- Why Ships Need To Change
- Carbon Emissions
- Protecting Marine Life
- Labor Shortages
- Government Regulations
- Future Methods Of Propulsion
- Green Fuels
- Return To Sail Ships
- Innovations In Ship Operations
- Autonomous Driving
- Loading And Unloading
- Key Takeaways
Shipping is an industry set for several major shakeups over the coming decades. Supply lines and port congestion have already made profound changes to the industry in recent years; however, the ships themselves are a key component of shipping due to a major shakeup.
Engineers and shippers are racing to find ways to reduce their carbon footprints and to meet the goal of achieving net zero in shipping in the coming years. As a result, several key innovations are needed to reduce the C02 output from ships to meet environmental regulations.
This piece will explore how ships are changing to keep up with new demands, regulations, and requirements and what the future holds for ships themselves.
Why Ships Need to Change
Before we get into the details of how ships are expected to change in the coming years, it's worthwhile first addressing why changes are needed to ships. See below for some of the primary motivations for innovations in the maritime industry:
Carbon emissions are at the heart of the coming changes to commercial ships. Shipping accounts for about 3% of the global emissions released yearly, and shipping companies need to make changes to reduce this figure. While shipping is not as much of a carbon polluter as the construction industry, ships still significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
To reduce carbon emissions released by ships, alternative propulsion methods are being explored and tested to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels in the industry.
Protecting Marine Life
The noise generated by propellers and large ships as they move through the water can disrupt marine life, particularly mammals that use highly sensitive navigation techniques. As a result, ship developers are looking for ways to reduce the noise and disruptions caused by vessels as they operate, which in turn will alleviate much of the harm caused to marine wildlife.
The issue of labor shortages applies more to the shipping industry as a whole rather than the ships themselves. However, the vessels will need to undergo some innovations if the issue of labor shortages is to be effectively addressed.
Labor shortages in shipping are primarily due to harsh working conditions and limited opportunities for career progression, both of which are issues with the industry, not the ships used in the industry. Despite this fact, the problem can be addressed by adding autonomous features to shipping that can lighten the workload for the limited labor force in the industry.
Many major governments of developed nations around the globe have pledged to regulate their industries to reach carbon neutrality (where no excess carbon is released by a company to a country's operations).
To achieve this goal, innovations are needed to reduce the energy consumed in everything from how the ship moves in the water, how electricity is generated on board from electrical systems, and even how the loading and unloading of goods transpires.
Future Methods of Propulsion
A major factor in why ships need to evolve is climate change. As such, shipbuilders must include innovative methods of powering ships that use either less or no fossil fuels to meet the net-zero goals set by governments and maritime regulators.
Green fuels are fuels that produce fewer emissions or sometimes no emissions at all. Green fuels include everything from innovative engine designs that emit lower amounts of certain greenhouse gasses like methane, which are particularly potent greenhouse gasses.
Hydrogen is another green fuel that has a promising future in large commercial vessels; however, hydrogen-powered vehicles have been promised for decades with few practical results to show for it.
Another form of green fuel is nuclear energy. Some vessels are already powered by nuclear power, like military submarines, but nuclear reactors are very expensive to install and maintain, so widespread use may not be a practical replacement for internal combustion engines.
Return to Sail Ships
Sometimes, you need to look back to the past to innovate for the future. In the 19th century, ships sailed, harnessing the wind's power as a propulsion method. In those days, a large sail, a big sheet of fabric, was attached to a mast, but this method lacked the power to pull an enormous cargo vessel.
However, in the modern application of wind-powered technology, ships will release a huge sail attached to a cable that extends 100 yards or more into the air. At this height, the sail can reach high-speed winds that can pull even the largest of modern cargo ships.
This return to wind-powered ships will not be a viable option at all times, and it also won't be able to do all of the propulsion work, however, the technology can reduce the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport goods across the sea significantly.
Innovations in Ship Operations
Figuring out what the future holds for ships extends beyond just powering the ships. Innovation is also needed to improve the efficiency and safety on board ships themselves. See below for some of the innovations expected for how ships operate:
The Internet of Things (IoT) is an exciting technology that digitizes different items and components so they can communicate with each other and operates similarly to how the Internet connects computers. IoT technology will revolutionize inventory and time management.
IoT on ships can allow for safer working conditions and more accurate management of goods and passengers on board. IoT can ease the issues attributed to labor shortages, alleviate port congestion, and allow shippers and customers more insight into delivery times for goods.
Autonomous driving is coming for all sectors of transport. While much of the interest in autonomous vehicles has rightfully gone towards autonomous cars and trucks, autonomous boating is just around the corner.
If successfully implemented, autonomous driving will reduce the cost of sailing ships, reduce the number of accidents involved, and potentially offer huge cost savings to customers and shippers alike.
However, autonomous driving could cause further job losses as many seafarers are no longer needed to operate vessels.
Loading and Unloading
Loading and unloading thousands of 40-foot containers on and off a ship is highly expensive, time-consuming, and oftentimes dangerous. Automating the loading and unloading of goods is a key innovation for ships. These processes will be automated by onboard cranes and using the IoT and can alleviate the pressures associated with labor shortages and port congestion.
However, as always, when automation is introduced, it brings the risk of major job losses in the industry.
Ships are undertaking major innovations for the first time since introducing fossil fuels as a power source. These innovations are set to introduce more eco-friendly operations, reduce carbon emissions, make ships safer, and improve the overall efficiency of operations. However, these innovations are expected to be expensive and could result in many job losses in the industry.
The future of ships is bright, but it is not without concerns for workers, shippers, and customers alike.
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