Wind powered ships could reduce fuel use by 30%
If the world’s shipping industry were a country, it would be the 6th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. With shipping emissions alone responsible for around 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths each year, freight ships are among the biggest gas guzzlers in the world, emitting 1.12 billion tonnes of CO² in 2008.
Despite their massive CO² output, sea freight is still considered to be one of the more efficient ways to transport goods. However, the fossil fuels they depend on are running out, prompting designers to look into more ecologically friendly designs.
Ship designers are looking into a variety of different methods to decrease the fuel consumption of these goliaths of the sea, including narrowing the hull to create a more streamlined design, replacing bunker fuel with liquid gas or encouraging ships to travel more slowly.
One of the most revolutionary areas of search, however, is looking to our ancestors to utilise one of the oldest sources of power- wind.
Earlier this year, the University of Tokyo developed a model of their eco-friendly freighter, the ‘UT Wind Challenger, a normal freight ship which features 164 ft telescoping sails. The aluminium and fibre-reinforced plastic sails would rise above the deck when wind conditions are good, and are hoped to cut fuel consumption by around 30 percent.
An alternative ship which is already being tested had been designed by B9 Shipping (pronounced benign), part of the B9 Energy Group which is based in Northern Ireland.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce biogas engine, the B9 ship has three masts, which rise to a height of 55 metres, the height of a 14-story building. The ship, which is designed to use no fossil fuels, is the brain child of researchers at the University of Southampton.
According to a founder of the project, Diane Gilpin, there is an economic case for deploying the B9 ship on certain trading routes. The next step is to seek financing for a full-size ship, which would cost $45 million to build.
This new technology should appeal to chartering companies and ship owners, who currently have to stump up astronomical amounts for bunker fuel, which has risen in price by 600 percent in the last ten years.
Several restrictions are also being phased in to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by the shipping industry. In addition to this, a new rule which becomes effective this month, states that only low-sulphur oil can be used in North American waters, which costs 60 percent more than bunker fuel.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector