Green fuels, robust seafarer training: The way forward for Singapore maritime industry

If there is one person who knows how to drive the growth of the maritime industry on an upward trajectory, it would be Dr. Shahrin Osman. As DNV’s regional head of maritime advisory, and director of Maritime Decarbonization and Autonomy Center of Excellence (Singapore/Asia-Pacific), he recognizes the dynamic shifts in the sector, and understands the complexity of different issues. Osman believes the way forward is feasible green solutions and robust training. 

Dr. Shahrin Osman. Photo credit: DNV

What is one lesser-known fact about Singapore’s maritime industry that many Singaporeans may not know about? 

Compared to other industries, it is logical that maritime does not have as much visibility as others such as healthcare and finance. However, shipping is one of the most globally-connected sectors for Singapore. That is what makes shipping different. It is critical to Singapore because global activities are vigorously being performed by shipping entities – in particular ship owners and ship management companies which have strong regional and global business links.

What are some of the prominent issues that the maritime companies, shipowners, operators, and professionals face in today’s sector landscape?

One of the key aspects is certainly environmental concerns and regulations. We have to adhere to that of the International Maritime Organization. For example, in terms of the emissions, shipping has to comply and adopt actions which meet mandatory criteria and levels. 

This does not just serve the compliance aspect, but also the accountability to stakeholders, such as finance institutions with shipping portfolios, and the customers of shipping companies. The public now expects these big companies to report on the emissions, and finance entities need to update the shareholders on the emission portfolio.

Afterall, this is a business, and we are now talking to more and more stakeholders, especially the finance side. They want to understand the assets under their portfolio. This is why shipping companies are facing pressure from multiple points.

Please share the differences among using ammonia, methanol, and hydrogen as alternative fuels. 

We have been saying that in shipping decarbonization, there is no silver bullet. That means we cannot say one will be the permanent fuel. As the industry transforms, we are exposed to different needs depending on the geography and fuel availability. Among ammonia, methanol and hydrogen as alternative fuels, personally I feel ammonia is a good option because it is completely zero emission.

However, its downside is it is highly toxic. If it escapes into the atmosphere, those in the close vicinity could be severely affected. Plus, the technology itself is immature and still proves a challenge to work with. 

Similarly, green hydrogen can be fully zero emission. However, hydrogen has a low energy density. It means that you need significant storage space on board the ship to be able to store this molecule. But the technology itself is maturing. I believe there are now ships running on hydrogen fuel cells in Norway. You have hydrogen operating within the hovercraft or within short sea shipping.

For deep sea shipping, it will still be some time before hydrogen can be used. It is also a problem for long distance shipping because liquefied hydrogen runs at minus 252 degrees meaning from the start, cargo ships have to be built with the capability to store it. 

Then of course when you store hydrogen in large quantities, you will occupy the space that is meant for the cargo. It will also add a lot of weight on the ship. Ammonia on the other hand will not be so challenging as this fuel has a much better energy density which makes storage more manageable. 

When we talk about methanol, it is getting a lot of interest because the technology is mature at the moment. There are maybe slightly more than two dozen ships running on methanol. These are methanol carriers that are made to transform methanol, so they also run this methanol as fuel. 

In addition, it seems more feasible to manage. The only thing about green methanol is it is not totally zero carbon but carbon neutral – you need to include the carbon capture and carbon capture from direct air capture for the molecules to be considered green methanol.

Thus, the process of assessing or the process of producing green methanol will be more complex as compared to green hydrogen or ammonia because of the need to include carbon into that equation. That is why we call it carbon neutral.

Why has the number of vessels in operations and on orders having LNG and battery or battery-hybrid significantly grown in the last few years?

In terms of the bunkering infrastructure, LNG has matured a lot. About 10 years ago, only Norway had it; but now hubs such as Rotterdam and subsequently Singapore, and a few other locations, have bunkering facilities. Since the supply infrastructure and availability has increased, naturally there will be more vessels that have been built with capability to run on LNG. 

Besides the blending of digital and in-person training courses and the inclusion of technologies such as VR/AR in enhancing seafarer training, what other types of training verticals and resources will be provided in the future?

One area that we can also consider is cloud-based simulation and capabilities. For example, when you want to conduct a simulation of a voyage at a training center, you have to physically go down. It is impressive in terms of the training facilities such as the simulator that they use and it can be a waste that trainees will only be able to benefit from this if their schedules permit. 

If we can visualize the future where you can do this in the comfort of your home and at your own time as long as you have Wi-Fi, the speed at which seafarers become digitally-literate will be exponential. 

To enhance training effectiveness, it can even be customized or personalized to the individual. There is significant breadth for training resources and innovation to continue expanding. 

Top photo credit: iStock/ daphnusia

DNV published a study ‘The Future of Seafarers 2030 – A Decade of Transformation’ on 28 April 2023. It examines the key drivers transforming the maritime industry—particularly decarbonization and digitalization—and their impact on sea-going professionals in the lead-up to 2030. The study was co-sponsored by the Singapore Maritime Foundation and can be downloaded here

The best maritime news and insights delivered to you.

subscribe maritime fairtrade

Here's what you can expect from us:

  • Event offers and discounts
  • News & key insights of the maritime industry
  • Expert analysis and opinions on corruption and more