Costas Apodiacos of Piraeus-based Blue Planet Shipping has taken the pioneering step, in partnership with leading Anglo-Greek rotor sail specialists Anemoi, to use the force of wind
as a renewable energy source on bulk carrier AFROS which
was named ‘Ship of the Year’ at the Lloyd’s List Greek Shipping
Awards 2018. In this interview C. Apodiacos explains that the use
of a renewable energy source could be the best remedy for both reducing dangerous emissions and avoiding the possible
climate-change consequences of burning fossil fuels like LNG
Interview by Eugenia Anastassiou
As opposed to using other, more ‘popular’ alternatives, such as liquid nitrogen gas (LNG) that other shipping companies are considering, what compelled you to build the MV AFROS using Flettner Rotors?
There were several reasons for outfitting the AFROS with rotor sails. The first being to validate laboratory predictions on the performance of Flettner Rotors; the second was to test the durability of the design and the materials used and thirdly to demonstrate the practicability of the whole system under the harshest of operating conditions on a working vessel.
The best remedy
I am pleased to say that all the aforementioned criteria have now been validated and this is a positive result for the development of Flettner Rotor technology. The reason for opting for a renewable energy source, as opposed to choosing to go down the LNG route, is that I’m a firm believer in “leaving it in the ground.” I think this is the best remedy for both reducing dangerous emissions and avoiding the possible climate-change consequences of burning fossil fuels like LNG.
How did the trialling of the vessel go in terms of saving fuel, cost eff ectiveness, and the environmental impact?
Of course, reducing emissions is a consequence of burning less fuel which in turn results in saving money. Financial payback is estimated to be between five to seven years depending on the price of fuel. However, we should also consider another important cost here: what price do we put on the environment? As we have seen with the latest regulations to reduce sulphur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) in fuel emissions, making it financially viable for shipping operators is not a primary considerationor regulators. However, by using the AFROS as an example we show that byusing the wind as a source of power we not only have a sustainable solution, but also a practical and conomically beneficial option.
What feedback did you receive from the captain and those working on the vessel? How diff erent is using wind power in a bulk carrier from conventional operations?
Facing and overcoming shipboard challenges is crucial for the smooth operationsof a vessel. For example, we had to show the captain that the rotor sails would not interfere with navigation or cargo operations. In fact when in port, the rotors can be moved along the ship’s deck, preventing any impact on port operations. At the same time, another issue to consider is course settings, which should factor in winds that are favourable to the rotors’ operation, rather like in the past, in the age of the sail. Similarly, the chief engineer must be made aware of the consequences of the rotors’ operation in terms of increased electrical load and how to balance this cost against the power saving to the main engine. Having said that, operation can be fully automated and it would include real-time remote monitoring by our technicians ashore. So, in terms of the other demands being placed on the ship’s crew, operating the rotors is relatively simple.
AFROS: Ship of the Year 2018
What was the reaction of international shipping organisations, who must be watching these developments with great interest?
To be honest, reaction has been muted, but it’s early days yet. However, the AFROS was named ”Ship of the Year” at the Lloyd’s List Greek Shipping Awards 2018 and it certainly attracted plenty of interest in the ports it visited.
At the moment, there is much controversy surrounding the debate about the way the maritime industry is tackling sulphur oxide (SOx) reduction in fuel emissions. What are your views on this subject?
This debate stems from the recent IMO directive for shipping to achieve 0.5% reduction in the amount of SOx by early 2020. One way to attainthis goal is by either installing exhaust gas cleaning systems in ships, known as scrubbers, which ‘“clean” the emissions before they are released into the atmosphere—they are equivalent to ”catalytic converters” in cars—or by burning low sulphur fuel. Paradoxically, the window for fitting scrubbers into ships is now closed, simply because there are not enough of hem to go around. Even more concerning for the industry is that we don’t know if there will be enough fuel, which the regulators deem compliant to meet demand. Even assuming that there is suffi cient supply, there are unresolved issues about the quality of the fuel, which could adversely affect the safe operation of the ship’s equipment. This is a prime example of how well-intentioned regulators pass laws without due care and consideration and in this case they have really” messed up” in their task. Hopefully they will do a better job next time and will also look to tackle CO2 mitigation in a serious manner.
