As the shipping industry struggles to find ways to cut back emissions, three companies are designing prototype technologies to charge ships from offshore wind farms.
Offshore wind “is a really opportune place to begin looking at the challenge of decarbonizing shipping,” Stuart Barnes of Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult told Canary Media.
Shipping giant Maersk has already gained praise for its ambitious net-zero policies. It also got behind one of the first projects pursuing wind-to-ship energy in January, with a new venture called Stillstorm that plans to use buoys to develop an offshore charging station.
The buoys have been designed to “eliminate offshore idle vessel emissions” and “facilitate clean offshore charging across multiple maritime sectors,” Stillstorm says.
The venture is building a charging buoy prototype it plans to install in the North Sea sometime between July and September. A transmission line will carry electricity from the wind farm’s land-based infrastructure out to the buoys. After a six- to nine-month trial period, the company plans to deploy the units on a commercial scale aside 50 to 100 ports by 2028, reports Canary Media.
While Stillstorm’s buoys are designed to power idling cargo ships, another company, Oasis Marine Power, is targeting smaller vessels servicing offshore wind farms. Charging these ships is easier because they generally make short, frequent trips between ports and offshore farms, compared to ocean-crossing container ships. Oasis completed a week-long sea trial in January, and plans to hook buoys to an offshore wind farm during an additional six-month trial period.
England-based marine services company MJR Power & Automation is pursuing a third concept in partnership with Catapult, ship operator Tidal Transit, and an unnamed offshore wind developer. The joint effort is developing a system to charge electric service vessels by plugging them directly into the base of an offshore wind farm.
“As the partners see it, a crew transfer vessel can dock at the turbine. A multipronged plug then emerges and connects to the vessel, charging the battery system so the ship can spend more time at sea,” Canary Media says. A full demonstration in the North Sea this spring will test MJR’s prototype on a diesel-powered crew transfer vessel with added external batteries.
The companies all say a major objective for these projects is to ensure the buoys and extension cords are safe to use in a marine setting. But offshore charging could be a boon to the shipping industry for meeting net-zero targets, helping to offset the consumption of costly fuels like methanol and ammonia that currently factor prominently in shipping sustainability plans, Canary Media writes.
“Using electricity wherever you can just makes a tonne of sense,” said Sebastian Klasterer Toft, who manages the Stillstrom venture at Maersk Supply Service. “We see our service as part of an infrastructure that allows the transition to a net-zero offshore future.”