Dreding industry addresses energy transition challenges

A CEDA Dredging Days 2019 panel discuss ''Energy transition: the views in our dredging community''. Credit: CEDA Dredging Days 2019

We put a man on the Moon but can dredging be emissions-free? The industry has chosen to adopt energy transition; the next question is how to make it happen

“We choose to go to the Moon,” officially titled as the Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort, was a famous speech delivered by former US President John F Kennedy about his country’s effort to reach the moon to a large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, on 12 September 1962.

His intention was bold, but at the time of the speech how it would be achieved was uncertain. What the speech offered though, was an unequivocal roadmap, and as such it quickly gained traction. The success of the Apollo project is well known. Neil Armstrong did land on the moon before the end of the decade.

A clear roadmap to make the transition to low carbon and sulphur fuels has been given to the dredging industry. The next question is, how do we make it happen? A Central Dredging Association (CEDA) Dredging Days panel discussion in November 2019 showed an appetite to make it happen.

Mike van der Vijver from MindMeeting moderated a session on ‘Energy transition: the views in our dredging community’. As an introductory teaser, he posited the claim, “Excessive ambition drives breakthroughs.” Then asked, “Is the dredging industry ambitious enough to convert to a new fossil-free energy source?”

The audience was polled for their opinion on a scale from 1 to 10 and the responses ranged from 3 to 8. The three represented the position that the industry is not doing much. What is visibly done, are only single-purpose, company-specific solutions that are not adopted by the community.

While eight represented a sense of urgency that is very present within the dredging community. Most companies are developing plans and co-operating in working groups, such as the CEDA Working Group on Energy Efficiency. Also, the Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure and Water Management is pitching in with initiatives on zero-emissions maintenance dredging, and the dredging community is responding by actively putting forward proposals.

So, why is there still no zero-emission dredger? What ambition is lacking? In my opinion, it is because the effort is not focused. Kennedy’s speech gave a clear roadmap: what do we do? – put a man on the moon, when? – by the end of the decade; how? – build a capable rocket. Ambition with a clear plan can indeed achieve great things. Ambition without a clear plan lacks motivation, and will only bring daydreaming and lethargy.

To achieve something, we need motivation, but where will this come from? Van der Vijver polled the audience again asking whether motivation should come from government, public opinion, companies, or technology. Again, the answers did not offer a clear picture. All positions are valid.
Another driver is the reward for the effort.

The Apollo project showed what our modern society is capable of. What would the energy transition yield for the dredging community: learning through challenges, flexibility and resilience in energy generation, low maintenance, and higher independence?

No individual can offer all the solutions, and neither can I. However, I can put forward a proposal that addresses the ‘how’ part of the challenge, which in turn may provide some motivation. We know how to apply power; as long as the power arrives electrically, dredgers can be powered by it. Essentially, we have to find a way to generate electricity with a flexible power source.

The investment lifetime of a dredger often exceeds 30 years, but currently, a power plant only lasts 10. This is a difficult scenario for a dredging company that is interested in emission-free dredgers to see past.

One solution would be a separate module for power generation, either locally, near the dredger, or remotely at the end of the pipeline. Every project and application will be different, but I am looking forward to developing such solutions with any interested customer.

Mark Winkelman writes a blog, where he discusses this topic and many more dredging-focused topics.