Navigating the future of marine cargo coatings: AkzoNobel talks regulations, AI, Big Data and sustainability

13 June 2023

PPCJ spoke to Chris Birkert, Marine Segment Manager for AkzoNobel, to find out what the coatings giant is focusing on in terms of current and future trends for the cargo marine industry, following the launch of its new Interline tank lining

Q. What are the most common trends you are noticing in the marine coatings industry at the moment?

As ever it’s a balance. Sustainability is a key driver and I would say that the key driver and  trend of the Marine industry at this time is decarbonisation. Everything that the IMO is talking about is gearing towards decarbonisation. Another key area for us as a coatings supplier is regulatory compliance. You also have translocation of invasive species, because what nations  want to avoid is an organism picked up in one country and translocated around the world creating local biodiversity issues. Also, cost optimisation; because post-COVID, when there was a very high demand on areas of container ships, earning power was equally very high but freight rates are coming down now. So decarbonisation, management of costs, but also regulatory compliance are really the key drivers and the challenges.

Q. Is legislation the biggest challenge for marine coatings manufacturers at the moment?

The world is becoming much more regulated in what you can and cannot do and external legislation is getting tighter around the world across many industries – which is understandable, given the forward-thinking nature of the industry. If you look at Europe, you’ve got the new green deal on raw materials. Especially for coatings, the raw material basket that you can pull from is getting less and less. A lot of the raw materials that were used are also being reclassified into higher hazard classes, so we have to then move to other raw materials that maintain environmental compliance with, for example, REACH, K-REACH, China’s CCS, the US environmental legislations, FDA approvals down in Australia, NICNAS to name but a few.

That’s just around the raw material basket. Then you have biocides and the use of biocides on marine vessels.  Across Europe, a lot of coatings still haven’t been approved through the EU BPR; the process to get products through is slow and even the EU has accepted that the programme has its limitations. Over in Asia, for example, you also have K-REACH coming through, which is creating a big impact on the available raw materials that can be used in the region. On a global scale, there are increasing restrictions on levels of VOCs reported.

From a coatings manufacturer’s point of view, legislation has been evolving. Then also from a ship owner’s point of view, we’re also witnessing an increase in legislation from the IMO on green passports, where vessels are assessed from cradle to grave, which covers a vessel from initial build to its decommissioning and eventual scrapping. The IMO want to ensure that there is a very accurate inventory of what’s on board the ship: what coatings are applied, what raw materials are being consumed, what the steel content is etc. The benefit is seen by the person responsible for scrapping the vessel as at this point they will be fully aware of what’s on the vessel, in terms of coatings and other materials, and what potential hazards that ship would present.

"Whereas before we just put the paint on the ship, now once it's removed - what do you do with it? How is it recycled? A lot more green economies are coming through in new energy transitions and they will come through against the backdrop of a lower raw material portfolio that we have available, due to regulation."

As a coatings supplier, it’s not just about selling a tin of paint. We’re also providing associated services and added information so that we can support our customers on that journey and support them on the decarbonisation agenda because you also have the IMO rules on carbon intensity indicators, CII, about the rating of your ship. As of the first of January 2023, vessel owners have a requirement to be compliant with the Carbon Intensity Indicator legislation. If a vessel is E-rated in the level of CO2 emissions, the owner has 12 months to correct the ship, otherwise it has to be taken out of service. If it’s D-rated, owners have three years to make it compliant, but the level of CO2 restrictions doesn’t stay static. It’s a continuous check carried out on a vessel and having to demonstrate adaptation: Do you slow down? Do you change the fuel? Do you change the vessel’s engine? Do you change route? Do you change your anti-fouling? There’s many questions that need attention.

There is also an EU carbon tax that’s coming in. For every tonne of CO2 that’s emitted, you’re going to have to pay €85 in the form of a “fee”. You’re now talking about a large sum of money that vessel owners are required to pay, so anything that you can do to reduce CO2 emissions helps the environment but also helps work towards meeting the goals of COP27.

Q. How does catering to the cargo industry, rather than say, the leisure marine industry, affect what properties are important in the coating?

Generally, the recreational boat market places greater importance on aesthetics than the cargo industry. While the performance of coatings is important to both industries, the customer needs are different.

Leisure boat owners often want to showcase their boats in terms of how they look. One visible attribute is the typical high gloss finish to make the boat stand out. These high gloss, mirror-like topside finishes require a lot of workmanship in the application of the coating system. To achieve the effect, they go through a process of filling and fairing, something not typically seen when compared to a commercial vessel.

When it comes to the bottom coatings, the technology is similar for both industries, utilising the same active ingredients. The major difference is in application, as most of the bottom coatings for leisure boats are rolled on and can be applied by both professionals and individual boat owners.  It is not uncommon for the same fouling control to be applied on a small boat or a super yacht.  The same product being used on boats of different lengths means that it has to be easy to apply by roller either by a Do-It-Yourself boater or a professional.

