Green Revolution for Ship Building

Innovative ideas are coming to the fore as pressure builds on the shipping industry to cut its emissions.

After his recent announcement that the UK will commission a new Royal Yacht Britannia, Boris Johnson says he wants Britain to become a “shipbuilding superpower” in a transition that will strengthen the Union and level up left behind regions. But his vision won’t mean ailing yards dotted around the country turning out tankers and cargo ships in their hundreds. Instead, the change is likely to be a lot more subtle and green.


Responsible for 2pc of CO2 emissions, the shipping industry needs to clean up its act. It has been set a target of cutting CO2 by 50pc by 2050, and that’s where the UK ship industry could be buoyed up.


Maritime UK, the body representing the sector, is lobbying government for £1bn of investment to kick-start a green revolution in naval architecture, along with zero-emissions batteries, hydrogen, methanol, ammonia - even sail - powered vessels, and other systems to cut pollution.


“We’re not going to compete with the massive shipbuilding nations of China and Korea,” says Maritime UK boss Ben Murray, noting the bulk of the value in a ship is in the systems inside it, rather than the hull. “The real opportunity is in decarbonisation.”


About 30pc of emissions come from smaller vessels, such as workboats, crew transfer vessels and ferries operating short routes. These could be electric as they travel shorter distances. But electric is not currently an option for giant ships.


However, going back to the future could be one way of reducing CO2 for large vessels, with advanced sails being fitted as an auxiliary power system - a tech being promoted by several British companies.


Alternative fuel sources are particularly key. Ships have an advantage over cars or aircraft in that they tend to be larger and slower. They can carry more of the less energy-dense fuels such as hydrogen and don’t have such intense power demands. Indeed, a Scandinavian ferry will be one of the world’s biggest hydrogen-powered ships when it weighs anchor in 2017.


In the end, there's bound to be a mixture of solutions.

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New Royal Yacht Britannia

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says work on the new flagship, which will be crewed by the Royal Navy, will start next year and is expected to enter service in four years. Number 10 said the name of the new ship will be decided "in due course", although sources suggest that the intention is to call it "Prince Philip​" after the late Duke of Edinburgh. More...