The cruise boom has strongly discredited ships and given them an image of being pollutants. But the swimming hotels are not the only ones emitting soot into the air; 80 percent of the global freight transport happens by ship. According to the OECD the entire freight and cargo volume (seafaring, train, road, aviation) will triple by 2050 and CO2 emissions will increase by 160 percent. The 15 largest ships emit as much as 750 million cars, according to calculations made by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union Germany. Furthermore, 90.000 ships worldwide are fuelled by cheap heavy diesel.

One of the world’s leading research centres for large engines, and therefore also for ship propulsion, is located in Graz at the Large Engines Competence Center (LEC). Together with the Institute for Combustion Engines and Thermodynamics (IVT) at the Graz University of Technology the LEC holds the internationally renowned conference “The Internal Working Process of the Combustion Engine”. The theme of the 16th conference, which took place in 2017 and attracted 260 experts, was environmental protection.

This topic also includes emission-free concepts for engine propulsion. Concerning ships, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has already made “a giant leap in the right direction” by passing stricter emission regulations which will come into effect in 2020, states Andreas Wimmer, CEO of the LEC.

Implementation Takes Time

The catch: It will take years, until shipping will be environmentally friendly, as clarified by Wimmer. “Concepts for emission-free ship propulsion will be available in the near foreseeable future, the implementation in the marine sector is realistic only by 2050.” One of the main reasons for that is that the tightening of regulations is advancing very slowly on an international level. In addition, ships often remain in use for decades.

The LEC also follows a concept for practically emission-free ship propulsion by which ships are fuelled with methanol. Before the combustion in the engine the CO2 is split off from the methanol through a reformer and the hydrogen obtained through this process propels the engine. According to Wimmer “Nitrogen oxides are the only relevant polluting component”. The CO2 is liquefied, brought back to land and used again for methanol production. This way only renewable energies are used.

Trucks Have Become Clean

In comparison trucks are much more environmentally friendly. Fine dust particles are no longer a problem thanks to closed particle filters. Helmut Eichlseder, Head of the IVT, states that through high-impact catalysts the limit of what is measurable will soon be reached for nitrogen oxides. Regarding the reduction of CO2-emissions Eichlseder sees great potential in the development and use of synthetic fuels.

Press coverage

Saubere Schiffe: LEC-Forscher sind an Bord
Kleine Zeitung online, 03.10.2017