A.P. Maersk-Moeller A/S (MAERSKB)'s planned fleet of the world's largest container vessels will be as groundbreaking for their shape as their size.
The 20 ships will be the first cargo-box carriers with rounded hulls rather than streamlined V-shaped ones, according to Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. (042660), which is developing the 18,000-container vessels. The change reflects a shift by operators away from designing ships to go as fast as possible to instead emphasizing fuel economy.
"These vessels will be the Prius of the seas," said Lee Jae Won, an analyst at Tongyang Securities Inc. (003470) in Seoul, referring to Toyota Motor Corp.'s distinctively-shaped hybrid car. "They're fuel efficient and environmentally friendly."
The fatter hulls will let Copenhagen-based Maersk install a fuel-efficient two-engine setup that's too wide for current ships. It will also recover cargo capacity that is lost with tapered hulls, letting the ships carry 16 percent more boxes than vessels only a few meters smaller. Combined with other technologies, the ships will use about 35 percent less fuel per box than vessels now used on Asia-Europe routes and produce around 50 percent less carbon emissions, according to Maersk.
"The focus now is on how to consume less fuel," said Odin Kwon, vice president of ship design at Seoul, South Korea-based Daewoo. "Ships currently in operation have been built only with speed in mind."
Daewoo has begun the initial work for the first of the ships, which will cost about $183 million each. Deliveries are due to start next year and will run until the first half of 2015. Rounded hulls are common on commodity-carrying ships.
Maersk, the world's largest container-ship operator, is introducing the vessels as the industry contends with tighter emissions standards and fuel prices that have jumped about 40 percent in two years. The higher costs have already prompted shipping lines to slow vessels 18 percent over the past three years to an average speed of about 10.4 knots. That has cut fuel bills and eased global overcapacity that caused industrywide losses last year.
Reducing the speed of container ships by 10 percent can pare fuel consumption by as much as 30 percent, according to ship assessor Det Norske Veritas. A 25 percent reduction can cut carbon emissions by more than 350 tons a day per ship, the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, a shipping group, said in 2010.
Still, these gains are limited by current ships' focus on speed as they are fitted with engines that operate best when going fast. By contrast, the Maersk vessels are designed to operate efficiently at both high and low speeds.
Key to the change is the ships' two propellers and their ultra-long stroke engines, a type usually only found in slow- moving commodity ships and tankers. The setup will use 4 percent less fuel than a single engine and propeller, Maersk said in an e-mailed response to Bloomberg News questions.
"Building vessels that are fuel efficient at different speeds will be the trend," said Daewoo's Kwon. "It will eventually dominate the market."
The Maersk vessels, which will also feature a waste-heat recovery system, will still be able to go as fast as 23 knots. That compares with a top speed of 25 knots for the Emma Maersk, the largest container ship afloat.
The new vessels will be 59 meters wide and 400 meters long. That's about 3 meters wider and 4 meters longer than the Emma, which holds 2,500 fewer boxes. The limited size increase means major European ports will be able to handle the ships without having to buy new cranes and other equipment. U.S. ports aren't big enough for such vessels.
Toyota's Prius, the world's bestselling hybrid car, is renowned for its distinctive wedge shape. The 2012 plug-in version gets the equivalent of 58 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, according to a U.S. government website.
Other shipping companies are also adding more fuel- efficient vessels. Evergreen Group, owner of Asia's second- biggest container line, is introducing twenty 8,452-box vessels fitted with electronic-controlled fuel-injection engines that support slow steaming. The ships, built by Samsung Heavy Industries Co. (010140), will also gain fuel savings from a design that minimizes the need for ballast water.
Neptune Orient Lines Ltd. (NOL) has six similar ships, built by Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. (009540) and Daewoo. STX Offshore & Shipbuilding Co. is building six container ships that will be the biggest after Maersk's and which will "significantly" pare carbon emissions, it said in November.
Shipping lines are working to meet a goal of cutting emissions 30 percent by 2030 under a mandate from the United Nations' International Maritime Organization. Those that miss this target will face penalties that are still under discussion.
The regulations will cut carbon emissions by an estimated 330 million tons a year by 2030, the IMO said in a 2011 statement. That will save an average of $50 billion a year in fuel costs by 2020 and $200 billion by 2030, it said. The rules will also stop the industry's share of global emissions climbing from about 3.3 percent in 2007 to as much as 18 percent in 2050 amid rising trade, it said.
Ship owners may also be able to meet the tougher standards using technologies that can be fitted onto existing vessels. Hyundai Heavy, Daewoo and Samsung Heavy, the world's three biggest shipyards, have developed devices that clean ballast water to reduce pollution or improve navigation to save fuel.
Hyundai Heavy has also developed a gas engine that can reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent compared with a diesel engine. Daewoo and MAN Diesel & Turbo SE have devised an engine system that uses liquefied natural gas.
Daewoo is also working on a technology that will spray bubbles along the bottom of ships, easing friction and fuel usage, Kwon said. Japanese yard Imabari Shipbuilding Co. said last year that it found 8 percent energy savings testing a similar system.
"It all shows that it's going to be a fight about who can be the most efficient and make money," said Park Moo Hyun, an analyst at E*Trade Securities Co. in Seoul. "It's no longer just about who can go the fastest."