Maritime businesses in the Liverpool City Region can lead the world in decarbonisation innovation, but they need to be backed with public investment. Reporting by Tony McDonough
Maritime industry leaders are pushing for more government support to accelerate the decarbonisation of the sector.
Leaders of Britain’s £116 billion maritime sector gathered at Liverpool Town Hall for the Mersey Maritime Maritime Exchange conference. They discussed and debated the future of an industry worth £5 billion a year on Merseyside alone.
Organized by Mersey Maritime and Maritime UK, the event featured a series of panel discussions, one of which was on the environment. Panelists expressed optimism and excitement at the prospect of world-leading projects and technology being developed here in the UK.
But this sense of opportunity was tempered by frustration that the government was not yet allocating the necessary resources to reach that potential.
In March, the UK government offered £206 million of funding to accelerate research and development of clean maritime technologies. The clean maritime competition is designed to encourage zero emission shipping technologies.
Mersey Maritime CEO Chris Shirling-Rooke acknowledged that this was much more than had previously been offered. But he, along with Peter Aylott, maritime director of the UK Chamber of Shipping, said this was still not enough for what was needed.
“We really need more infrastructure,” said Peter. “The money proposed so far will not be enough. The industry has to really come together in a valuable way. We cannot just sit back and wait for the government to act. We have to keep poking them.”
One of the most exciting projects discussed during the panel was the Bibby Marine WaveMaster Zero C project. Bibby Marine is a division of the Bibby Line Group which has operated in Liverpool for over 200 years.
Kevin Brown, Bibby Marine Contracts and Business Leader, described how the project could be revolutionary in terms of its impact on ship propulsion. The company currently operates two Service Operating Vessels (SOVs) that have entered service in recent years.
These SOVs are floating power plants that support offshore installations such as wind farms and oil and gas fields. They will carry up to 90 people for weeks and have very large power needs.
Each vessel generates 6-7 MW of power. Over the course of a year, both ships will use enough energy to power 800 homes and 18 million miles of car travel. This adds up, Kevin said, to about 14,000 tons of CO2 a year.
“For the last two years we have been looking at how we can improve these boats,” said Kevin. “And we are also looking to create a new generation of cleaner vessels. We want to build the first zero carbon ship in this sector”.
With a grant from the government project, MarRI-UK, Bibby Marine, together with a number of industry partners such as shipbuilder Damen and Lloyds Register, has carried out research and development work as part of WaveMaster Zero C to look at a new generation of boats. that use alternative fuels.
These include hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO), green methanol, all-electric, and hydrogen, gas/liquid. Kevin added: We passionately believe we can pull this off.
This sentiment was later echoed on the Exchange when Bibby Line chairman Sir Michael Bibby said it was critical that the government provide seed funding to turn the idea into reality. He said: “We need to be the leaders in this technology and we need to do it now.
Also on the panel was Ariel Edesess, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) Lead at the Liverpool law firm Hill Dickinson. The practice is a recognized leader in the maritime legal sector.
She said the company’s goal was not only to look at different ways to reduce its own emissions, but also to help its customers “in their own net-zero travel.” She added: “This has been a learning curve for me. How do we help shipping companies navigate new fuels when some may not even exist yet?
Ariel highlighted the importance of climate literacy. It wasn’t just about looking for ways to reduce emissions, he explained, it was about understanding the issues and challenges and communicating them as widely as possible.
“Sea freight transports 95% of our goods around the world. Yes, we need to look at engineering solutions, but understanding the problem is also one of our biggest challenges. We have to look at this holistically.”
Joe Parsons, Senior Environmental Consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV, an engineering consultancy specializing in working with maritime clients on major projects. He said: “There are many reasons to be optimistic about decarbonisation.
“I think people in the maritime sector have a good understanding of the challenges. All the companies we work with are setting emissions targets. The government and policymakers are beginning to push for change. Some people think they are not doing enough, but it is working.
“Progress happens faster when it includes multiple stakeholders. Finances are a big problem. There are so many different technologies out there and no one wants to invest heavily in what turns out to be the wrong one.
“There have to be zero emission ships in operation by 2030 and these need to be rapidly scaled up by the 2040s. The whole sector needs to work together on this. Not just in the UK, but all over the world.”