Preparing for the hybrid boom

Chasewell hybrid vessel Chartwell Marine’s Chasewell hybrid vessel design. Image: Richard Matthews, The Tamarindo Group
Industry Database

UK ports must seize the vessel hybridisation opportunities presented by the UK Clean Air Strategy 2019, says Andy Page, Naval Architect and Managing Director at Chartwell Marine

The Government’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 – launched earlier this year – identifies maritime transport as a key contributor to harmful emissions in the UK. In itself, this fact is hardly newsworthy for maritime firms – but a clear political emphasis on tackling emissions suggests that opportunities are on the horizon for innovative businesses and ports with a focus on sustainable operation.

Indeed, the drive to standardise environmental regulations for UK ports will serve as a catalyst for the industry’s progress in developing an environmental standard for maritime operations. In order to meet emissions reduction objectives, substantial innovation in vessel design and onboard propulsion & power systems will be required. In turn, this may present huge commercial opportunities for UK operators, naval architects and shipyards – and the UK maritime sector more broadly – to set itself apart in supporting the sustainable development of a thriving global market.

Design scrutiny increasing

Emissions legislation throughout Europe, the US and Asia is driving increased scrutiny on vessel design, and it is in the collective interest of the UK sector that new bodies such as the Clean Maritime Council deliver on their promise to create clean growth opportunities.

Across the pond, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tier constraints require vessels in the US to be compliant with a number of environmental regulations. The introduction of increased environmental constraints in the US acts as a key driver in the design of vessels entering the market. For example, for Crew Transfer Vessels (CTVs) in the emerging offshore wind sector, the need to meet EPA Tier 4 air quality requirements is driving the crucial development of cleaner propulsion solutions such as hybrid propulsion.

Elsewhere, countries in Asia, such as China, where shipping has been identified as a major source of emissions in port cities, have pledged to significantly reduce their carbon emissions. For example, the Chinese Ministry of Transport’s Action Plan to Control Air Pollution from Ships and Ports aims to reduce shipping air pollution in three coastal port clusters by up to 65% by 2020. Furthermore, offshore wind in Taiwan is growing rapidly, and vessels must adhere to local requirements.

Similarly to shipping, ports and harbours have a responsibility to protect the environment. While pollutants have been found to be reducing from land-based sources, those from maritime operations are increasing.

Ports are polluted not only by sources such as chemical industry, auto transport and others, but also by vessels and specific harbour activities such as ship movement and idle or loitering boats. It has been found that maritime emissions of NOx in some regions have increased the ground level of ozone concentration. NOx levels in ports are influenced mainly by vessel engine design, which further supports the argument for the application of alternative propulsion.

Taking a lead in hybrid propulsion

This global shift towards sustainable development of maritime and push for the sector to reduce carbon emissions presents a real opportunity for UK firms. The drive towards greener ports will provide impetus to the development of new propulsion systems and energy storage solutions – which in turn, will be supported in growing maritime sectors such as offshore wind.

As readers of GreenPort will no doubt recall, in 2018, the British Ports Association (BPA) committed to support ports in the development of new air quality plans to reduce emissions. This is being achieved not only by the BPA installing shoreside power for smaller vessels such as fishing boats and leisure craft, but also by adapting vessel designs for time spent in port.

Using a hybrid system allows a vessel to operate using electrical propulsion when in port travelling at lower speeds or when it is idle. There are numerous potential fuel/energy supply options for hybrid vessels, operating using liquefied natural gas or hydrogen, or battery energy storage systems.


In line with the UK Government’s plans for reduced emissions, hybrid-ready vessels are also increasingly going to become the preferred design for vessel operators in offshore
wind operations. Hybridisation has the potential to offer important advantages to support vessels in this sector, which often spend as much as half their day loitering. Moreover, driven not only by the Clean Air Strategy 2019 but also by organisations such as the Carbon Trust, systems are being designed to allow hybrid and electric vessels to charge on site from the power generated by the turbines.

No simple solution 

Despite these promising applications, effective hybrid and electric propulsion is not as straightforward as swapping a diesel engine for an electric motor, and the R&D budget assigned to creating innovative new vessel designs will need to be extensive.

Electric and hybrid vessel designs must be flexible and adaptable to the needs of the operator, allowing for a wide range of markets to operate in a ‘cleaner’ way. However, this also means that there are a range of design configurations and as the industry sees increasing demand for hybrid-ready vessels, such as CTVs and pilot craft, budgets for research and rigorous testing will be required to develop the most efficient configurations for each industry.

In particular, hull designs are inevitably going to need more in-depth thinking to create a boat that performs efficiently at all speeds and under both conventional and electrical propulsion. Modifications may have to be made to hull forms to reduce drag at low speeds, especially for vessels in ports which spend a lot of time loitering and travelling at low speeds. Ultimately these hull forms, optimised through extensive computational flow dynamics (CFD) testing, must allow an operator to maximise time spent on electrical power, producing substantial advantages when it comes to reducing total emissions.

Government support

It is important that the Government now clearly outlines how it is going to help the industry tackle the issue of emissions at UK ports and meet the agreements put in place in conjunction with the International Maritime Organization.

Furthermore, the emphasis is now going to be on the Maritime 2050 and UK Clean Maritime plans to deliver coherent strategies for meeting these goals. In particular, funding and incentivising research into alternative vessel propulsion is going to be critical for ensuring that a focus on emissions reduction doesn’t come at the expense of a thriving UK maritime sector.

The Government must now detail the budgets that are to be assigned to the development of technology to support the Maritime 2050 strategy. Vessel builders and operators need to trust that there will be financial support for the industry as they invest in R&D.

In the meantime, UK ports and maritime firms should take the initiative – rather than simply waiting around for funding and incentives to be announced. The UK maritime industry must ensure that it is amongst the first to pioneer effective hybrid and electric designs – and, in doing so, take advantage of opportunities available in the global market.

Port authorities with green ambitions are well-placed to support this market growth by investing early in hybrid and electric vessel designs being pioneered by UK naval architects and shipyards. With a number of hybrid boats now in testing or entering service, it is clear that the market is starting to realise the commercial opportunity inherent in emissions and pollution reduction, and is poised to adopt the technology on a broader scale.

In the same way that UK designers and boat builders took a leadership position in offshore wind vessels and are now able to start exporting those designs worldwide, by acting now, the market can prepare itself to lead the way in sustainable maritime operations.

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