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Workboat Sector Working On Decarbonizing

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) intention for its Green House Gas (GHG) Strategy is for the international shipping industry to reduce carbon dioxide (CO) emissions by 70% and total annual GHG emissions by at least 50%, by 2050 compared to 2008.  To reach and, hopefully, achieve these goals, the marine industry is working to move away from oil and towards alternative sources of energy and fuels, and new technologies. In April’s blog, we focused on container ships and what they’re doing to decarbonize and reduce GHG emissions. This month we focus on the workboat sector working on decarbonizing. This includes vessels ranging from large navy workboats to small tugs.

Within the workboat sector, tugs are an expanding arm. This is in large part because the global volume of maritime trade is increasing—in fact, it’s estimated to triple by 2050.[i] Subsequently, cargo and container ships are getting bigger and wanting faster turnarounds, pushing the requirement for bigger and more powerful tugs to push and pull ships to and from their berths. Tugs also support and escort other vessel classes in and out of port, such as tankers and salvage vessels, and are often first responders in port for fire-fighting duties.

Another arm of the workboat sector (and a near-and-dear one to our EMCS-Industries-Ltd. heart), is coast guard workboats. Coast guard bases the world over serve all manner of duties, requiring and relying on all manner of workboats. The Canadian Coast Guard, for example, maintains a fleet of icebreakers, multi-tasked vessels, science vessels, patrol vessels, salvage, and other specialty vessels.

Looking for the North Star Pathway to 2050  

The workboat sector has an environmental conscience. Some workboat builders, owners, and operators are actively investing attention, energy, and money to greening workboats by gearing up, exploring, and promoting potential pathways to reaching net-zero carbon emissions and 50% GHG emissions compared to 2008 by 2050.

They are looking at alternative fuels and energy, new propulsion technology, and hull-form optimization. Methanol and ammonia (even hydrogenated vegetable oil! [ii]) and liquefied natural gas (LNG); all-electric and hybrid-electric boats; and carbon capture technology are current projects and talking (and debating) points. For example, the talk is that all-electric-powered harbor tugboats could “complete a job without expending a drop of fuel.”[iii]

But these pathways to reduce and eliminate GHG emissions are mostly all in the future. There are lots of unknowns and their feasibility and viability require technology and green electricity and shore-side charging infrastructure. And finances. Besides, there are other workboat owners and operators questioning how realistic and viable these projects are. Are these projects “interesting, but largely a curiosity?” “Is there a business case, now, for purchasing an alt-fueled vessel?” They also “don’t want to be a test case.”[iv]

Others see themselves as being “on a learning curve.” iv For these workboat owners and operators, it is de rigueur that, for the here-and-now, at least, the North Star Pathway to 2050 needs to be abridged pathway.

Bridging a North Star Pathway to 2050

The workboat sector is actively engaging in workarounds, retrofits, and refinements to bridge the “decarbonizing gap”. Owners and operators, said Neil Baird of Baird Maritime, are focusing on getting vessels to “do their work more efficiently, cleanly, capably and economically.”[v] Decisions are about how to improve operational reliability and fuel efficiency (and thereby, reduce emissions) by upgrading existing engines and power systems or considering using foil optimized stability systems to reduce fuel consumption. ii

The practical reality that workboats can last for 50 years or longer iv is another reason why an albeit more cautious (some might argue, responsible) bridged pathway seems to be, at least for some, the way to move in the here-and-now toward 2050.

If optimizing vessel performance and fuel efficiency is what workboat owners and operators are focusing on (at least until the practicality, viability, and costs—economic and environmental—of alternative fuels and energy are shown), then biofouling and corrosion management and mitigation strategies are key players.

