Marine & OffshoreSeptember 5, 2023

The role of LCA in sustainable shipping

The 2023 IMO Greenhouse Gas Strategy introduces new sustainability targets to decarbonize the marine industry. As shipbuilders face increasing pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lifecycle assessments can help them develop more environmentally friendly vessels from the ground up.
Avatar Jean Benoit Bensoussan

A revised greenhouse gas (GHG) strategy set out by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) steps up measures to reduce harmful emissions from global shipping. Meeting at the 80th Marine Environment Protection Committee session, IMO members committed to reach net-zero GHG emissions by around 2050 and increase uptake of sustainable fuels so they account for 10% of energy usage across the industry by 2030. They’re also planning to introduce lifecycle assessment (LCA) guidelines, which means that ship owners will need to measure the total GHG emissions related to the production and use of marine fuels, also known as a well-to-wake calculation.

According to IMO, the well-to-wake calculation covers upstream emissions – how fuel is produced and transported to the ship’s tank – and downstream emissions – from the ship’s fuel tank to the exhaust. Environmentalists and policy makers have been calling for these types of LCA study to get a better understanding of the environmental impact of international shipping and its total carbon emissions.

While the well-to-wake calculation focuses on the impact of marine fuel, it is expected that regulators will eventually expect ship owners to carry out more comprehensive LCAs of the entire ship lifecycle and all related infrastructure. These LCAs will measure the total environmental impact of every vessel from the conceptual stage all the way through to how it’s disposed of at the end of its life, including sourcing of raw materials, use of innovative materials such as green steel, how every component is manufactured, the operational performance of the vessel during its lifetime, recyclability and reuse.

Why does LCA matter to the marine industry?

Today, the marine industry is responsible for transporting 90% of world commerce globally. It also accounts for almost 3% of worldwide GHGs. And although the latest IMO GHG strategy will not meet the 1.5°C global warming target, it does set expectations across the industry for greater carbon reductions by 2030 and 2040.

Intensifying pressure to become more sustainable ultimately means that shipbuilders will need to:

  • Design more innovative and sustainable ships
  • Manufacture ships in a more sustainable manner and track every stage of their lifecycle.

LCA isn’t yet mandatory, however some leading shipbuilders are already putting measures in place to determine the total environmental impact of the vessels they’re building. Through LCA they will quantify the carbon emissions related to every stage of the construction process, factoring in raw material sourcing and usage, energy inputs and outputs as well as the emissions while the vessel is in operation and eventually decommissioned. With this information they expect to improve their regulatory readiness, optimize new and existing fleets and determine the best way of extending the lifetime of their vessels to reduce overall GHG emissions.

Key benefits of LCA

Adopting an LCA methodology not only paves the way for a more sustainable future; it also helps companies achieve greater efficiencies across their processes, which in turn leads to reduced overall costs and greater resilience across the business.

Through LCA they can:

  • Improve decision-making: From the concept stage, ship owners can identify the most sustainable materials and make informed design tradeoffs, determining the environmental impact of using certain materials, transportation methods and manufacturing processes over others. At every point, they can measure energy consumption and work with suppliers to achieve the same level of granularity.
  • Enhance regulatory compliance: The vast majority of existing commercial ships don’t currently meet the IMO emissions targets. Many will need to be retrofitted to run on alternative fuels. LCAs deliver the information they need to compare the impact of scrapping a ship or retrofitting and extending the lifecycle of their assets, while becoming more resilient to increasingly stringent regulations.
  • Become more innovative and competitive: Shipowners and operators face increasing pressure from their charterers to become more sustainable. Taking action ahead of mandatory sustainability industry regulations presents an opportunity to gain an edge over the competition and win the support of new and existing customers.

How Dassault Systèmes helps to make LCA possible

LCA is ultimately about how you associate human activity to the production of every part. For a ship mostly made of steel, then, it’s about determining where that iron ore is sourced from, how the steel is manufactured and by which method it’s transported to the shipyard. All of these production processes tie in to the overall carbon impact of a vessel’s lifecycle.

If shipbuilders are to succeed in developing more sustainable vessels, they will need to be able to measure – and reduce – the total carbon impact of every component; no small feat for a vessel containing hundreds of thousands of parts. This is where model-based systems engineering (MBSE) platforms and LCA tools such as Sustainable Innovation Intelligence on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform come in.

MBSE method manage and simplify product complexity in development by connecting all mechanical, electrical and software disciplines within a centralized environment. Through MBSE on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, shipbuilders can determine how a vessel’s different components and systems interconnect, and simulate the behavior of these systems independently and as a whole. An MBSE approach allows them to anticipate and make decisions very early on in the design stage by understanding the true impact of choosing a particular system or fuel and propulsion method over another – key for designing more efficient ships.

LCA tools like Sustainable Innovation Intelligence on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform further support shipbuilders by providing the capabilities they need to identify the most sustainable materials, evaluate the environmental implications of every component and measure energy consumption in manufacturing and beyond. Because the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is linked directly to the Ecoinvent database, which contains over 18,000 lifecycle inventory datasets modelling human activities and processes, shipbuilders can trace the impact of every activity in the supply chain and make informed tradeoffs within the 3D design model.

Achieving net zero ambitions

In many ways, the transition to greener shipping will be defined by the industry’s ability to adapt and unlock the potential of digital technologies. By partnering with an industry expert like Dassault Systèmes, marine companies can get the support and guidance they need to define clear strategies, standardize their processes on a single platform and focus on achievable wins before ramping up and making wider changes across their business. As the IMO reiterates, industry transformation is inevitable and global shipping must pursue an ambitious path to succeed in phasing out GHGs.

“The adoption of the 2023 IMO Greenhouse Gas Strategy opens a new chapter towards maritime decarbonization,” said IMO secretary general Kitack Lim. “It is in many ways a starting point for the work that needs to intensify even more over the years and decades ahead of us.”

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