Nowadays, maritime transport plays a fundamental and key role in the economy of any country to ensure the supply and meet the demand for food, basic necessities or other products that are not produced locally. Maritime transport has become the protagonist in recent years, to the point that almost 90% of world transport is based on this method. Such is the growth that by 2050 the number of ton-miles transported annually is expected to exceed 300 billion.
Companies such as United Parcel Service Inc (NYSE: UPS) believe that technological advances in their fleets of ships to meet the growing demand for maritime transport services and to optimize delivery times to ensure the supply chain is necessary, so they are already funding research related to the design and production of intelligent and fully autonomous ships.
Automated ships will give the shipping industry a technological edge by improving efficiency, productivity and transport capacity. Companies such as Expeditors International of Washington Inc (NASDAQ: EXPD) or C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc (NASDAQ: CHRW) will be able to lower costs in the area of shipping, not only because of the benefits offered by this technology, but they will be able to reduce the crew needed on each vessel because ocean shipments can be managed remotely. It is unlikely that the more than 36,000 professionals employed by these companies will take this news with joy, but it is a reality that the industry will face in the coming years.
All companies that provide services in the area of maritime transportation not only face the challenges of constant demand from their customers but there is another very important point to take into account. Maritime transport, recognized as a fundamental part of the world economy, also has one main negative aspect that needs to be solved: the emissions generated by ships. Reducing air pollutants derived from the fuel used in maritime transport is necessary to adapt to the new and existing regulations imposed by each country to reduce its environmental impact.
As a result of this problem, many innovative ideas to solve it have been developed, such as the design and manufacture of a cargo ship propelled only by the wind and capable of transporting up to 7,000 cars at a speed of 10 knots (18.5 km/hr). This technology was developed by a company called Wallenius Marine and applied in the vessel Ocean Bird; the ship’s design aims to reduce emissions by up to 90 percent, which would represent a breakthrough in this matter.
The development and research of prototype vessels powered by solutions that address the problem of emissions generated by cargo ships are being considered: the implementation of solar panels on vessels and the use of alternative fuels such as methanol, hydrogen or electric/hybrid solutions.
Plug Power Inc (NASDAQ: PLUG) has developed a series of hydrogen fuel cell solutions, specifically one that uses a technology called PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane), which ensures a clean energy supply with zero emissions available for logistics or supply chain applications. This company recently held an event that attracted more than 140 companies and representatives, including port terminal operators, local government officials and representatives of cruise operators from all over Europe.
With many companies now committed to helping the environment and their environmental footprint, cruise line Royal Caribbean Cruises LTD (NYSE: RCL) announced a program called “Destination Net Zero,” which aims to achieve zero net emissions by 2050. This technology can be used on many levels, not only by companies dealing with ships but also by logistics companies such as FedEx Corp (NYSE: FDX), to improve the efficiency of operations, lower their costs, and reduce their environmental footprint.
The race is on, and many companies are competing to see who will get the most significant slice of the pie and become the leader in providing different types of solutions to provide a clean, compliant, environmentally friendly and efficient alternative to fossil fuels. SolarEdge Technologies Inc (NASDAQ: SEDG) does not want to be last in this race; the company focuses on providing energy optimizers, solar inverters and monitoring of photovoltaic plants as residential solutions; however, they have now also developed technology products focused on the commercial sector, providing support for supply chain or logistics companies.
Who will win and lead the race in implementing automated solutions for the supply of clean and cheap energy for ships that travel our oceans daily?