Greener shipyards

ONBOARD looks at what the greener shipyards are doing to keep their environmental footprint under wraps and in control. Words: Claire Griffiths

The Super, Mega and Giga rich just don’t have a thing for merrily floating downstream. Not in a rowing boat anyway. And some reports claim that the global order book for superyachts in 2023 went up by 17,5% to 1,203 compared to last year. That’s a little bit under double what it was ten years ago (a post economic depression year).

More rumours state that the world’s three hundred largest yachts splurge about 315,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. The same as the population of Burundi also does in a year.

At the time of writing, there was no particular mention of the superyacht industry from the reams of reports chugged out by the guys who numbed their bums at COP28 but there was a sighting of a solar-powered vessel cheekily launched into nearby Dubai waters by a Polish yacht-builder.

One good thing about the superyacht industry is that it keeps us all afloat (more or less) and is the source of inspiration and invention of alternative sources of power.

But like round objects and square holes, superyachts will never fit in a pollutant-free category. And the damage is not just from the nautical miles of carbon they chug out in a lifetime. It’s the materials and methods used to build them.

The shipyards, for one reason or another, are now reviewing the methods they use at the yards to clear up, minimise or ban the worst of the pollutants or drains on our resources of land, sea, and air.

So what is going on in the shipyards to make them a cleaner, greener environment to build the world’s luxury yachts? ONBOARD starts by asking the shipyards where most of the environmentally damaging shipyard activities can be found?

Abi McGrath of IMM Yachting sets the ball rolling: “At IMM we believe that yacht comes first and part of that is making repair and refits work around a yacht’s schedule. Currently yachts have to make long trips – including transatlantic crossings – to do repair works. We believe there are ways to improve this situation which will not only be more convenient for the yacht but also reduce the carbon footprint and therefore is a more sustainable solution.”

So IMM offers in-water interim repairs and sends project managers to do the work ‘in water’ which in some cases can eliminate the yacht visiting the yard altogether. IMM has opened offices in Isle de Sol marina in Sint Maarten because this is where many clients are based in between charters. It also has a refit solution called IMM Away where IMM finds a suitable facility where the yacht is based (Brasil, for example) and takes the team to the yacht.

McGrath adds, “As a small and developing refit facility, IMM is interested in being at the forefront of sustainability. We are in active discussions with innovators and experts in this field including: – where we want to apply the Yacht Environmental Transparency Index and

Nikos Stratelos of Sax at Private Sea, Talos Shipyards, says the main source of possible environmental damage at his yard comes from painting. And so spray painting is prohibited. Other types of paint work are allowed only when yachts and contractors carry out all the necessary environmental protection measures. He adds, “As far as electricity consumption is concerned, we are planning to invest in solar power plants within our premises that will cover a significant portion of our consumption.”

Oray Hakan Girgin is Strategic Planning and Corporate Communications Manager at RMK Marine in Istanbul. Girkin cites scraping and painting works, gas/dust and smoke emissions from the shipbuilding process and contaminated water discharges from washing activities as the main sources of environmental impacts at shipyards in general.

To reduce the impact RMK does scraping and painting activities in closed hangars to prevent any harm to the environment. He explains, “We have an emission permit for blasting and painting activities. Control measurements are made periodically by us and also by governmental officials. Filters have been installed in the drains for the water generated after washing activities. Dust/gas and smoke resulting from production in the hangars are absorbed by the ventilation system and the dirty air is filtered.”

Adria Docks has its refit and repair service based at Trogir, Croatia. Katarina Omrčen reports positive news: “Lots of things have evolved and nowadays shipyards have very low pollution impact. For example, at Adria and elsewhere sand blasting in open areas is replaced with ultra high pressure water jetting. Yards now also rely on other green technologies in their production processes.”

KM YACHTBUILDERSJelle Engel at KM Yachtbuilders (KMY) in Makkum, Holland hits the nail bluntly on the head when he says the very act of building yachts is not an environmentally friendly or essential activity. But, on the other hand, KMY and the other yards build sturdy, long-life yachts that supply a living for the 75 or so people who work on their creation. Most of the materials are either GRP, endangered tropical wood, or aluminium. Engel explains; “KM Yachtbuilders are a aluminium specialist. That is our core material. Producing aluminium takes a serious amount of energy from mining the Bauxiet to the plates that we work with. For us the aluminium, the systems and interior materials are a focus point in our approach and search for sustainability.”

Keeping it simple, low maintenance and sturdy are the starting points of all KMY projects, often alongside Dykstra Naval Architects who also work for Greenpeace. KMY began investigating ways to improve sustainability a few years ago: Explains Engel; “We asked ourselves ‘What does sustainable mean, where to start, how to measure it, how to communicate it, how to motivate the team and how to make it work?’” The yard began and analysed a particular build project, using as many sustainable materials and techniques as possible.

“Right now, having finished this 36 ft sailing yacht, half owned by Gerard Dykstra and half by KMY, and with most of it analysed we are in a position to start setting goals for a longer term and also put measures to it. We realise we are far from done, we are just starting but we gained a lot of knowledge and experience that will help us setting clear goals for the upcoming years. We use it as a case study example project and already see very positive results spinning off from this project.” The harder part is measuring the success says Engel; “You need a very deep understanding of what measures are relevant and how they are built up. You can easily do it wrong and get accused of greenwashing, so we are hesitant to communicate. One great and positive number, working with recycled aluminium saves an incredible 95% of energy compared to working with virgin material. Not all thicknesses of the plates are already available in the recycled version, building the 36 footer (Bestevaer (BV) 36) we have come to 63% recycled aluminium versus 37% virgin material. There are enough chances for us to improve.” The BV 36 has already got 3 nominations for honourable awards this year – Dutch Boat of the Year 2023, French Boat of the Year 2023 and European Boat of the Year 2024. This gives some indication that KMY is on the right ‘tack’.

A spokesman at the Royal Huisman cites a similar list of damaging activity/ material including; aluminium, carbon, wood waste, paint waste, output of superyacht combustion engines, construction and use of gas and electricity.

The Royal Huisman operation, founded in 1884, is big and continuously developing; five shipbuilding halls cover an area 30,000 m2 plus additional areas for carbon composite construction, interior work, painting, systems engineering, mast construction, hatches, deck equipment, hydraulics, and more. The outfit employs over 350 highly skilled workers.

Royal Huisman Vollenhove shipyardThe roof covering of the existing halls is gradually being replaced, and extra insulation is being added. The new tops will be equipped with nearly 2,500 solar panels between 2024 and 2027. Inside the facilities and offices, all existing TL lighting has been replaced with LED lighting in the past three years. Additionally, the existing fleet of company vehicles is gradually being replaced by hybrid and electric cars. Similarly, various equipment and additional electric components are gradually being equipped with frequency controllers to reduce electric power consumption. The shipyard’s electricity use is 100% green since 2022.

Royal Huisman has also developed a dedicated sustainability programme, the Eco-Friendly Yacht program, for a holistic approach towards more sustainable yachts (both refits and new-builds). This programme of multiple projects aims to reduce the energy demand of yachts, make use of energy from nature, and make use of more sustainable fuels or other energy carriers. With this approach, the feasibility and impact of many solutions on board of Royal Huisman yachts is better known. Examples of applicable sustainable solutions are hydro generation, solar panels, an ECO-mode, HVAC solutions, and fuel cells fuelled by hydrogen or methanol.

Royal Huisman’s Huisfit offers green solutions to reduce the use of energy onboard existing superyachts with 20th century technology. Huisfit has successfully converted the conventional propulsion of existing superyachts into hybrid, which appears the ultimate systems upgrade with leading-edge propulsion and power generation. Also, for the owner and crew, hybrid technology brings various benefits including silent operation, zero emissions, peak-shaving, shaft-generated power under sail and reduced fuel consumption, together with enhanced operational flexibility and redundancy. In addition, the hybrid system offers the potential of navigation in ‘zero emission’ zones.

To varying degrees, the shipyards are taking it upon themselves to clean up their acts for world-serving as well as economically interesting reasons. But national legislation varies. For Caribbean based IMM Yachting there are no environmental laws governing shipyards. But the yard and yachts berthed at IMM must comply with local waste management regulations and reporting requirements as well as international conventions such as MARPOL. RMK MARINE is required and has ISO 50001 Energy Management System Certificate since 2023.

Even Holland does not yet have national legislation to control the yards: “But it will come,” says Engel at KM Yachtbuilders. He says, “Laws are not yet active for the pleasure craft industry. What we do see is that the larger shipping industry yards need to work with compliant rules from banks to get a project financed.

International laws (European in this case) are giving direction to this which results in the yards actively developing sustainable programmes. We are using the UN sustainability goals as a guide and a simple but known sustainability philosophy of balancing the 3 Ps – People, Planet, Profit.”

Since 2020, Royal Huisman has complied with the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), which is reviewed by an external audit agency every four years. Recently, the shipyard’s energy consumption status and goals were once again approved. The yard is currently reviewing and preparing for the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will be required FY2025. By 2024/2025, there will be a comprehensive overview of all aspects and upcoming actions to ensure compliance with the EU targets set for 2030 and onwards. The shipyard is also preparing to comply with non-financial disclosure regulations and the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. This process will help refine its sustainability strategy and establish targets to reduce its impact in alignment with the COP20 Paris goals.

Legislation lags perhaps in striking the super-rich industry with stringent legislation but the shipyards themselves recognise the value of their future eco responsibilities.

IMM hopes to focus on the reduction of its carbon footprint by investing in green energy. And at RMK Marine they are also focusing on energy efficiency projects: As at Royal Huisman solar panels on the roofs of the administrative buildings and all the lighting at the shipyard has been converted to LED. Diesel forklifts have been replaced with electric.

Adria Docks will continue the water jetting projects etc., and it also plans to introduce wind and solar power to the site of our production processes.

Jelle Engel has great ambitions to see KM Yachtbuilders become the ‘Patagonia’ brand of the yachting industry: He says, “There is a lot of work to do and a lot that we can gain, we see many chances and look up to a brand like Patagonia. Our product gives you the opportunity to explore, learn and enjoy places that are not easy to enter, our fanbase and user group is already closer to nature than the average person, so that gives us the chance to act as an example for the industry.”

More and more customers are requesting environmental friendly solutions says Engel; “We realise we need to stay ahead of the market and deeply understand what people are looking for and why. We test new applications ourselves before we advise customers. Some customers are really demanding sustainable solutions, most of them get inspired when we show examples of what is possible like the case study yacht – the Bestevaer 36.”

Sustainability is of crucial importance claims Royal Huisman, and superyacht owners, as well as the marine sector, want to play their parts. Owner driven technical innovations at Royal Huisman are perhaps ahead of the curve, because 15 years have passed since it launched the 58.04 m SY Ethereal. Noted for her pioneering hybrid propulsion system and incorporating 400kWh of stored energy in her Li-ion battery bank, Ethereal has now logged several hundred thousand miles traversing the world’s oceans propelled either by sail, or by mechanical propulsion, or via her stored energy source. Her entire domestic load – in addition to sailing systems and anchoring functions – can source its power from this same set of Li-ion batteries, enabling true stealth mode operation.

