Q&A—Part 2: Blue Sky Maritime on net zero emissions for shipping

Written by Heather Ervin
David Cummins of Blue Sky Maritime on reducing emissions in shipping

David Cummins, president of Blue Sky Maritime Coalition.

Part 1 of our interview with David Cummins and Blue Sky Maritime Coalition appeared on our website earlier.

ML: What tips do you have for a company to develop a supply chain-wide efficiency initiative to eliminate delays and inefficiencies in terms of lowering emissions?

DC: Again, that’s about collaboration.  You start with individual companies that are thinking about this, but then you have to pull together others to think about the supply chain as a whole, in terms of eliminating delays and inefficiencies. At Blue Sky Maritime Coalition, we’ve defined four foundational buckets of where issues are going to arise with achieving decarbonization along the maritime supply chain. We have a technology-fuels-infrastructure workstream, a commercial-financial-chartering workstream, a policy and regulation workstream, and then we have one we call measurement and operational efficiencies. That last bucket is where we’re pulling people together along the supply chain and saying forget about new technologies and new fuels, forget about new types of financial constructs or new regulations, what should we be doing today to become more efficient?

So, the kinds of things we’re finding that are helpful is you have to start with agreement on how you’re going to measure or track emissions and efficiency. We don’t even have a way to calculate emissions today in a consistent way that we can compare. Then you have to think in terms of not just making your company or your organization or your port more efficient, you have to think about the entire system that surrounds that port or those shipping operations to and from and within the port and think about optimizing it from an entire industry perspective instead of just your company.

This is happening today with small clusters of companies in and around different ports. The port of Los Angeles is doing a lot of work around that. The port of Houston and the port of Vancouver, which are members of Blue Sky, are also doing a tremendous amount of work on just thinking about the system as a whole. Now that system thinking could be one subsegment of geographical space, or it could be the entire system of everything that moves up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, for example. A good thing that’s happening there is new technology tools and artificial intelligence and the ability to collect large amounts of data through machine learning and figure out new solutions.

So again, a tip for any company along the value chain is to get involved in these collaborative efforts, because you can’t do this by yourself.

ML: What necessary infrastructure is needed for the U.S. maritime and marine industries to reach zero emissions?

DC: There’s a lot. To transition to zero emissions ship owners will need flexibility in dealing with different fuels. Different fuels will require different types of infrastructure to deliver them to the places they’re needed, like ports in the maritime industry, or it could be offshore or nearshore infrastructure. The ability to transport fuels from the place where they are produced to the place they are used is a big infrastructure need, and the Department of Energy is sponsoring a lot of work around hydrogen, and they’re looking at ammonia and other fuels as well.

Beyond that, you need scaled production and distribution systems for the fuels, and they are largely incompatible with existing fuel systems. The Los Angeles area is looking at repurposing natural gas pipes to carry hydrogen so that you can start to use some existing infrastructure but that’s going to be difficult in some areas and easier in others. There’s also a lot of electrification that’s going to happen and several new types of zero-emission fuels are going to be used to make electricity stored in batteries or energy in fuel cells.

Delivery of high average amperage electricity around ports and refueling stations is a key precondition as well. Some of this is happening now, such as in the state of Washington where Tacoma Power and Light working with the ports of Seattle and Tacoma create a clustered ecosystem of different types of infrastructures. So you can’t solve maritime infrastructure in isolation, you have to look at the electricity grid as well.

Another point to consider is that it’s not just physical infrastructure, but the regulation itself, the regulatory system is a bit of an infrastructure item that’s preconditional here. The maritime industry needs certainty of regulation and the same regulations across different clusters/locations. Right now, you have California going full blast in a direction that ultimately, they might have to turn back from a little bit to make sure what we’re optimizing the whole of the United States, and avoid different states having different local regulations, especially if you create uncertainty and lack of flexibility. This is a difficult challenge since regulations can be changed with newer technology, or different types of demand profiles. So regulation certainty is very important and needs to link the maritime industry with cities and other types of transport industry.

There are very few vessels that only work in one port and never leave that port, or just in one state, or just in the U.S. The only other thing I’ll say around flexibility is that we need to avoid picking winners and losers, which is popular and therefore can be quite challenging. Whether you’re talking about fuels or technology, the future is not going to bring a single answer. Instead, we need to set up regulations that include an infrastructure of incentives and taxes that are independent of different technologies or different fuels, based on the ability purely to avoid emissions.

ML: In your opinion, how does sustainability also fit in with mariner/seafarer health and wellness?                        

DC: I think they’re integral parts of each other—and they feed off of each other. So focusing on sustainability in one area generally leads to thinking about sustainability in other areas too. I also think that as new digital technology keeps maturing it’s going to cause this to further integrate and improve. So for example, when you start getting autonomous ships, or partially autonomous ships, where you have key mariner knowledge and skills more centrally located, rather than on each individual vessel, that’s the type of thing that’s going to dramatically increase mariner and seafarer health and wellness. But it’s also going to dramatically improve vessel efficiency and environmental factors, and require different mariner training and skills.

All of those things are going to go through a transition period between now and 2050, so you have to be thinking about the end vision as well as what’s going on today. There’s no crystal ball here—who knows if you’re ever going to get to completely autonomous vessels or not, but as this progresses we will start designing ships with less room for people, this will save capital money by reducing extra space, and also saving fuel and reducing emissions.

Categories: Environment, Perspectives, Q&As, Shipping Tags: , , , , , , , ,