This article has been written for SuperYacht Times by guest author James Roy of Lateral Naval Architects.The future is closer than we think, in fact it is right now. The future is what we will do when we finish reading these words. It is a second away, a minute away, an hour away. The actions we take today are the future.
With this perspective in mind, how can we create a superyacht of the future, today? Which technologies can we employ to deliver on the known certainties of the future, and while avoiding obsolescence from the uncertainties we don’t?
The shipping, yachting and the marine industries have traditionally had a fairly easy ride when it comes to emissions, perhaps because of the fact that the polluting aspects of marine operations happen over the horizon, or under the water.
This has progressively changed in recent years, and via MARPOL more rigorous control of nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide emissions have been implemented, which has brought about drastic changes in the technology ships use. The banning of high sulphur fuel has driven the rise of liquified natural gas (LNG) fuelled ships, and new standards have challenged us to find advanced exhaust aftertreatment solutions. These technological developments in the face of tightening regulation prove that the marine industry is capable of changing in a sustainable economic way, given the right driving factors.The regulatory landscape is tightening further, not just on local pollutants such as emissions of nitrous oxides, sulphur and particulates, but also global emissions of carbon.
This creates drivers that will push us towards future decarbonisation of the marine industry, we call this the ‘Three R’s’.
Firstly, regulation will be a driver. Where public opinion becomes political will, legislation is formed and the regulatory framework will be put in place.
Currently, the member states of the IMO have set a target to reduce shipping’s carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2050 (based on 2008 levels). An interim roadmap of reductions was ratified on the 17th June this year at the 76th IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee.
At a more local level, regulations to ban carbon emissions altogether have been put in place. From 2026, the UNESCO Norwegian Fjords will ban the entrance of any vessel emitting carbon. It is highly probable that other areas of the world, so-called ‘bucket list’ locations that see high levels of traffic, will follow suit. This may include many cruising grounds of superyachts.
The second is revenue. In the commercial marine market, the drivers will be economic. Capitalism will push innovation in order to gain a competitive advantage, all in the interest of shareholder return.
However, there are currently very few commercial reasons for operators to use a zero carbon fuel. All current projects in this area are either supported by government subsidies or pilot projects. Whilst revenue earning ability is a non-issue, as a superyacht is (in the majority of the fleet) a leisure item, we can conclude that it is too early to commit to any one particular zero carbon fuel. We need to keep our research and development focused on a broad footprint.
The third is environmental responsibility. Many companies are getting ahead of the curve, not just because of regulations, or revenues, but because they want to be socially responsible, and have a sustainability policy at the heart of their business.Clients are already asking us to engineer, design and build yachts which can operate in a ‘leave no trace’ manner, perhaps even operate in a positive impact manner. Regardless of regulation we have a responsibility to advance science in pursuit of zero.
However, whilst it is possible to construct a zero emissions superyacht today, there is no global infrastructure to serve it. The key, we believe, is not to commit to one particular future solution today, but to pursue a future-proof strategy.
Future-proofing a superyacht is the process of anticipating the future to enable informed choices of layout, configuration, technology and specification that will avoid obsolescence within the intended lifespan of the yacht. There are many possible future fuel technologies that will lead to a zero emissions solution. We can strategise with certainty that an advanced all-electrical architecture is an enabler to the use of future fuels. At a fundamental level, this suggests a diesel-electric architecture.
We know with certainty that battery technology will advance to offer greater capability, which will, in future years, lead to improved system performance and reduced obsolesce. Additionally, a capability for emission-free operation is part of our strategy, which is best served via a battery-based solution. An advancement of diesel electric could utilise a self-charging hybrid solution (Lateral E-Hybrid).
It is certain that all possible future fuels are less energy dense than current fossil fuels. Future technologies will consume more space than those used today. Even when we have a zero carbon fuel, overall energy efficiency will be key to reducing size and weight. Firstly, this tells us that we need to pursue optimised platforms that operate in a fundamentally efficient solution space, via selection of principal dimensions, Gross Tonnage (proportional to weight) and operational parameters (speed envelope). Secondly, it tells us that we need to consider within the layout of technical, service and guest spaces how in-built flexibility for future adaptation will be achieved via strategising and scenario planning for probable future outcomes.One thing is clear, viewing the future as a distant event will lead us into inaction because with every step we take towards that future, it takes a step further away. If we can shift our thinking to living the future every day then we can bring more focus on action, today.
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