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One of the priorities of the tugboat operation and towing industry is to meet the growing challenge of reducing emissions, as owners come under increasing pressure from authorities and port operators to reduce emissions. emissions without affecting safety and performance.

Early adopters see this as an opportunity to invest in low emission tugs to gain more business from environmentally conscious shipowners. Some tugboat owners have invested in scanning technologies to remotely monitor operations and improve fleet management.

A privileged few have tested technologies for remote operations to improve security and gain experience from semi-autonomous operations.

Biofuels as a short-term alternative fuel

As tugboat owners seek to reduce emissions from their fleets, a short-term alternative to diesel is to use biofuels, which can be used for four-stroke, medium, and high-speed tug engines. Homeowners are taking this initiative, undertaking rapid renovations to enable them to adopt these fuels.

In the UK, Svitzer is converting its fleet of harbor tugs in the ports of London and Medway to run on biofuels as part of its drive to become carbon neutral.

This subsidiary of AP Moller-Maersk uses fuel derived from used cooking oils on 10 tugs supporting the mooring and undocking of ships at container and LNG terminals along the River Thames and in North Kent . These tugs have been converted to run on carbon neutral Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) biofuel instead of marine fuel oil.

Using HVO, Svitzer offers Ecotow to its customers in London and Medway. It also offers Ecotow to global customers, giving them the opportunity to integrate fossil fuel towing elsewhere in their value chain. Svitzer said Ecotow could unlock 90% CO2 reduction of Scope 3 emissions from its towing operations.

This is a viable solution for the rest of the marine industry to use in their effort to reduce emissions. The tugs are already operating with almost zero sulfur emissions. Tugs built from 2021 to operate in emission control areas will have propulsion that meets IMO or United States Environmental Protection Agency Tier III emissions requirements, significantly eliminating emissions. NOx and particulate matter from engine emissions. But even these higher requirements do not solve the long-term problem of reducing greenhouse gases from tugboat emissions.

Alternative fuels for the long term

Biofuels are short-term measures to reduce air pollution, but the supply of sustainable resources is limited before demand exceeds supply. In the long term, tugboat owners should test and switch to alternative fuels, preferably those already available and tested.

The Port of Antwerp is a leader in the investment and testing of alternative fuels for towing operations, as it seeks to become a bunkering hub. She is involved in the EU-funded Fastwater project to modernize three port service vessels to use methanol. It is also a partner in the Hydrotug project with CMB.Tech and Anglo Belgian Corp, to develop a hydrogen-powered harbor tug. These are expected to enter service in 2022.

In the United States, a consortium of companies is designing the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered, battery-powered inland towing vessel in the United States. This will use methanol as a hydrogen carrier due to its easy on-board storage and adequate supply.

Maritime Partners has signed a memorandum of understanding with ABB, Elliott Bay Design Group and e1 Marine to develop a methanol and battery powered tug for domestic operations in the United States.

In Japan, NYK will test one of the world’s first ammonia-powered tugs, with classification society partners ClassNK and IHI Power Systems. This project will move into a construction phase in 2022, ready to be tested once completed. LNG continues to be a viable and readily available option. It was selected primarily where tugs assist gas carriers at LNG export terminals.

Sanmar has been awarded contracts to build three LNG-powered escort tugs for a production and export terminal in British Columbia, Canada.

HaiSea Marine, a partnership between the Haisla Nation and Vancouver-based Seaspan ULC, will operate a fleet of green propelled harbor and escort tugs at the Kitimat Terminal. The escort tugs for this project will be built to Robert Allan Ltd’s RAstar 4000 DF design and with dual fuel engines and LNG storage.

In 2022, there will be more new tugboat construction projects involving LNG and other alternative fuels for delivery in 2023 and beyond.

Electric tug fleets are being built

Instead of investing in alternative fuels or biofuels, more and more homeowners are choosing an electric path to decarbonization with electric motors for hybrid propulsion and batteries for energy storage.

Gisas Shipbuilding recognized this trend and started operating the world’s first fully electric harbor tug. Gisas Power was designed by Navtek Naval Technologies and built by TK Tuzla shipyard in Turkey.

This 18.7m Zeetug30-designed tugboat won the International Tug & Salvage Award for Tugboat of the Year in 2021 at the inaugural TUGTECHNOLOGY conference and exhibition.

Then the rear-drive tugboat designed by Damen scintillating, which was mobilized from the Song Cam shipyard in Damen in Vietnam to the Port of Auckland in New Zealand in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Both projects have encouraged builders to start building more of these electric tugs, with Gisas Shipbuilding building electric tugs in 2022 at a new Navtek shipyard in Tuzla, near Istanbul.

Damen is working on battery-powered tugs for its own stock for sale to owners in 2022.

Sanmar also builds electric tugs for HaiSea Marine to operate at the Kitimat LNG export terminal in British Columbia.

It acquired a new shipyard in Turkey to build RAL’s Electra design tugs. These ElectRA 2800 tugs will have 70 tonnes of bollard pull mainly from Corvus Energy batteries.

In the United States, Master Boat Builders is building a 25m battery-powered tugboat for operations in the Port of San Diego in mid-2023. eWolf is designed by Crowley Engineering Services and will be operated by Crowley Marine.

With all this activity, the industry will go from a standing start of an electric tug in Q3 2021 to a potential fleet of 10 in Q4 2022.