Size, renewable energy and digitalization: How containerships win tomorrow

The containership segment faces an entirely new set of technological challenges: Transport more goods while using less energy ‒ and ultimately, decarbonize. Two DNV GL experts explain how this could be achieved.

Rasmus Stute and Jan-Olaf Probst, DNV GL

Jan-Olaf Probst (JOP) has a long track record as expert for the containership segment at DNV GL - Maritime. Besides his various management positions as Head of Approval Centre in East Asia and Head of Competence Centre Hull he held the position as Ship Type Manager Containerships for almost ten years. After gaining further experience as Executive Vice President of the Newbuilding Division he is now responsible for the strategic development of all ship types at DNV GL and for the entire containership segment.

With more than 15 years of international management experience in the maritime industry, Rasmus Stute (RS) leads the newly established Global Containership Excellence Network at DNV GL - Maritime. In his current role as Director, he is responsible for product development and service delivery along the entire ship’s life cycle serving shipyards, shipowners and ship managers around the globe. Rasmus is presently a member of BIMCO’s marine safety and environment committee.

What are the main trends and challenges in the containership market?

JOP: We are facing three main challenges in the upcoming years. One is the market development itself , as rates are under continuous pressure, another is the need to adjust to stricter environmental regulations and the third challenge ‒ which also generates many opportunities ‒ is the adoption of new technologies and implementation of the digital transformation. The drivers of this transformation are on the one hand the growth of the transport volume and on the other hand the new IMO GHG strategy, which will result in a sweeping fleet renewal. Technology and digitalization will help us address the environmental challenges and adjust to the changing market.

How will the containership market develop over the coming years?

JOP: Due to population growth and growth in trade, the demand for containerized transport will grow by another 80% by 2050. Transport efficiency must improve significantly to adapt to this development and achieve the industry’s environmental goals. As a result, the size of containerships will grow in four segments, resulting in vessels up to 4,000 TEU, around 10,000 TEU and 15,000 TEU, and finally, the very large segment with ships carrying up to around 24,000 TEU. With all this in mind, we believe that the containership segment deserves special attention.

What role do containership operators play in this development today?

JOP: The main liner operators have a strong influence. Today, the top ten liner companies cover 80% of the market, which makes continuous professionalization even more important. In addition to that, the market is shifting eastwards, especially with regard to ownership and ship financing.

What are the best ways to improve transport efficiency?

RS: Major advances in transport efficiency and significant GHG reductions can only be achieved by implementing extensive technical and operational measures. Decarbonization options for ships include measures within logistics and digitalization (which can reduce carbon emissions by 20% or more), hydrodynamics (up to 10%), machinery (5–20%) and most importantly, the choice of fuels and energy sources (0–100%). The only option to eliminate GHG emissions entirely is to switch to renewable fuels and energy sources.

What is the influence of ship size in this context?

RS: Large containerships have a significant advantage: They work with the same engine sizes as older and smaller vessels while being able to carry three to four times the volume of cargo. This minimizes transport work and maximizes efficiency. Furthermore, a well-loaded 20,000+-TEU vessel has the lowest fuel consumption per TEU. Its smaller CO2 footprint contributes to the IMO’s ambitious GHG reduction target.

Which alternative fuels will be easiest to adopt in the next ten years?

JOP: LNG can be seen as technically mature; rules and regulations are available and its bunker grid is rapidly increasing. As we approach 2030, LNG will help cut emissions to fulfil the 2030 IMO target, but it is not the final solution for 2050. It serves as a transitional fuel until we are ready to abandon fossil fuels entirely. To achieve the final goal the maritime industries and the IMO need to push Power to fuel (PtF), in particular Power to gas (PtG).

How can safety be improved further?

RS: We are collaborating with other companies to investigate fires on containerships and are working on reducing container losses. We are trying to identify the best fire detection sensor technology, such as temperature and visual sensors. Right now, we don’t have access to container inspection. But the main issue in terms of fire safety is the misdeclaration of cargo, which is unfortunately done frequently to save transport costs. When flammable or even explosive cargo is hidden inside containers, it causes a major hazard to the ship, its crew, its cargo and the environment.

What are the trends and technologies to reduce emissions from containerships beyond 2030 already being discussed?

JOP: Innovative containership designs and optimization measures at the system level are constantly being explored to minimize fuel oil consumption and increase capacity. Taking advantage of economies of scale has always played a role in reducing the emissions per container mile (TEU/mile), but in this respect we have reached the limit. So going bigger is not the solution for 2030 or even 2050. Learning from other ship types and industries is essential to achieve major change.

How can DNV GL help guide the industry through this transition and support its adjustment to market growth and development?

RS: We established a Containership Excellence Network that is centred around our new Containership Excellence Center (CEC) in Hamburg to support this transition and help our customers make the right decisions for their future fleets.
This global network rests on three main pillars: expertise, speed and added value. We are building operational centres to provide 24/7 service to our customers, making sure that we can be the best partner to them and facilitate the introduction of innovative solutions in the future.

How does the Containership Excellence Center (CEC) assure maximum expertise and the best customer journey?

RS: The CE Center provides an end-to-end classification service, which means it delivers an enhanced experience by minimizing operational disruption. Our experts cover the entire containership life cycle, from the pre-contract phase to the recycling process, all on one floor to support our customers and in the most efficient way possible.

How has DNV GL managed to achieve this?

JOP: Research from the very beginning made the difference for DNV GL in the containership segment. Using advanced technology and relying on the support of DNV GL, shipyards were able to build 23,000-TEU ships. We began this journey with the first containerships built in the seventies and are continuing it to this day. The many years of experience we have accumulated have helped us always be first in the development of the next generation of containerships, such as post-Panamax or the twin-island design, which was a large step to take.

What is the role of ports in future transport processes?

RS: First of all, governments and ports are becoming stricter in terms of environmental regulations. Another factor regarding transport efficiency lies in the infrastructure of ports, which is closely connected with vessel sizes and layout. Hinterland connections and logistics are the limiting factor at the back end. Nevertheless, the technology exists to modernize this end of the challenge, as well.

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