For the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), the establishment of the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation in August this year was yet another milestone in enhancing Singapore’s status as an international shipping hub. 

Maritime trade will continue to increase despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as economies and consumer demand continue to grow. 

While it is therefore imperative that the sector continues its journey towards decarbonisation, it is also true that the possible solutions are many in number, but few in certainty. 

Consumer demand is beginning to hint at the need for goods and services to be delivered via a green supply chain. 

This hint will soon become the psyche of consumer demand, and this will create pressure on the maritime industry to ensure that it remains relevant in the future – a green future. 

Cost and volume efficiency may become secondary to environmental sustainability. Therefore, this will require bold leadership and mindset changes across the ecosystem, and investment in innovation to operate in a more sustainable way, thus ensuring that maritime Singapore is future-ready.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and its member states collectively account for 2-3% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. 

The IMO has therefore ratified clearly defined GHG reduction targets for 2030 (40%) and 2050 (50%) from 2008 levels. 

There are also calls for zero emissions over the next few decades. This forces the maritime community to rethink investments and operating regimes to ensure we achieve those targets. 

Innovation is a key enabler, and timely innovation is absolutely pertinent to this cause. 

Solarisation and energy-efficient low-carbon technology will make Singapore’s ports greener

Singapore’s two main ports – PSA Singapore and Jurong Port – have already started greening their operations. 

Both ports are very much live labs for new technologies and partner researchers to develop and demonstrate solutions.

At Jurong Port, solarisation has already started. Jurong Port can currently boast of having the world’s largest solar installation of any port, with its 9.65 MWp PV solar systems, and it has plans to do even more. 

Jurong Port, together with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and industry partners, is also test-bedding an artificial intelligence (AI) driven smart multi-energy system (SMES) to reduce the port’s carbon footprint.

The test-bedding includes the use of DC microgrid systems within the warehouse to improve energy efficiency at the system level. 

And in 2016 Jurong Port became home to the world’s first green berths made of recycled concrete from existing berths and yards. 

Meanwhile, PSA Singapore has started on an electrification and automation journey for its cranes and ground vehicles. 

In future, PSA Singapore will have one of the largest, if not the largest fleet of automated guided vehicles running on battery systems in the world.

Testing of fuel cell technology on forklifts and other mobile equipment has already started at these sites. 

These ports must now begin to consider an integrated resource management system (for energy, water, waste) to further the objectives of a circular economy and the capitalise on the potential of green procurement practices, to enable the decarbonisation and greening of port operations. 

The surrounding waters will also benefit from the proper implementation of these systems. 

Finally, the development of Singapore’s Tuas Mega Port has green efforts to protect the environment as a key pillar of its project scope.

Singapore harbour crafts will be cleaner

Over more than a decade, the maritime sector has been making efforts to reduce its GHG footprint through two main initiatives: the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Program (SEEMP). 

Put simply, the EEDI ensures that the vessel is designed and built to be as energy-efficient as possible, and the SEEMP ensures that the vessel is operated to maximise the design outcomes and reduce emissions as much as possible. 

While EEDI is easier to control, SEEMP is not, due to under-optimised schedules, extended anchorage times, poor weather conditions, customer demands for speed, poor maintenance of critical systems, and biofouling of hulls and propellers, etc. 

Therefore, there is a role for innovation to play in further enhancing the impact of EEDI and SEEMP efforts.

Powering the maritime sector with next-generation fuels  

Singapore has about 2,300 harbour crafts licensed to operate in Singapore waters, providing goods and services to ships that come to call at Singapore’s ports. Of those vessels, 70% are motorised, ranging from ferries to tugs, bunkers, and launches. 

Most if not all are burning marine gas oil, and therefore the opportunity to decarbonise through electrification and/or the use of sustainable/biofuels is significant. 

This impact will also extend to the local marine environment, reducing air and noise pollution. 

While it would seem that this low hanging fruit is ready to be plucked, as both energy vectors are available, this is not the case, as there are other key areas that need to mature either via policy instruments and/or new business models. 

MPA has already worked with industry by co-funding the development of liquified natural gas-fuelled (LNG) tugs, which are now operational and are already contributing towards decarbonisation efforts. 

There is also the potential for sustainable/biofuels to be used as drop-in fuels to further reduce the carbon footprint. 

This is already happening in other ports, but in Singapore we need to identify the right use case to limit the impact of the fuel cost differentials on the cost of goods.

Demand side and consumer concerns 

There must be a value proposition to being green that the consumer is willing to pay a premium for. 

Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) need to start evaluating these fuels to feel confident that they can extend warranties so that more vessel owners/operators can switch to bio/sustainable fuels. 

However, with respect to electrification, the recent awards by MPA and Singapore Maritime Institute (MRI), and the procurement by Shell for electrified harbour crafts, will pave the way to build capabilities and prove that the electrification pathway can be a solution for harbour craft operators. 

This will also enhance design modelling capabilities to help configure the most energy- and space-efficient system within existing hull forms (for conversions) or new hull forms (new builds) catering to the different operating and load profiles. 

The harbour craft community is heterogeneous in terms of size, weight, operation profile, i.e. load, duration, and speed. Hence the systems must be designed accordingly, and such modelling will be useful. 