Another factor that affects the coating is the amount of time the vessel spends in the water. Recreational boats are used during the boating season and come out of the water for winter storage, whereas this is not a factor in commercial usage.  The coatings for recreational boats need to take this seasonality factor into account, while the cargo industry is challenged to deliver consistent performance all year round.

Q. There was a lot of disruption in the transport and shipping industries during the COVID pandemic. How did that affect your industry and are there still repercussions from this time, or has it gone back to ‘normal’ now?

I think the best way to describe it is as the ‘new normal’. The supply chains are returning to normal and there are less restrictions on movement of crew and staff. World trade is continuing and as we see China opening up, the trade routes are coming back because the shutdown of China really impacted the global container business. In my own personal opinion, I would say it’s back to  around 95/98% but obviously, what is now causing disruptions is the Russia-Ukraine war and the impact of the exports of gas and oil. Russia is a big producer of both of those materials, so as people look for new sources of raw materials and chemical feedstocks, trading routes are ultimately also impacted.

Q. What trends do you see becoming a focus for marine coatings and/or tank lining coatings in the future?

It’s looking at where the new economies are going to come from and the big one is the energy transition away from using heavy fuel oil as an energy source to liquid natural gases, ammonia, hydrogen, etc. There’s a big growth in LNG, so that’s going to be a big trend in the mid-term but everybody’s asking, ‘What’s the next key fuel?’


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CO2  emissions and sustainability are fast becoming a bigger focus, and having coatings that will last longer is key. Raw material depletion and also the circular economy will become much more prevalent in terms of circular use of raw materials. Whereas before we just put the paint on the ship, now once it’s removed – what do you do with it? How is it recycled? A lot more green economies are coming through in new energy transitions and they will come through against the backdrop of a lower raw material portfolio that we have available, due to regulation. But also, decarbonisation is a big driver for our industry and how the shipping industry achieves net zero by 2050, which will affect the behaviour of our customers.

When looking at the chemical industry, you will see a lower shift of crude chemicals being transported around. You’ll see a lot more refined chemicals, but also in the bulk area, you will see the shift as you’re moving away from crude oil to more gases being transported, so LNG, ammonia, hydrogen for example. There’s a big question mark around what’s happening with the nuclear industry… Will we see the advent of the nuclear-powered vessel? Who knows, but there’s some really interesting future technologies that we’re looking at there.

Big data analysis is going to be another big trend as well. Special performance analysis is another large area, as is artificial intelligence and there’s talk of self-driving ships – a ship in service with no crew and what that will look like. So, some interesting challenges coming around the corner that we need to think about… How do we adapt, what does that mean in terms of our coatings? Imagine if you have a ship without any crew on board, how are you going to maintain it? How do you repair it if something happens in the middle of the ocean? Some really interesting challenges. Do you have self-healing coatings? Autonomous application robots?

If you look at the top costs for a ship owner, the first one is fuel. The second one is crew costs. So if you can remove the cost of the crew from that equation, they have a big cost saving . Shipping companies use data centres where they’re tracking every single ship everywhere in the world and they’re changing routes depending upon the weather, currents etc, and it’s done by somebody sat in the control room, not by the captain onboard the ship.

"Big data analysis is going to be another big trend as well. Special performance analysis is another large area, as is artificial intelligence and there’s talk of self-driving ships"

Q. And finally, can you outline the new performance benefits to the Interline 704HS tank lining, compared to the previous option?

Interline 704HS replaces Interline 704, which was our industry benchmark product with over 25 years proven inservice performance. It’s a high solids product, so delivers a much lower paint consumption in comparison to other products on the market. The key elements are it gives flexible cargo carriage, it is faster drying and being higher volume solids, it gives lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions, so it has a key sustainability angle.

In terms of flexible cargo carriage for a ship owner, it’s really important that it enables carriage of the main white oils, black oils and light chemicals that are commonly carried. The product is approved for over three quarters of the world’s most traded chemicals by volume and it also allows flexible carriage between those cargoes as well, a major plus for cargo ship owners.

Compared with the existing product, the volume solids of Interline 704HS are 42% higher and the VOC level is 51% lower. What that actually means is for a typical LR1 or LR2 product tanker at 115,000 dead weight tonne, and at typical scheme thickness, in terms of volume of product you need 20,000m less paint, so it reduces mixing time and labour savings.

The reduction in VOC emissions is also important: during typical applications with the existing product, you would have released around 30 tonnes of VOCs into the environment, but with the new product, that reduces by almost two thirds, to around 10.5 tonnes. In terms of packaging, 1,000 less cans of paint are needed. So overall on a project, that’s 2,000 less cans of paint. As for weight of paint, it’s about 20 tonnes less weight of paint on board the ship as well which obviously leads to fuel savings for the fleet owner.

So, there’s the real key sustainability angles, where we see less VOCs, lower packaging and faster productivity within the shipyards. And you can monetise that – with faster timed service entry you can save up to eight days of earnings, which equates to around US$144,000, then there’s application costs which means that by using Interline 704HS, there’s extra earning potential of up to US$1.3M.

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