Did you always want a career in the marine industry?
Yes. Ever since I can remember, being around ships has been a passion of mine. When I was younger I sailed and then I worked on cargo ships. Then I joined the navy and studied naval architecture. I have accumulated tens of thousands of nautical miles at sea. I’ve had a long-term affection for boats. I started my career at DNV GL in 1995 working as an advisory engineer initially, later focusing on research management. I have held various positions at the company.
As technology and research director, what are the best and worst aspects of your job?
In terms of the best aspects, I would say there are three things. First, I am trusted with the responsibility of identifying the important aspects that will shape our future business. Then it’s the creativity, which is very much in my heart, and building something from scratch. I look at the total picture, but I start from a blank sheet of paper. This is unlike an approval engineer, for example. It’s very rewarding. The other aspect is that although there are daily production targets, I do not feel stressed. I frequently say I have the best job in the company. The worst part is probably that I know nothing lasts forever!
What is your career highlight?
I believe it’s my current job. Progressively, the portfolio that I manage has become bigger. All the roles I had before have been subsets of what I do today.
What are the biggest challenges facing the marine industry today?
Certainly there is the decarbonization challenge, when we look at what the industry has promised to deliver by 2050, and how we can actually achieve this. Everybody is aware that this is a huge challenge with a lot of unknowns, but there is lack of a gross perspective. I think it will be difficult to attract talent with this current outlook. So the two challenges are decarbonization in order to meet the IMO’s 50% reduction goal, and this lack of a visionary and ambitious perspective, which could make it difficult to attract talent.
Is hybrid and electric propulsion the answer to developing a sustainable marine industry?
Yes and no. It’s the answer for a certain type of vessel. For small boats and for short sea shipping – I would argue the future is electric. I cannot predict how fast the transition will be, but there are limits to what we can do before 2050 through electrification. For a large, international cargo vessel, I believe going fully electric is not the most suitable option. For such larger vessels, I think we will see widespread hybridization. The industry has just started to hybridize its fleet and I expect that all ship operators will look at to what extent that is a feasible option. Also, there is more to sustainability than emissions. Having a lot of batteries on board a ship requires a lot of energy. We also have to look at whether adequate battery recycling facilities are in place. The entire lifespan of an electric ship must be assessed.
For organizations in the marine world that have not yet made the leap to sustainable propulsion systems, is now the time?
Again, it depends on the vessel. For large ocean-going cargo ships, I would advise looking into alternative fuels – whether that is biofuels, synthetic fuels, hydrogen, or ammonia – and also hybridization. What combination of these makes sense for the case at hand, and the feasibility of being able to use these fuels, and at what price. I don’t think that the time has come now to make that step – first, I would investigate the options. I also advise waiting for the IMO’s near-term discussions, which will shape the implementation of its ambitious goals. For small vessels, I would say do not wait. Many are doing it already, and we are even seeing hybridization in some of the slightly bigger vessels, such as cruise ships.
How will propulsion technology have changed by 2030?
I foresee that there will be more hybrids and that’s the only change that I can really predict. The other changes will be incremental. We might see combustion engines that are able to run on a wider variety of fuels, like we see with dual-fuel engines today. We have also observed a resurgence in the interest in fuel cell technology. About 15 years ago we were working on fuel cell projects, then this work died down, and now it seems to have ramped up again.