System integration using AC or DC hybrid systems, new battery, or fuel cell technology, the use of additive manufacturing for lighter and sturdier propellers with innovative designs, IoT and sensors, fuel quality management standards, and charging infrastructure are opportunities for the industry (end-users, yards, and suppliers) to come together and create a new value proposition in the harbour craft community in Singapore and the wider region. 

We already have domestic yards heading in this direction, e.g. Penguin International, Keppel, and Sembcorp Marine. 

In 2020 BH Global, Penguin International, and their consortium of partners built the Penguin Tenaga, Singapore’s first hybrid-electric, while in 2018 Norwegian shipping company NorLed ordered three hybrid plug-in ropax ferries from Singapore shipbuilder Sembcorp Marine. 

It is also worthy to note that Hong Lam Marine has been operating 10 diesel electric bunker vessels for many years.

Cost differentials still exist, however, and closing the gap will need financing or policy support coupled with new business models. 

This will require bold leadership from the finance industry, and consumer demand to drive the deployment of such green solutions. 

Our efforts, if done well, can spur new economic activity for Singapore, such as electric vessel building.

Multiple solutions to work in harmony for a more sustainable maritime sector

As the maritime ecosystem players evaluate the practicalities and opportunities of electrifying our harbour craft community, we are also evaluating the potential use of sustainable fuels to complement hybrid-electric vessels to further reduce our GHG footprint. 

Other technical measures are also important to complement the efforts around new energy vectors. 

These include novel, physics-based antifouling solutions, scrubber technologies, wireless charging, energy management systems, energy efficiency interventions, and optimisation tools for vessel and marine services coordination.

We will also need to establish opportunities for and further encourage cross-fertilisation in non-maritime-associated technologies and ecosystems into the maritime sector, e.g. additive manufacturing, carbon capture and utilisation, battery and fuel cells, blockchain, remote medicine, sensors, and a spectrum of IoT solutions from Industry 4.0. 

All these will come together not only to reduce the GHG footprint, but also to reduce the cost of operations and increase productivity and safety. 

They are the pieces of the sustainability jigsaw puzzle that needs to be solved to form a beautiful picture.

Singapore bunkering port will be future-ready

Singapore is currently the world’s largest bunkering hub, with about 48 MT of bunker fuels delivered annually. 

These fuels are essentially marine gas oil and heavy fuel, with heavy fuel forming the bulk of the volumes. The infrastructure requirements to bunker these hydrocarbon-based fuels are essentially similar. 

Looking into the future, Singapore needs to consider a portfolio of fuels that would further the decarbonisation efforts across the sector. 

Other than LNG, new fuels on the horizon include sustainable/biofuels, biodiesel, methanol, bio-LNG, hydrogen carriers like liquid ammonia, or liquid organic hydrogen carriers and liquid hydrogen. 

However, these new fuels must be greener than the incumbent fuels, i.e. they must have a lower carbon life cycle, otherwise it would be a waste of resources to venture into such investments, as it will not reduce the overall carbon/GHG burden on the environment. 

Timing is therefore key to ensure that the right investments are made at the right time to deliver the decarbonisation impact that is needed.

Testing and urgency in sustainable fuel innovation 

Demand-driven supply of green fuels is important. Currently, there are a number of pilots and demonstration projects across the world test-bedding the use of many of the abovementioned fuels. 

Learning how to handle these fuels safely and efficiently as we move the molecule from production to use is an important, no-regrets step. The molecule is the same regardless of its colour. 

There are also other challenges when dealing with this new portfolio of fuels, and these include supply chain reliability, demand side estimations, storage capacity, new delivery systems, standards for quality and quantity assurance, pricing, validity of GHG credits, policies to support decarbonisation targets, safety of operations, priming the bunkering community, and the training of workers and first responders to handle incidents with the new fuel. 

These are all not trivial, and therefore decision- and policy-makers will need to be armed with facts and gumption to ensure that maritime Singapore’s bunkering services are still relevant at a global scale, and are executed with defined safety and operating standards, especially for alternatives with their peculiar hazards. 

We therefore need to leverage multi-agency cooperation to ensure strategic and policy alignment across the relevant government agencies, where decarbonisation efforts will impact their fiduciary responsibilities. 

This will benefit the industry, which can use these collective policy signals to plan its business offering, investment decisions, and skills development within companies. 

Ideally, the industry should come together to pilot the demonstration of solutions that can accelerate the adoption or co-creation of sustainable solutions.

With the construction of the Tuas Mega Port in Singapore, we have the opportunity to build in this future readiness from the ground up, by making provisions for space and safety. 

But we also need the industry to collaborate across the ecosystem to meet these challenging decarbonisation goals. 

While some may debate the reality of anthropogenic climate change, for Singapore, based on the overwhelming scientific evidence, we have decided to stand up and be counted for the future of humanity.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong rightly said in his 2019 National Day address, climate change is an existential issue for all of us. 

Decarbonisation of maritime Singapore, and being future-ready by decarbonising the maritime sector, is going to be key for Singapore to maintain its global maritime leadership, and to keep its economy humming for the prosperity of all.