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Ship design can make or break the decarbonisation of the maritime industry – interview with Eglë Mikalauskienė, Western Baltic Engineering

With the maritime industry contributing to around 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually and responsible for about 2.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG), it is imperative to decarbonise this sector as well if Europe wants to reach an emissions reduction of 55 per cent by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.

Western Baltic Engineering, owned by the company Western Shipyard Group counts 100 engineers in Klaipėda, Lithuania, with the focus on being innovative, developing projects and designing ships that are as much as sustainable as possible.

On the sidelines of the 4th Global LNG Forum organised by ALJ Group and which took place in Milan on 26-27 of April, CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Eglë Mikalauskienė, head of sales and marketing at Western Baltic Engineering, about the role of LNG as a transitional fuel and the replicability of electric passengers ferries in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. 

“There is still a pathway for LNG,” she begins. “We work for small scale LNG bunkering stations and we will stick to it because everybody agrees that it is still a transition fuel.”

Western Baltic Engineering
Photo: courtesy of Western Baltic Engineering.

She explains that although green vessels are not ready yet, the design process has been completed and an important aspect is the electric one.

“Lithuania is announcing a tender for offshore wind power plants so we will have new renewable energy sources which mean new green electricity supply,” she continues. “So, why not utilise it to operate electric vessels using green electricity to supply them? Especially small vessels can be fully powered by electricity.”

Western Baltics Engineering is completing two projects. The first one is a fully electric passenger ferry that will be able to operate in other countries like Greece or Croatia.

“For them it is even easier because temperatures are warmer and sea conditions better,” Mrs Mikalauskienė adds, highlighting the replicability aspect of the project. 
The second project she mentions is in cooperation with the Maritime Cluster and the Inland Waterways Authority to develop an electric pusher for unpropelled cargo barges that can run on the country’s rivers, thus also taking off trucks from the streets and helping solve another cause of pollution. 

“This pusher can run up to 460 kilometres,” she explains. “Like the distance from Kaunas to Klaipėda and back with one charge only. Batteries are modular so you can actually take them off and put the new ones on without waiting for the charging time.”

“The pusher currently is designed for our rivers, which means it has a very shallow draft. But it can be used anywhere else, increasing the draft, meaning also having more space for batteries and being able to increase the distance.”

This way, 5580 tonnes of CO2 emissions are saved every year, taking 10,000 trucks off Lithuanian roads. This project should be of interest not only in Lithuania but as Mrs Mikalauskienė was saying, also in other countries, especially in rivers’ basins, like the Danube one.

“Statistics and data show that there are non-propelled vessels in operations and a large number of pushers in the Danube river basin,” she says.

“However, the age of the fleet is quite old so they must be quite polluting as well while shifting the cargoes along the Danube. So this could be an extremely great solution for making Danube basin greener.”

The consortium partner is already applying for EU funds in Lithuania for this particular vessel as the EU has made a huge amount of money available for these kinds of projects. For now, there are not many state incentives as, according to Mrs Mikalauskienė, Lithuania doesn’t have a huge fleet so probably the government doesn’t see the need for subsidies. 

Western Baltic Engineering
Photo: courtesy of Western Baltic Engineering.

Surely, the most important aspect of this or any other project is the people behind it. Western Shipyard Group currently assigns grants to each student that decides to focus on marine studies at Klaipeda University. There are not many students but companies are trying to change that, going from school to school.

“We see a lot of students in our company because we teach them from the beginning in parallel to their studies so that when they graduate, they can be an asset to the industry,” Mrs Mikalauskienė says. “Still, the electrical part is a challenge and we tend to attract foreign labour too.”

Regarding sustainability, she mentions that one of the main keys is how they power the vessel.

“We talk a lot about bioLNG and we are also involved in CO2 capture as one way of contributing to a greener environment,” she concludes. “We have to be realistic because vessels are built for 25 years or more. The ones that are already built, we can only make them greener by modernizing them with carbon capture and storage installation or other types of equipment and possibly changing the type of fuel used on ships.”

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