The Future of Energy Efficiency in the Marine Industry

The marine industry is experiencing challenges when it comes to oil exploration. The means of obtaining resources are becoming increasingly competitive and dangerous. Oil exploration is shifting into deeper, harsher waters and trade flows continue to evolve. The shipping industry still has the same common goal, but they must learn to adapt to their new environment which brings an extremely competitive market, the challenge of high fuel costs and new regulations regarding environmental standards. To compete, ships must begin to take on more efficient designs and new technologies to keep up with these environmental standards and costly fuel price tags.

New Changes in the Marine Industry

As many in the marine industry are well aware, the maximum sulfur permitted in marine fuel will be reduced to 0.1% on January 1, 2015 in the International Maritime Organization’s Baltic/North Sea Sulfur Emission Control Areas and the North American ECA. This lower limit means that ships will be required to burn distillate fuels or use another option to meet their requirements. This is a big deal, especially considering that fuel costs are around 70% of a ship’s operating expenses. The price increase when changing to these environmentally friendly fuels will contribute substantially to the overall cost of ship operations.


An additional concern is the regulations concerning climate change. The IMO has developed their own energy efficiency regulations through the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) which measures the energy efficiency of a specific ship’s design and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) which are guidelines under which a ship is encouraged to implement the best practices to improve their energy efficiency. However, even without these rules it’s clear that the upcoming trends of higher fuel costs will motivate new ships to be built that use minimum fuel and are energy efficient. The question is how much improvement is possible and realistic in the next ten years?

What Can Be Improved?

In past years, the focus in ship design has been to design ships in order to increase the cargo carrying capacity. Technological advancements have also been made including improved hull forms, better coasting, more efficient propellers and improvements to engines. However, these changes are minimal when we are thinking about the introduction of bigger vessels or other conceptual changes.

Marine 5

Ships have been designed for their service performance to be at a single draft in calm sea conditions, with a theoretical sea margin which is normally never used. Basically, the majority of ships were not designed with operational efficiency in mind. The industry has also not had a feedback system in place for operational performance. Previously, operational performance was dictated depending on the data from failures and developing rules around said failures for future builds. However, there is no system to truly evaluate energy or operational efficiency. Truthfully, most ship designers have only limited knowledge on how their designs actually perform in real conditions.

Since the new regulations have come into place, engine manufacturers, propeller designers, ship designers and shipyards have all begun to develop new designs and equipment that can be implemented in existing ships, as well as used in new builds. These ideas are well on their way to being implemented in the future.

Taking Action

The marine industry is looking into ways to simultaneously improve and measure the operational efficiency of new vessels. One of the main things they are looking to change is the hull form which can be difficult to alter due to the functional requirements of the vessel. For bulk carriers and tankers, with a high block coefficient, the bow and stern are in the spotlight. For ships with a lower block coefficient the hull lines will be getting a makeover.

Selecting the correct propeller system and matching it correctly to the main engine is a significant factor in the efforts to improve energy efficiency. Propulsion has a lot to do with increasing energy efficiency with ship owners opting for slower RPM engines and larger propeller diameters. Additionally, marine coatings can impact efficiency by reducing friction and slime build-up on the bottom of a vessel. The latest anti-fouling coatings are designed down to the molecular level to help improve efficiencies.


A potential source that remains untapped for new ship designs is the use of new material. Steel and welding were introduced to make ships larger and more economical. Steel is now so widely used that other materials are limited in the industry. Of course, ships have the option for significant potential change in the use of alternative fuels, especially LNG fuel. Although this is used in Northern Europe on a much wider scale, the first LNG container ships are just being constructed in the United States.

Even with this wide scope of possibilities, the industry will hit a wall eventually in regards to how much efficiency can be obtained and the practicality in achieving them. However, this time is exciting for engineers and scientists alike who have the opportunity to improve energy efficiency in our industry. By working together we can improve the shipping industry’s environmental footprint through energy efficiency.



Tikka, Kirsi. “Regulatory Impact and the Role of Technology” Marine Log. August 2014: 31-33. Print

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *