Engineer Roger Hagen is delighted to see the new shuttle tankers that he has followed since the drawing board. They’re now undergoing trials near Stavanger before heading for operations in the North Sea. In the background: Rainbow Spirit. Photo: Equinor / Inger Johanne Stenberg

June, 2020

Greening our shipping:

Replacing the workhorses of the ocean

Just look how pleased this engineer is to see our new ships! Although current Covid-19 restrictions prevent him going aboard, our ship engineer Roger Hagen is delighted to see Equinor’s new shuttle tankers arriving for trials. 


The two vessels are part of a major renewal of Equinor’s shipping fleet that will set new standards for fuel consumption and emissions.

“It’s wonderful for an engineer to be able follow a ship from drawing board to completion and testing out here in the fjord,” says Roger, as he enjoys the view of Rainbow Spirit and Eagle Blane in Åmøyfjord outside Stavanger, Norway. 

He’s responsible for Equinor's portfolio of shuttle tankers and has followed these two shuttle tankers since their inception. Now, however, he has to be content to watch them from a safe distance in a small boat.

The tankers are on trial offshore Stavanger to test that all systems are working as they should. For when placing large heavy vessels adjacent to giant oil platforms, it’s best to be absolutely sure that, among other things, positioning systems are working properly.

Specialist Frank Svanes (Equinor), second officer/SDPO Erlend Bringsvor (Altera Infrastructure), Chief Officer Eivind Brimsø (Altera Infrastructure), Service Technician Asbjørn Karlsen (MacGregor Pusnes), and Principal consultant Gøran Rosnes (Equinor) on board Rainbow Spirit.
Photo: Gøran Rosnes/Equinor

Cutting emissions and operating more efficiently
Over 150 ships are at work for Equinor on the Norwegian continental shelf, and these supply vessels, anchor handling vessels and standby vessels account for some 85% of the carbon dioxide emissions from our logistical operations. But how do we go about cutting 284,000 tonnes of CO2-emissions?

Equinor is now actively replacing or renewing the tankers and supply vessels in our fleet on a continuous basis, and the result is more cost- and energy-efficient vessels that are even safer and have even lower emissions.

We can’t go aboard, but as we drive around the fjord, Hagen calls the bridge on Rainbow Spirit and they wave enthusiastically from a safe distance.

“The testing has exceeded all our expectations, especially considering all restrictions on travel, quarantine and obtaining equipment and parts,” says specialist Frank Aksel Svanes, who is responsible for checking the ships on behalf of Equinor.

He’s on board this 85,000 tonne shuttle tanker built by Altera Infrastructure, and says that many measures have been taken by the shipping companies to ensure that everyone feels safe.

“The days are long, but there’s a great atmosphere and good cooperation, so the days just rush by,” says Svanes. 

The two vessels are part of a major renewal of Equinor’s shipping fleet, as well as major changes to the offshore supply chain. Supplier contracts are being redrawn with the emphasis on making fuel efficiency pay, something that the suppliers are starting to notice.

“We’re delighted to be setting new standards for fuel consumption and emissions in the industry, and thus reducing our impact on the environment,” says Idar Hillersøy, director of Altera Infrastructure, who have delivered Rainbow Spirit.

He’s pleased that their new design, which they call the E-shuttle, allows them to build shuttle tankers with lower emissions.

Equinor’s greener shipping

  • 14 newbuildings will be put into operation in Equinor’s shipping fleet in 2020, most in the North Sea and two in Brazil.
  • Equinor’s ambitions in offshore wind will be yet another driver for greener shipping.
  • Viking Energy will be the world’s first ammonia-powered supply vessel. The ship was also the first in Equinor’s fleet to operate on LNG.
  • The ocean, and the expertise associated with it, is one of Equinor’s priority areas. Green shipping is a natural part of this commitment.

A major fleet operator — now replacing the workhorses of the ocean
Today, over 150 ships are at work collecting and transporting oil, fetching and bringing equipment and providing emergency standby services just for Equinor – and that means an enormous number of transport movements. Switching to more efficient vessels with various kinds of alternative, low-emissions fuels will therefore have a significant impact on this part of the value chain.

“What’s special about these two new shuttle tankers is that they utilise LNG as fuel, but they also have an oil vapour recovery plant to enable them to collect and use liquefied volatile organic compounds, LVOCs, from the cargo as fuel, together with LNG. In addition, the ships are designed with improved energy efficiency,” says Roger Hagen.

He adds that they expect a reduction of up to 40% in emissions from these vessels compared to other shuttle tankers in the fleet today.

A bright future for the shuttle tankers undergoing testing before they head for the North Sea
Photo: Gøran Rosnes/Equinor

Many routes to the goal
Already, 32% of emissions from logistics have been cut on the Norwegian continental shelf since 2011, a reduction equivalent to 800,000 tonnes of CO2, or more than all the cars in Oslo for a year. Work is now being carried out across the business areas to ensure that the target of a 50% reduction in Norway is reached by 2030.

There are several routes to achieving that target, including the possible use of ammonia, hydrogen and biofuels. Furthermore, several of the vessels also have on-board batteries that contribute to efficient offshore standby operations with significant reductions in fuel consumption.

The majority of the vessels in Equinor’s fleet are tankers, and here a switch to more energy-efficient ships with lower emissions will really pay off. By switching from diesel to LNG, you can achieve reductions of 30% for CO2 and as much as 85% for NOx. And if hydrogen or ammonia are produced using carbon capture technology, net emissions can be negligible. 

Examples of emissions reductions measures in shipping and logistics:

  • Optimisation of sailing routes and better utilisation of the ship
  • Fuel consumption is evaluated in new contracts
  • Hybrid vessels with batteries and shore power
  • Fuel reduction incentives in new contracts
  • Switching from conventional diesel to “new” fuels such as LNG, hydrogen, ammonia and biofuels.

What are possible alternative fuels for ships?

  • LNG (liquefied natural gas) — has no sulphur emissions, reduces NOx emissions by between 80-90%, reduces CO2 emissions by up to 30%. No environmental damage from accidents and spillages, since LNG evaporates. There are nevertheless challenges with methane emissions, which the industry is working to resolve.

  • LVOCs (liquefied volatile organic compounds) — The new Rainbow Spirit and Eagle Blane shuttle tankers combine LNG with the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evaporating from the cargo of oil, which also has the major advantage of preventing the environmentally-harmful VOCs from reaching the atmosphere, a challenge with conventional tankers. When cooled and compressed into liquefied LVOC, this cargo evaporation can supply between 20 and 30% of the ship’s fuel requirements. 

  • Hydrogen - No vessels of this size are running on hydrogen today, but there are several trial projects underway on vessels ranging from ferries to supply vessels. If hydrogen is produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage, there will be no emissions from production or combustion.

  • Ammonia - Used in fuel cells and can be produced without greenhouse gas emissions. The shipping industry is in the early phases of testing ammonia. The supply vessel Viking Energy will be the first of its kind to utilise ammonia.

  • Battery and shore power - For large supply vessels and shuttle tankers, the batteries stabilise and even out the power supply onboard. The ships spend a lot of time at sea, and the batteries assist the generators so that they use less conventional fuel. Currently batteries are only a supplementary power source, since powering an entire vessel by battery would consume too much cargo space. 

"Eagle Blane" is owned by AET and is seen here with its green LNG tank clearly visible on deck. Photo: Inger Johanne Stenberg

Rainbow Spirit lights up the fjord. The ship is owned by Altera and also has visible fuel tanks on deck. Photo: Inger Johanne Stenberg

The green LNG tank is clearly visible on Eagle Blane's port side. Photo: Inger Johanne Stenberg
eagle blane at sea

Roger Hagen is delighted to see the new ships at close quarters. Photo: Inger Johanne Stenberg

"Eagle Blane" is owned by AET and is seen here with its green LNG tank clearly visible on deck. Photo: Inger Johanne Stenberg

Rainbow Spirit lights up the fjord. The ship is owned by Altera and also has visible fuel tanks on deck. Photo: Inger Johanne Stenberg

The green LNG tank is clearly visible on Eagle Blane's port side. Photo: Inger Johanne Stenberg

Roger Hagen is delighted to see the new ships at close quarters. Photo: Inger Johanne Stenberg

“Silicon Valley” for green shipping?
The emission reductions now being achieved are significant in a global perspective. If nothing had been done to reduce emissions from shipping, emissions would have increased by as much as 250% by 2050, according to International Maritime Organisation estimates.

For this reason, there is considerable focus on green shipping, not least among Norwegian authorities, who have launched an action plan for green shipping, with the aim of halving emissions from domestic and fishing vessels by 2030.

The Green Shipping programme (see fact box below) is the result of a public-private partnership and was established to strengthen Norway’s position as a leading shipping nation and to find scalable solutions for efficient and environment-friendly shipping. Some 20 large-scale pilot projects have been launched so far, including two to develop greener ports, one to create LNG/VOC/battery-powered shuttle tankers, a hydrogen-powered speed boat, a bunkering vessel, and, finally, two autonomous, zero-emission vessels. Equinor is a member of the programme.

In the crisis package announced by the Norwegian government in April 2020, the financial framework for the green shipping action plan has been doubled to NOK 100 million. With increased activity and new construction projects on the way, this means that Norwegian waters will serve as an innovative domestic market, providing operators and suppliers with excellent conditions for innovation and improvements to the efficiency of the fleet.

But is it not a paradox to cut emissions for the fleet carrying the oil, but not from the oil itself?

“This is just one contribution," says Roger Hagen. "We’re doing what we can to make the entire value chain as carbon-efficient as possible,” he says. 

These emissions reductions and improvements in energy efficiency in shipping are just part of a package of climate measures across Equinor. And greener shipping is not only of interest to the oil industry: offshore wind farms, possible future offshore solar parks, aquaculture, ferries and other transport will all benefit from greener shipping.

Some people are calling the North Sea the “Silicon Valley” of green shipping, and with the developments taking place now, they may well be right. A central principle is that these initiatives should pay, to ensure that the shipping industry of the future is sustainable both environmentally and economically.

Illustration: DNVGL

The Green Shipping Programme

Norway is establishing a programme to achieve the world’s most efficient and environmentally friendly shipping.

The Green Shipping Programme aims to find scalable solutions for efficient and environmentally friendly shipping. The results will be cost-effective emission cuts, economic growth, increased competitiveness, and new jobs in Norway. Authorities and industry actors are participating in the programme and are working together to achieve these goals.

What we will achieve:

  • Profitable emission reductions
  • Sustainable logistics
  • Cargo owners will achieve effective and sustainable logistic solutions.
  • Green jobs
  • Increased competitiveness
  • International leadership position
  • Norwegian shipping will be a showcase for the world, an incubator and platform for export of environmental technology and green transport services.