmental performance alongside commercial and technical considerations. Wärtsilä’s laboratory test results on innovative hydrogen engine technology offer promising prospects for a future of clean-burning alternative fuels in long-distance shipping.

Several technologies trialed by the project are already making an impact. Ultrasound antifouling equipment has been installed on bulk carriers, and cruise liners are equipped with weather routing systems that factor in prevailing atmospheric and maritime conditions to chart the most efficient course. “Our goal is to demonstrate the effectiveness of the integrated CHEK technologies in bolstering energy efficiency, reducing fuel consumption, and lowering emissions before the project’s conclusion,” asserts Karirinne.

Scheduled for completion in May 2024, CHEK is steering a course to provide compelling evidence to stakeholders eager to invest in cutting-edge ocean technologies. The consortium has plans for dedicated workshops and continuous engagement with key audiences, and its deliverables will include 2030 and 2050 scenarios for the deployment of its technologies. “Project partners have already been in contact with potential clients, and we anticipate promising exploitation opportunities at the level of individual technologies,” Karirinne concludes.