Improving fuel efficiency: An imperative for inland ships of Bangladesh

Goods are transported by water crafts in almost all over the world. This is especially true for transporting large amounts of cargo over long distances. The most important reason is the low energy consumption and subsequent overall lower cost. This cost is, in fact, a fraction of the cost that would be incurred by any other mode. However, rails and roads are in large use of inland transportation of goods in many parts of the world. Absence of waterways is the only reason. Even with a huge advantage in terms of fuel consumption, the industry is on a constant fight for reducing fuel consumption further. The need is not only economic but for environmental reason as well.

On the other hand, the economic competitiveness of the products of any country is a major index of the competitiveness of the products the country. Cost of transportation is a major element in this matter. With rapidly expanding economy and inroad into world market, it is the time for Bangladesh to look into all avenues of competitiveness away from low cost labor force.

Coming back to the issue of transportation cost and the natural advantage of Bangladesh with most intense network of waterways in the world, Bangladesh has the potential of benefitting from this natural blessing when it comes to the issue of economy of transportation and subsequent cost of the product. Unfortunately, this is an issue that has never been seriously dealt with. This is certainly high time. Before elaborating further on the issue, let us look briefly how the technological community of the world is currently looking at the issue of fuel efficiency in maritime transportation.

Search for more fuel efficient maritime transportation

In the backdrop of climate change, there are growing concerns and efforts towards reducing fossil fuel consumption in different activities. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations organ for maritime transport has initiated efforts and legislations to ensure that ships do not burn more fuel than the minimum required. Details of the same can be found in the link MediaCentre/HotTopics/GHG/Pages/default.aspx. The document states that vessels below 5000 DWT do utilize fuel inefficiently compared to larger ones.

According to the Green House Gas study conducted by IMO, ships engaged in international trade in 1996 contributed about 1.8% of the total worlds CO2 emissions. At the present trend, this percentage could go two or three times higher from the present by the year 2050.

In order to control this CO2 emission from shipping, IMO has developed the first ever global CO2 reduction index in the world, known as’EEDI, Energy Efficiency Design Index. The basic formulation of EEDI is based on the ratio of total CO2 emission per ton-mile.

The purposes of IMO’s EEDI are:

–           To achieve a minimum energy efficiency level for new ships;

–           To stimulate continued technical development of all the components influencing the fuel efficiency of a ship;

–           To separate the technical and design based measures from the operational and commercial measures; and

–           To enable a comparison of the energy efficiency of individual ships to similar ships of the same size which could have undertaken the same transport work (moved the same cargo).

Along with IMO, different other organizations, authorities have their own emission control indexes and methods. Several classification societies, port authorities, research institutions have been working on this to make an environment friendly ship. In addition there are multiple approaches within the same organization to improve overall fuel efficiency in ship operation. For example IMO has also developed to another tool for improving fuel efficiency in operation of the ship called Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) and Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator (EEOI). While the EEDI is implemented in the design stage of the ship, the SEEMP and EEOI are meant to improve the efficiency in operation of the ship. The benefits of EEDI can be derived only in new ships but not in existing ones. The other two tools (SEEMP and EEOI) is meant to optimize fuel consumption of the ships within the constraints of the design of the ships to which she is already built. A brief description of these tools is presented below.

The Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) is an operational measure that establishes a mechanism to improve the energy efficiency of a ship in a cost-effective manner.  The SEEMP also provides an approach for shipping companies to manage ship and fleet efficiency performance over time using, for example, the Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator (EEOI) as a monitoring tool.  The guidance on the development of the SEEMP for new and existing ships incorporates best practices for fuel efficient ship operation, as well as guidelines for voluntary use of the EEOI for new and existing ships. The EEOI enables operators to measure the fuel efficiency of a ship in operation and to gauge the effect of any changes in operation, e.g. improved voyage planning or more frequent propeller cleaning, or introduction of technical measures such as waste heat recovery systems or a new propeller.  The SEEMP urges the ship owner and operator at each stage of the plan to consider new technologies and practices when seeking to optimize the performance of a ship.

These measures will make their own contribution to minimizing fuel consumption in ships as presented in the figure. One can note that EEDI implemented in the design stage of the ship possesses much higher potential of achieving fuel efficiency compared to implementation of SEEMP tools during operation stage. Thus, designing should be the cardinal consideration in achieving fuel efficiency.

Further, IMO has issued as set of guidelines on technical and operational measures for achieving fuel efficiency in ships. These are

w         2012 Guidelines on the method of calculation of the attained Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for new ships,

w         2012 Guidelines for the development of a Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP),

w         2012 Guidelines on survey and certification of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI),

w         Guidelines for calculation of reference lines for use with the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI)

All these are ample demonstration of the seriousness with which the global maritime world has taken up the issue of reducing fuel consumption in shipping.

