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In pursuit of the elusive future fuels — or even a single-fuel solution

PHOTO: TOM STIEGHORST CRUISE_SCG_sustainability.jpg
A Seatrade Cruise Global panel on sustainability featured, from left, moderator Vesa Koivumaa, strategy and marketing lead voyage services, Wartsila North America; Carnival Corp.'s Adm. William Burke, MSC Cruises' Michele Francioni, Global Ports Holding's Ece Gursoy, Lloyd's Register's Andrew McKeran and European Commission's Heino Nau
The cruise industry has a host of environmental projects it can pursue right away to improve its sustainability, a panel of experts concluded at Seatrade Cruise Global on Tuesday.

But the solution that matters most — finding a fuel with no greenhouse gas emissions — remains far off and contentious, panelists said.

Right now, either oil or liquefied natural gas powers nearly every cruise ship. Burning them yields carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Experiments with a range of alt fuels from methanol to hydrogen fuel cells are underway but success is elusive.

Fuel-saving efforts only go so far

Meanwhile, the world warms. For a decade or more cruise lines have devised dozens of fuel-saving efficiencies, such as frictionless hull coatings, to cut fuel burn and emissions.

Those efforts, said Adm. William Burke, chief maritime officer at Carnival Corp. & plc, have their limits.

“We have to realize that efficiency only gets you so far. We’ve come down 10% (in emissions) since our peak. I could see 20%. It’s hard to see beyond that. And then the fuels have to deliver. You have to recognize that those steps to get more efficient get more expensive as you work away from low hanging fruit to the ones you need a ladder for,” Burke said.

Regulatory regime ahead of the reality?

But regulators insist on progress. Starting this year, the European Union began including maritime activities in its Emission Trading System, effectively taxing ship emissions on voyages to and from EU countries.

The tax is part of an interlocking scheme of regulations meant to be a holistic answer to global warming. Burke said the regime is “probably ahead of the reality of alternative fuels.”

But Heino Nau, coordinator – International Blue Economy for the European Commission, politely disagreed.

'We have to set ambitious standards'

“We have to see the big picture for a second. If we want to credibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions I think these interacting regulations are absolutely necessary. We have to set ambitious standards to get out of our comfort zone,” Nau said.

A single cruise fuel solution?

Part of the big picture, said Andrew McKeran, chief commercial officer Lloyd's Register, is that the cruise industry has 570 to 580 ships in a maritime industry of 48,000. “It’s smaller than some companies, for example, in the container ship world. I think we do need to talk about a (single) cruise fuel, because the industry’s not big enough to choose multiple fuels.

Others on the “Sustainability and Regulation” panel pointed to the broader sustainability campaign.

Sustainability goes beyond fuel

“It’s not only fuel,” said Ece Gursoy, chief legal officer of Global Ports Holding. “There are other things immediately achievable that can be put in place,” such as self-sufficient ports, waste management, clean water measures, responsible sourcing and even modern slavery. “These are all measures that used to be taken into account.”

According to Michele Francioni, chief energy transition officer at MSC Cruises, lowering emissions is not only on the fuel side. “There are many, many other applications we can do where we already have technical solutions,” he said.