It’s impossible to say what will happen this year, but here are a few safe bets.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG)
Already in vogue as a low-sulfur alternative to heavy fuel oil (HFO), 2020 will see a continued uptick in the amount of LNG ships being commissioned and retrofitted around the globe. Not only does burning LNG produce less sulfur, helping shipping meet the IMO 2020 sulfur cap, but it produces fewer harmful byproducts than HFO, including nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. There are still some kinks to work out when it comes to global bunkering supply, but that should change in 2020.
Lower sulfur in the atmosphere
That’s right, the IMO 2020 cap on sulfur in fuel will be in full swing come January 1st. The legacy fuel that powered international shipping for decades is now forbidden without a scrubber. 2020—and the years beyond—will be a lot cleaner, at least in the area around our big ships. We’re happy about that.
Ships with sulfur scrubbers go closed-loop
With the 2020 sulfur cap going into effect on January 1st, many legacy ships running on HFO have already been retrofitted with scrubbers. But in late 2019, controversy erupted over what these scrubbers did once they’d removed sulfur from fuel exhaust. Many scrubbers were so-called “open-loop” systems, which could pump wastewater right into the ocean. Such a system doesn’t so much clean up pollution, critics argued, so much as move it from air to water. As a result, many marine jurisdictions have already mandated closed-loop systems, which treat the wastewater before disposing of it. It’s a trend likely to continue in 2020.
Another trend that gained momentum in late 2019 and is sure to continue into 2020 is the rise in harbors offering shore-to-ship power. When this option isn’t available, it’s up to the ships to power themselves in order to run electrical components, like refrigeration units, increasing fuel consumption and bringing noise and air pollution closer to population centers. Shore-to-ship power is yet another way the industry is going green.
Total offshore wind really kicked off over the last decade, exploding from 3 to an estimated 30+ gigawatts between 2010 and 2019. New offshore terminals are popping up, or expanding, from New England to Rotterdam and beyond. 2020 should see more ports fighting for a piece of the offshore wind support industry.
Investment in tidal turbines
Tidal turbines have long seemed like the answer to our energy needs—just out of reach. Well, 2019 saw some interesting breakthroughs in what could still be a revolutionary power source: the ocean tides. And much like offshore wind, the marine industry will play a large role in supporting undersea offshore power. Look for more widespread experimentation in 2020.
2019 saw an autonomous delivery vessel cross the English Channel, and a 5G-enabled container terminal in China. That terminal will one day be automated. So will a terminal in Singapore. And those are just two examples of how ports will change in the coming years. With the rollout of the higher-bandwidth 5G technology, we should see wider use of automated systems in 2020.
The last several years have seen the emergence of digital twinning, a technology in which 3D digital interfaces help engineers, in the marine industry and elsewhere, understand often difficult-to-access components. This is a kind of augmented reality, but we expect it to become more immersive in the marine industry in 2020, with more progress in the area of augmented reality navigation, for example.
One technology that goes hand in hand with augmented reality is 3D printing. Imagine a world where a designer could design and interact with a virtual model in augmented reality, and then go into a nearby warehouse and see her designs in real, tactile 3D. Or imagine being able to print out a broken parts onboard a ship that’s already underway—or on demand directly in port. Gone is the wait between design and trial, or ordering and repairing.
Increased environmental sustainability
If there’s one takeaway from all of this: Between the 2020 sulfur cap, the continued commitment to tidal and wind turbines, and increased investment in alternative fuels, the marine industry is going green. If environmental sustainability will become even more of a priority in the marine industry.