Towards emission-free maritime transport

The shipbuilding industry is already developing battery technology that would bring ships into the hybrid age, Steveco Oy’s Kari Savolainen explains in our blog.

Kari Savolainen, Chairman of the Board, Steveco Oy

The world we live in today was built on fossil fuels. Non-renewable energy sources have allowed us to shorten the distances between continents and develop and maintain our industrial capacity. Our growing societies have had virtually unlimited energy at their fingertips.

However, as demand for energy has grown, the problems and challenges fossil fuels bring with them have become evident. Carbon dioxide and other emissions resulting from non-renewable energy sources are a major contributor to our warming climate.

Though we have undeniably reached the end of the road when it comes to fossil fuels, the modern global economy still requires a supply of energy. That’s why – even as we recognise the importance of reducing energy consumption and improving energy efficiency in the effort to preserve our climate – we also need to find new energy sources and innovations to meet our current and future energy requirements while looking after the health of our climate and environment.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges; we are faced with a puzzle, and sectors such as the battery industry that are developing new ways of utilising energy are the pieces we need to complete that puzzle.

The battery industry has already responded to challenges facing road transport

The first steps towards an environmentally friendly future have already been taken. A significant portion of greenhouse gasses are produced by transport, such as global freight transport and localised road traffic.

The battery industry has already addressed the challenges facing road transport – electric vehicles are becoming an increasingly common form of transport on land. More and more consumers are choosing electric bicycles and mopeds or a hybrid vehicle that uses both batteries and liquid fuel and can travel long distances on batteries alone, thanks to rapid developments in battery technology. I drive a chargeable hybrid vehicle myself.

Now that battery technology for road transport is developing quickly, it’s time to turn our attention to global freight traffic as well. Sea freight is the backbone of the global economy. In practice, container traffic is the only efficient method of transporting large volumes of goods from one side of the world to the other, which is why as much as 90 per cent of world trade is transported by sea.

An ocean-going ship is a small city that expends a large amount of energy not only on propulsion but also on other vital functions. For example, the electricity used for lighting, heating and running refrigerated containers that maintain the cold chain is produced using auxiliary diesel engines.

There is currently no renewable form of energy that can be used to address all of a ship’s energy demands. New ships that use liquefied natural gas (LNG) – which is more environmentally friendly even if it is still a fossil fuel – are an important intermediate solution, but what can we do to address the problem in the long term?

Batteries also offer a way to develop maritime transport

One of the keys to a greener form of maritime transport can be found in the battery industry, and the breakthrough it’s waiting for is not far away. The shipbuilding industry has already started developing battery technology that would allow ships to follow cars into the hybrid age. This might allow auxiliary diesel engines to be replaced entirely with sets of high-capacity batteries that could be charged using clean shore-side electricity while the ship is at port.

The batteries could even be charged while the ship is at sea using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, which would make the batteries alone a realistic source of electricity, even for longer voyages. Ocean-going vessels could even use the batteries for propulsion in place of liquid fuel when coming into port. Running on both batteries and synthetic fuels, hybrid ships like this would produce significantly less greenhouse emissions, and the use of electric propulsion in coastal waters could also help protect sensitive coastal ecosystems.

However, propulsion requires an enormous amount of energy, and keeping a ship moving during longer voyages will require other energy sources as well. The most likely solution to this problem are synthetic fuels produced from hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

Battery materials from the best logistical location in Finland

The battery industry is the industry of the future, and the demand for batteries is growing every day. However, there is no denying that battery production places strain on the environment. That’s why the planned battery material plants in Kotka and Hamina are particularly important. They will produce high-quality battery materials and stand as an example of environmentally friendly operation for the global battery industry.

Battery materials produced in the new Kotka and Hamina plants will be manufactured by professionals in the best logistical location in Finland. We may be seeing hybrid ships with batteries produced using materials from these factories in our ports very soon.

Kari Savolainen

Kari Savolainen

Chairman of the Board, Steveco Oy