The case of inland ships of Bangladesh

Now let us come to the state of fuel efficiency in our inland ships, a very important element of our national economy.

It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 inland and coastal ships in the Bangladesh. This figure is in addition to the mechanized country boats numbering more than 100,000. In fact, water transport is the main mode of transportation of goods in the inland and coastal waterways of the country.

These water transport crafts have developed indigenously without application for formal knowledge of naval architecture. Thus there have been no serious efforts to optimize the fuel consumption. In fact, the energy efficiency in water transport has never been studied. Obviously, there are many opportunities and options for significantly improving the fuel consumption in these vessels.

A research was conduced by one of the present authors at the Chalmers Institute of Technology, Sweden, one of the leading academic research organizations of the world. Working on EEDI, it appeared that the fuel inefficiency index increases rapidly with decrease in size of the ship and increasing very rapidly in ships lower than 50000 DWT. This low drop is especially steep for ships below 5000 DWT.

Details of the study can be studied in the following link

Ironically, the inland ships in Bangladesh do belong to the size category having the poorest performance in terms of fuel efficiency. Moreover, because of the poor design in all aspects (hull design, engine selection, propulsion design etc.) the actual state of affair in the inland ships of Bangladesh must be extremely poor. There is no realization of the problem only because no one has evaluated the same.

Going through the IMO documents, one will find that the current regulations are aimed to be implemented in larger ships; much larger than the inland ships of Bangladesh. There is currently hardly any effort to improve the fuel efficiency in smaller ships. There are several elements of the issue which deserve discussion from our perspective.

Bulk of the fuel consumed in global shipping is by larger ships and improvement in such ships has the potential of achieving reduced Greenhouse Gas emission on a global basis. The extent of the benefits will justify the cost of the research required for developing useful and implementable regulations. Moreover, in terms of design, larger ships have close resemblance all over the world which means it is easy to draw a baseline and that what is best is similar to almost all ships. Design of smaller vessels have strong local elements incorporated into it and thus will vary from place to place. Because of this reason, the same tool will not fit properly in smaller ships from different places and services.  However, it is obvious that gradually, smaller ships will be indicted into the regulations of IMO.

However there appears to be enough justification for attempts to improve fuel efficiency in our inland ships. An investigation will reveal that the inland/coastal cargo ships are very similar in characteristics. There is an obvious reason. They are all plying in the same water, transporting almost same cargo, operated by crew with similar training and from same population etc. An evaluation of these ships and subsequent attempt for improvement will yield significant dividend.

Someone may ask what improvements have taken place or is taking place in inland ships of other countries. Cannot we benefit from their works? The answer is very simple. No other country in the world is blessed with such an intense inland waterway network and thus inland transportation system of no other country is so much dependent on water transport. In the recent decades, European countries have been making greater use of inland waterways and many researches are being conducted. We may make some use of their research outcomes but it will be imprudent to totally depend on such research outcomes. We need to study our fleet and try to develop fuel efficient ships that will be most appropriate for our application considering socio-economic and technical factors.

The areas where improvement may lead to reduction in fuel consumption have been identified as follows

Speed optimization

Optimum trim

Hull resistance optimization

Main and auxiliary engine optimization

Heat recovery

Cargo heating and insulation

Accommodation energy optimization

Use of renewable energy

Training and awareness/

Because of the characteristics of our inland transportation and inland ships, working in all of these aspects in neither necessary nor will be useful. We can perhaps focus on speed and trim optimization, hull resistance optimization and training as well as awareness.

The present state and future direction

There is no data or guess/estimate available on the amount of fuel used for inland transportation in Bangladesh. A very crude estimate indicates a figure perhaps not less than 100,000 tons per year. It is the contention of the author that a fuel saving of up to 40% could be possible with hypothetically with all ships built to proper design and up to 15% will be possible if the existing ships are modified, improved and operated judiciously. This represents a saving of about Tk. 1200 crore, not to mention the benefits to the environment.

The present government has taken up quite few environmental initiatives. One of such initiative is creation of an authority for renewable energy and energy optimization. We would expect the authority identifies this particular issue as one of its first initiatives. The benefits derived will improve the economic competitiveness of the products of the county both in export and also in domestic market.

Before closing, we would like to cite one example of the potential of fuel saving inalnd shipping. An experimental project was undertaken the be Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) during 1989-92 aimed at improving the country boats. The project was jointly funded by the Dutch and Norwegian Governments. Under the project, it was practically demonstrated that by improving the mechanization of the boats, a fuel saving of up to 45% was possible and 25% would be a modest target. There are reasons to expect good results from inland ships as well.