OUR GREAT MINDS

    by Tina Olivero

    Knut Ørbeck-Nilseen: Nor-Shipping 2022 Thought Leader Interview

    The true fuel of the future

    Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO Maritime said,  “Everybody wants to cool the planet down, but not everyone is prepared to pay for it.” Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen isn’t the kind of man to get angry. The DNV Maritime chief speaks in considered tones with a natural, easy warmth. He radiates a calm authority highly befitting of someone charged with heading the world’s leading classification society. So, he’s certainly not angry, or even agitated, when addressing the issue of decarbonization, but it’s fair to say he’s a little frustrated. “We’re nowhere near reaching the ambitions laid out in the Paris Agreement and, in the aftermath of the IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) no one can deny the scale of the challenge ahead,” he says. “If we are to stand any chance of addressing the issue we must all change. And I’m not talking about shipping here, not in isolation at least, I’m talking about everyone – a structural, behavioural, fundamental, societal change. If we work together on this we can succeed. Stand alone.. and, well, that’s that.”

    Transition time 

    Ørbeck-Nilssen has stated his case in previous media outings.As an industry he believes we should embrace today’s available technologies as we investigate tomorrow’s green shipping solutions. LNG, for example, can cut emissions by as much as 15-25% and, as such, is a valuable transitional fuel. “It’s not perfect,” he notes, “but perfect should not be the enemy of good. Let’s get going!” He doesn’t like the term ‘race to zero’, as it implies winners and losers, instead believing we should work together (a recurrent theme) to investigate solutions and share knowledge as we plot a collective path forwards. And, in concrete terms on future fuels, Ørbeck-Nilssen sees ammonia and methanol as very viable deep-sea alternatives, but only if they’re sustainably sourced. “A failure to ensure that,” he notes, “negates the benefits. We need green fuels and for that we need help.” And it’s here where the conversation turns to show his true vision. 

    Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO Maritime

    Challenging convention 

    The frustration, if it can called that, seems in part to derive from the ‘outsider’ perspective that shipping has to do more.It does of course, but, as he points out, as the enabler for global trade, its 2-3% contribution to global CO2 emissions means it is only one small piece of the puzzle. And it can’t transform the whole picture alone.We need universal buy-in and support – something he illustrates with the case of consumer behaviour:“ Think about the early movers who are putting increased CAPEX on the table to fund vessels with alternative fuels (currently about 25% of newbuild tonnage). To do this they need the support of their shareholders, the backing of banks, and the commitment from charterers and cargo owners to utilize these ships.“ But because of the costs involved they need higher rates. So, a cargo owner has to pay this and that will most likely drive up the cost of the end product. Will consumers that have grown accustomed to hunting for bargains online – racing to the bottom in terms of cost – pay inflated prices for products they know have been transported sustainably? Are we, all of us, prepared to pay more to avert global warming?”The answer of course should be an emphatic ‘yes’, but, in an age of disposable consumerism, is it… really? And here lies Ørbeck-Nilssen’s point.We all have a vital role to play in this transition. Everyone – from shipowner, to politician, to banker, to businessperson, to scientist, to consumer – has to contribute if we are to change. And that’s especially true on fuels. 

    Supporting change 

    Ørbeck-Nilssen says huge technological leaps forward have been made in what he sees as a “maritime renaissance” with digital innovations and new onboard systems driving enhanced efficiency. But the development in fuels, and chiefly infrastructure and supply, are lagging behind. “Think of ammonia as an example,” he says. “The technology to facilitate meaningful deep-sea adoption will probably come online in the next three to five years, and that’s great news. But if we don’t have fuel (and by that I mean sustainable fuel) in the right places, in the right quantity, at the right prices to make sense in a competitive shipping market, then this clean fuel will not fulfil its potential.“ So, we need collaboration from policymakers, energy suppliers, the broader transport sector (which must also transform), and other industries across the board to make it happen. “This is a difficult undertaking, but it’s essential to get the foundations in place or we can’t build towards the future we want to see.”

    Accessing expertise

    Despite mentioning a handful of alternative fuels by name, Ørbeck-Nilssen is careful not to identify any as maritime ‘silver bullets’. Flexibility and fuel ready solutions are crucial for owners, he opines, as we work towards the right sustainable energy mix, which will be different for different segments and operations. The key is knowing what is available, what fits vessel profiles, and what developments are on the horizon. No one investing today (and there are around 1,000 ships a year expected to be built per annum to 2030) wants to be saddled with stranded assets tomorrow. Here he refers to DNVs vast array of expert reports – such as the recently published Energy Transition Outlook (ETO) and Maritime Forecast to 2050 – as valuable resources for diverse industry stakeholders. “As an organization we’re keen to engage with people facing difficult choices – to help facilitate and investigate the optimal solutions for a carbon neutral future,” he stresses. “And that’s where I see our main role, bringing people together – across disciplines, across sectors – as a kind of collaboration platform, or hub. In a sense that’s what we do day-to-day for maritime now; linking yards, owners, manufacturers, authorities and regulators to ensure quality, safety and progress. Thanks to the nature of DNV, which also has a firm footprint in other industries, such as renewables and oil and gas, we can help enable knowledge sharing and innovation across industry boundaries. That’s a real boon.“We are here to support and accelerate the transition. So, my message is, please, engage with us on this.” 

    Next stop Nor-Shipping 

    Ørbeck-Nilssen has Nor-Shipping 2022, taking place 10-13 January, in his crosshairs as a key engagement platform. It’s arenas such as this, he notes, that offer up the meeting places that sow the seeds of collaboration. And, after 18 months glued to our screens, we need that more than ever. “It’s difficult to just ‘bump in’ to someone on a Teams meeting,” he smiles. “Put it this way… you know who you know and you reach out to them. But, you don’t know who you don’t know. Now, imagine all that knowledge, all those perspectives, and all the opportunities you might be missing out on. So, how do you connect with the unknown? “Well, an event like Nor-Shipping – walking the corridors, attending the stands, listening to discussions and conferences, and socialising. Inspiration and innovation can come from unexpected places,” he adds, “and, given what’s ahead, we need to open up to those possibilities. That’s why I think arenas like this are so vital to our industry. They are where the world comes together.”Something, he reiterates in conclusion (but not frustration) we must do. “Collaboration is the true fuel of the future,” he smiles. “Zero emissions, efficient, limitless in supply, and completely free – it’s maybe the only thing that will get us all to our carbon neutral destination.“I look forward to taking that journey, together.”  

    Source(s) and Image(s): Nor-Shipping

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