Not a cheap option
The maritime industry would be forgiven for being sceptical towards the idea that wind propulsion is the ‘shining hope’ for emissions reduction; how do you persuade them that by, ironically, ‘going back’ to wind power we are in fact pushing forward?
Ship operators are right to be sceptical because any new technology (and, if I may add, any new regulation for that matter) must primarily demonstrate that it not dangerous to the safety of the ship, or the lives of the crew. Operational matters onboard which were addressed in an earlier question are also relevant. The fact that the design, build, and installation of Flettner Rotors on the AFROS was done by a ship operator should put other shipping companies at ease on this fundamental issue. At the same time fi tting rotors on your ship is not a cheap option; so, one must be careful to assess the costs of installation and operation, against the likely benefits.
In your opinion, what measures should shipping companies be looking at to help the marine environment?
It really comes down to personal beliefs, and that goes for everyone; from the assistant cook right up to the ship’s owner. Education is key to more people being aware of the damage we can wreak on the environment by our lack of thought For all the negativity, it must be noted that the shipping industry is probably the cleanest industry on the planet with regards to protection of the marine environment. Regulations exist for the disposal of rubbish, cargo residues, human waste, waste from the fuel treatment processes, treatment of ballast and bilge water, hull paint specifi cations, and even down to the type of lubricating oil used in the stern tube in case of leakages. Of course, there is always more that can be done. For nstance, ships can reduce their speed in areas where marine life is vulnerable, but on the whole the industry is on the right track in its environmental awareness. I would just like to add one more point on this: in many ways our small planet is just like a ship; we can’t be too careful in the way we treat it!
New technologies-new challenges
What do you see in the future of shipping in the 21st century in terms of new technology and environmental practices coming into the industry?
New technologies are already increasing efficiency in many areas of marine transportation as well as benefi ting the health and welfare of the crew, however they also create new challenges. For example, the remote monitoring of ships’ equipment is relatively benign, but taking the next step, advancing to remote control could bring opportunities for hackers, with unknown worrying consequences. In future, technology could be applied universally to schedule arrival times at ports, which would save fuel and ship waiting time. Other developments in the pipeline could be adding emissions’ monitoring to position and speed reports. Shipping companies and the industry in general will willingly adopt technology that enables an improvement in competitiveness in many instances this is often benefi cial to the environment. However, having said that, great care and forethought must be applied when considering technologies and regulations designed only to benefit the environment, to avoid doing more harm than good.
How rotor sail technology works
As part of the UN’s programme to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to levels prohibiting temperatures to exceed 2° C by 2050, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) took the momentous decision to include shipping in the 2015 Paris Agreement, last April. This motion has led the maritime industry to take measures towards finding and implementing methods of lowering the emission of greenhouse gases, within the frame of the UN/IMO mandated eff ort to preserve the environment. For one Greek shipping operator this means going ‘back in time’ using wind and sails as a possible solution to this issue, by installing and trialling a Flettner Rotor system on a commercial dry bulk cargo vessel, for the fi rst time. Rotor sail technology is not new; it was fi rst deployed in 1924 by its inventor, the German engineer Anton Flettner, on his schooner the ‘Buckau’, but it was never fully developed for commercial maritime purposes. The way it works is that the rotors or ‘sails’, which are cylindrical, spin using an electric motor, which utilises an aerodynamic phenomenon known as the Magnus Eff ect to provide additional propulsion to the vessel by harnessing wind power. When rotor sails are installed as an auxiliary power source on fuel-powered vessels, the propulsive eff ect of the rotors helps to reduce fuel consumption, thus lowering harmful exhaust emissions. Costas Apodiacos of Piraeus-based Blue Planet Shipping has taken the pioneering step, in partnership with leading Anglo-Greek rotor sail specialists Anemoi, to commission bulk carrier AFROS to be fi tted with Flettner Rotor technology. This ground-breaking vessel took its maiden voyage last year and its deployment demonstrated that this innovative use of a renewable energy source on board could be a viable option in meeting the challenges of working bulk carriers conducting business worldwide; as well as proving that it can work for the sustainable future of shipping.
*Costas Apodiacos was born to Greek parents, in London, where he was raised and went to school. He studied economics at Manchester University. Between 1978 and 2015, he worked in London-based shipping company Victoria Steamship. He now lives in Greece and has an interest in Blue Planet Shipping. His main hobby outside of shipping is the protection of the marine environment.