A container vessel solution that thinks outside the box
Kongsberg Maritime’s 2000 TEU container feeder concept adopts the principle of future-proofing from the bottom up, so that shipowners can invest in tomorrow by starting today
Container vessels are vital to global commerce. However, the sustainability of transporting goods thousands of miles is also a key focus when considering the fragility of endangered ocean ecosystems. For these two opposing arguments to find resolution, it is clear that an environmentally responsible, cost-effective cargo vessel solution must be a priority for the shipping industry.
The market for container vessels is currently at record high levels, highlighting the need for new ships and the interest in investing in them. But this interest is tempered with caution: while tightening regulations, green targets, and the desire to reduce operational costs make it clear that change is needed, the details of that change are still unclear. This uncertainty, centred around emissions reduction and the expected transition to zero-carbon fuels, makes it difficult for investors to decide how best to spend their money, fearing is that a new vessel may become uncompetitive before it has returned their investment.
The renowned Norwegian integrated technology and systems provider Kongsberg Maritime (KM) has been working on ways to meet the coming needs of the container shipping industry for some time. Looking towards a future world with new environmental regulations and customer demands, they have combined existing and new technologies with innovative digital solutions to propose a design for a future-proof cargo vessel that shipowners can effectively order today, secure in the knowledge that their purchase will still be competitive and relevant well into the future.
KM’s extensive research, planning and testing is initially focused on the feeder market, with an innovative new design for a 2000 TEU vessel. Demonstrating the broad range of factors which the company has had to build into its thinking, this definitively future-proof vessel is ready to incorporate a large number of potential variables.
No one can be certain when cargo owners and end consumers will uniformly demand green transport solutions or when a blanket transition to alternative fuels will be mandated, but that day is certainly coming. “It’s a big dilemma for many shipowners in the current market,” says Oskar Levander, SVP Business Concepts, Kongsberg Maritime. “They know that a fuel transition will happen, but the rules are not yet in place. They don’t know when it’s going to happen, and don’t really know what the best fuel is likely to be in the future. Is it going to be a biofuel, is it going to be ammonia, or synthetic methane? It’s impossible to make a choice now – low carbon fuels are still too expensive, infrastructure is limited and, for some fuels such as ammonia, the engines are not yet available.
“At the same time, a shipowner can be quite certain that if they buy a ship today, that ship will experience fuel transition during its working lifetime,” continues Levander. “So how do you prepare for that? Our solution is to design a ship that can easily evolve with time. The fact that its components will definitely be changed and upgraded has been taken into consideration from the very beginning.”
Accordingly, the 2000 TEU’s design principles accentuate adaptability with a series of holistic concepts to make it a sensible and economically attractive mid- and long-term proposition for shipowners. Key to the vessel’s future-proof viability are modular, plug-and-play components which are easy to retrofit, upgrade and convert. Other, more expensive parts such as engines and tanks will be able to smoothly weather the transition with only minimal adjustments to parts such as valves and connections, as Levander points out.
“The likelihood is that we will start producing this vessel using LNG as our main approach, but the idea is that shipowners can easily switch to liquid biogas or synthetic LNG, using the same engine whenever that fuel becomes available at an attractive cost, because it’s essentially the same fuel. Basically, LNG is methane, biogas is methane and synthetic is methane: it’s the same molecule, it’s just produced in different ways. In addition, through use of dual fuel engines, vessels can also operate on diesel or renewable options such as HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil). Operation with ammonia will be possible via a conversion, which we will make as simple and cost-effective as possible. With multiple current and potential future fuels applicable to their vessels, shipowners can be confident that they are safeguarded and ready for the next steps.”
The 2000 TEU container feeder design accommodates potential alternative fuel solutions as a matter of course, but consideration must be given to fuel storage. Some fuel options, such as ammonia, require additional tank volume, so the concept acknowledges that, in addition to converting existing tanks, shipowners may opt for extra capacity by installing extra tanks.
Thanks to KM’s open-top, low-ballast design, making space for these is straightforward. Tanks can be located below the cargo without reducing the cargo intake, since the number of containers that can be stacked on top of each other is determined by the container strength, not the space in the ship.
