It will take a long time before batteries become an actual possibility for commercial ships sailing on the major deep sea trade routes.
While other observers in the shipping sector, including Norwegian shipping professor Roar Os Ådland, project that battery-driven commercial vessels on the longest trade routes are no more than a decade away, classification bureau DNV GL is more skeptical.
DNV GL does not envision battery-driven deep sea vessels as part of the scenario even by 2050.
One of the challenges in terms of large deep sea vessels is the need for space to place the batteries"
Market analyst Jakub Walenkiewic and environmental technologist Øyvind Endresen note in an interview with ShippingWatch that there are numerous challenges related to implementing battery technology on vessels of this type.
The two DNV GL employees have helped develop the maritime aspect of a comprehensive report about global energy consumption by 2050, published late last year.
"If a solution can be found for the problem of storing energy on deep sea ships, the decision about batteries would be made today, and it would be a turning point for the sector," says Walenkiewics:
"The problem is, it's not possible to store enough energy for deep sea sailing. If there were batteries available that could store energy enough to send a 500,000 dwt ship across the sea, there is another factor that is often overlooked, namely the matter of who would produce this electricity and whether there would be sufficient power and capacity available to transmit it to the vessels."
While DNV GL expects that battery-driven vessels will become a significant part of the fleet of vessels sailing regionally, this type of ship does not feature in projections for the major trade routes. Instead, 2050 will see these vessels use a combination of mainly fossil fuels followed by LNG and biofuel, says the firm.
Where should the batteries be?
Shipping's greenhouse gas emissions will be a major theme this spring when members of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) must settle a strategy for how shipping will contribute to lowering global CO2 emissions – a decision that is being closely followed by global society, as shipping is currently the only sector that has yet to decide on a strategy to reduce emissions and which, like aviation, was not included in the Paris Climate Accord in 2015.
Ship fuel in particular accounts for a significant part of the sector's CO2 issues, and recent years have seen numerous efforts to develop alternative solutions to oil-based fuels.
Though electricity will gain ground going forward, DNV GL's Endresen tells ShippingWatch that current charging possibilities and a shortage of infrastructure in parts of the world right now limit electricity's potential as a real alternative available to shipowners on the major tradelanes.
"Developments in battery technology and energy storing are moving fast, but one of the challenges in terms of large deep sea vessels is the need for space to place the batteries. And the weight of the batteries is also an issue," he says.
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Though DNV GL expects that battery-driven ships on the major trade routes will only emerge as a possibility after 2050, the company has different expectations for shorter routes.
For smaller vessels operating on regional routes, DNV GL projects that electricity, at 9 percent, will be part of the scene in 2050.
"More and bigger ships will use battery technology, perhaps not the biggest ships on the longest routes, but we've already seen this development happen. There will be growth for electric vessels, but it will be mostly regional," Endresen tells ShippingWatch.
How will the electricity be produced?
He also notes that the use of this technology will increase, and that more vessels will over time use batteries in port areas, and that parts of a voyage can be covered using battery technology combined with other fuel types.
As for the overall climate effort aimed at reducing CO2, there is another factor that comes into play in terms of using electricity, according to DNV GL's maritime experts.
"In terms of the Paris Climate Accord, we also have to consider how the electricity is produced. We're seeing a development in the use of batteries, and it's becoming increasingly prevalent, and not just for smaller vessels. The problem is that this creates a need for huge amounts of electricity in a very short span of time. This requires significant investments," says Endresen.
Toward 2050, DNV GL projects that fuel consumption per vessel will decrease by 18 percent compared to 2015 levels.
Electricity from batteries will be used on one third of the world's ships, though this will mainly be smaller ships sailing regionally, and which account for a small portion of the global commercial fleet's combined energy consumption.
English Edit: Daniel Logan Berg-Munch