Biofouling and Corrosion Management + Mitigation

Biofouling, declares the title of an article in the November 2022 issue of Ship Technology Global, “derailing decarbonization and ship optimization.”[vi] Hard fouling, such as barnacle fouling, of all the underwater parts and internal seawater systems, affects a vessel’s operational performance and fuel efficiency. Following on from this is higher fuel consumption and its corollaries of increased economic and environmental costs of emissions in the forms of operational expense and the joint environmental costs of biodiversity threats and GHG air pollution and climate impacts.

What is more, is that biofouling compounds the corrosion problem of vessels. It does this in two ways: it sets up and exacerbates corrosion (known as microbiologically influenced corrosion”) itself, setting the scene for subsequent perforation and leakage of corroded parts. [vii] This supports why Dr. Markus Hoffmann, technical director at a biotechnology company I-Tech AB, says that “tackling biofouling will be crucial for shipping’s push towards

A Swedish study that the biotechnology company I-Tech conducted to look at the impact of hard fouling in tugs’ niche areas on hydrodynamic drag, fuel efficiency, and carbon emissions, is instructive: niche area fouling significantly and negatively impacted tugs’ operational and environmental performances.[viii]

Whatever, the fact is that the needs for biofouling and corrosion control don’t, and won’t, change even when the shipping industry is turned on its

EMCS Industries Ltd. Works to Partner with the Workboat Sector

Beginning in the 1960s, EMCS Industries Ltd.’s MARELCO™suite of antifouling and anticorrosion systems has been at work on workboats. Coast guard workboats are one example. As mentioned earlier, coast guard workboats are near-and-dear to EMCS-Industries-Ltd.’s heart—most particularly the Canadian Coast Guard. Documentation in our keeping shows that the Canadian Coast Guard’s science vessel, the CCGS Vector, entered service in 1964 (and is still active) and remains entrusted to EMCS from as way back as 1967. EMCS wants to keep partnering with the workboat sector, in a vessel-by-vessel way, helping to manage and mitigate biofouling and corrosion as one part and key players in optimizing vessel performance and fuel efficiency in the workboat sector.

Wrapping Up

The workboat sector is following, some may argue, leading, the shipping industry’s ever-increasing focus on carbon and GHG reduction and sustainability. Pathways for 2050 are being proposed, explored, created, and debated. Some pathways are being adopted early and others are being bridged. The short-term goal is on improving fuel efficiency to reduce carbon and other GHG emissions. And EMCS Industries Ltd. wants to help the workboat sector achieve this goal.

P.S. Let’s not forget about biosecurity—a second, but not secondary, environmental issue. Biofouling of vessels’ underwater parts (such as thrusters and stabilizers) and internal seawater systems (including wet open-loop or hybrid scrubber systems) is a vector for invasive aquatic species transfer from one marine zone to another. Managing biofouling and corrosion is of environmental concern for local biosecurity efforts to protect biodiversity within and among species, ecosystems, and marine environments, and is another reason why we at EMCS Industries Ltd. are invested in what we do.

Contributors Susan Tasker + Meghan Raza

[i] Stone, M. (2021, November 12). The shipping industry faces a climate crisis reckoning: will it decarbonize? The Guardian.

[ii] Marine Link. (2021, March 8). Driving decarbonization in the workboat sector. Marine Link.

[iii] Baird Maritime. (2022, March 31). New study to explore carbon capture onboard MGO-fueled tugs. Baird Maritime.

[iv] Ewing, T. (2022, March 17). Alt-fueled workboats: Building the business case. Marine Link.

[v] Baird, N. (2021, November 22). Welcome to tug and salvage week! Baird Maritime.

[vi] Hoffman, M. (2020). Biofouling: Derailing decarbonization and ship optimization. Ship Technology Global, 73, (November).

[vii] Davidson, i., Cahill, P., Hinz, A., Kluza, D., Scianni, C., & Georgiades, E. (2021). A review of biofouling of ships’ internal seawater systems. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.761531

[viii] Wingrove, M. (2021, May 20). Protecting hull niches from biofouling. Riviera Maritime Media.


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