Future-proofing principles of this nature resonate throughout the concept’s modular design. Targeted as a sensible long-term investment by keeping purchasing and operating costs as well as weight to a minimum, the open-top, Kielmax (and potentially ice class) vessel has no need for heavy cargo hatches and can be readily reconfigured to allow for later installation of battery containers and any other future innovations requiring additional space.
The deckhouse will be located forward to help protect the cargo against green water coming into the ship. Tarpaulins will provide further protection for the containers, which will slot between cell guides. “These partitions are watertight below the main deck and mesh above,” Levander notes. “The cell guides will speed up the loading and unloading process, because the containers don’t need to be lashed so much: on more conventional container ships, they’d normally need to be tied down to each other. By making vessels which are efficient at port operations, we can facilitate fast turnarounds with fewer crew members required.”
In addition to considering current and future fuel alternatives, KM’s design also allows for the use of alternative power sources. A key facilitator in this is the installation of a PTO/PTI (Power Take Off/Power Take In) unit as standard. Research carried out by KM’s Business Concepts team on a variety of vessels has demonstrated that use of a PTO can deliver significant efficiency benefits by leveraging unused power generation capacity from the propulsion engines and reducing the level of auxiliary generator support required for vessel operations. This delivers both lower fuel consumption and lower emissions, and by using the PTO instead of the 4-stroke auxiliary engines is especially beneficial in reducing methane slip.
The ability to add batteries afforded by the modular design of the 2000 TEU container feeder takes this a step further. The PTO can be used to charge batteries when the engines are running at otherwise low loadings. This stored power can then be used for a range of purposes including peak shaving and – an option which will doubtless be attractive in sensitive areas – to power the unit as a PTI for zero emission propulsion and cargo transfer operations. In the future, zero emission operation may become essential in seaways close to populated areas: this solution could be upgraded to make sheltered voyages such as the Kiel canal transit possible on battery power alone.
Another future-proof solution to be fitted as standard are KM’s controllable pitch (CP) propellers. These will allow easy adoption of auxiliary wind power when fuel prices make wind solutions essential for efficient, competitive operation. CP propellers offer more flexibility to work with power sources which deliver large variations of thrust, such as sails and Flettner rotors.
Where any future-proof vessel design is concerned, digitalisation will sit right at its heart, shifting the balance of personnel from onboard crew to shore control. This ‘smart ship’ ethos represents a means of improving operational safety, efficiency and regulatory compliance while steadily removing all barriers between fleets and shoreside teams. The 2000 TEU container feeder is accordingly foreseen as a digitally advanced ship, primed to take advantage of evolving remote support and autonomous technologies while also benefiting from KM’s integrated solutions for automation, systems management and optimisation.
KONGSBERG’s Vessel Insight SaaS (software as a service) solution, its patented ship-to-cloud data infrastructure, is a key feature of the concept in terms of capturing, aggregating and securely transferring standardised, high-quality, vessel-specific data from the container feeder. The company is keen to emphasise that this service can help to enhance the future commercial trajectory of its customers: it hosts sophisticated data analysis tools and acts as an access portal to other applications and services in the Kognifai maritime marketplace, KONGSBERG’s open digital ecosystem, that could leverage their fleet and vessel data for optimal business value.
The potential for transformative long-term growth in the cargo shipping segment is clear, but the environmental and regulatory clocks are ticking, and shippers need to start taking the appropriate steps for fleet renewal as soon as possible, if they haven’t done so already. A revised IMO strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships will be adopted in 2023, meaning that vessels will need to meet even more exacting CII (Carbon Intensity Indicator) and EEXI (Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index) targets.
In one sense, it can appear that the maritime cargo sector is at a crossroads, compelled by law, commerce and circumstance to embark upon the next decisive step towards a green, digital future, yet wary of commitment when specific details about the path ahead remain unclear. The good news for shipowners is that future-proof, technology-ready solutions are waiting in the wings. Companies such as Kongsberg Maritime have been putting in the hours, developing future-ready solutions such as the 2000 TEU container feeder vessel to help their customers adopt prudent, rational and beneficial long-term strategies when it comes to investing in the next generation of cargo fleets.
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We’re here to help and answer any question you might have. Please get in touch and our expert team will answer all your questions. We look forward to hearing from you! LEIF KRISTIAN WEUM, Senior Sales Manager, Kongsberg Maritime