The 46m / 152ft NextGEN ketch Elfje (delivered by Royal Huisman in 2014) incorporated the latest iteration of hybrid technology that informed the Ethereal project. While Ethereal’s ground-breaking hybrid system focuses on propulsion and power management, Elfje interprets ‘hybrid’ by supplying power via variable-speed, variable-output, variable fuel-consuming generators backed up by a Li-ion ‘peak-shaving’ power storage bank and an energy management system. Royal Huisman has continued to refine its technological leadership with remarkable projects, including the hybrid conversion (by Huisfit) of the 1999 cutter Foftein and the 1993 ketch Juliet.

More recently, for example, in Project 405 Nilaya, the Royal Huisman team developed a ‘tribrid’ propulsion system in response to the owners’ request for an emergency ‘get home’ engine. This flexible system provides two ways to power the variable pitch propeller without a supplemental third engine or gearbox, thus saving 2,000 kg. The propeller can be powered in two ways: mechanically (directly from the engine) and/or electrically (either from batteries or generators). The ‘tribrid’ system is a hybrid system with an additional smart hydraulic integration, allowing the engines and gensets to have an integrated powerpack for hydraulics. This is more efficient and makes it possible to turn off the generators during sailing. Additionally, when motoring, it is possible to turn off a second combustion engine (an inefficiently running genset), while the engine within the shaft line provides energy for the hotel consumers.

During engineering, it was possible to select a smaller main engine because maximum power output is provided when both the engine and electric motor are running. With this boost function, the main engine runs at a more economical rate while at cruise speed.

Similarly, a critical look at Nilaya’s HVAC system and selecting direct expansion and fan coils for each room shaved another 600 kg from system weight. A direct expansion system uses only one coolant instead of a conventional combination of chilled water and a coolant. The coolant requires smaller (and lighter) piping without insulation since the coolant does not lose energy during transport. Therefore, this system is lighter and more efficient. The battery system provides zero emission sailing and anchoring, allowing one to motor into fjords and other no-emission cruising zones and sleep without the generators running.

All the yards are ambitious and enthusiastic about future plans be it significant investments to upgrade facilities and enhance its health, safety and green credential profile or to transform into a %100 green shipyard in the next two years.

Buoyed up by the awards BV 36 has received, KM Yachbuilders are now building a Bestevaer 41ft model based on the same concept. Says Engel, “The great thing about these models is that these have a ballasted centreboard and a pilothouse like all Bestevaers. The very limited draft of only 0.70 m with the centreboard up allows these yachts to explore the shallow waters but with the centreboard down they have the same performance as the Bestevaer with a fixed keel.”

At Royal Huisman, the teams are getting very excited about the wind, which the yard claims will always outperform the energy consumption of engines. And wind energy is free: Free of charge, free of fumes and free of noise. And sailing is fun, which is why the company that has been building sailing yachts since 1884 has no plans to stop now.

When Jan Huisman opened a yard to construct small workboats and fishing boats, the hulls were wooden, and so were the clogs that shipwrights wore to stay out of the mud. Many things have changed, and the shipyard has evolved from ‘a local builder of wooden workboats’ to receiving a Royal Warrant nearly 40 years ago. Its core business model has never changed – it builds unique, quality vessels by hand, including 26 yachts measuring longer than 40 metres / 131 feet. Royal Huisman has built 173 aluminum yachts in the last 60 years and added carbon fibre to its capabilities last century. The shipyard’s latest revolutionary Featherlight™ method is a holistic, lightweight approach to yacht building, combining various complementary weight-saving solutions utilising aluminum and some carbon fibre components.

SY Nilaya (47m) is the first yacht constructed using Featherlight™: she achieved the goal of slicing 11% of the weight of the Royal Huisman’s typical advanced aluminum cruising yachts. Lower weight means lower resistance which is energy saving and thus makes the boat more eco conscious.

In addition, Nilaya owners’ team is the first to say that sailing is the main source of her propulsion. For instance, when the yacht needs to increase its range for ocean crossings well, they simply raise the sails. Lightweight, aluminum yachts will remain the mainstay of future Royal Huisman world cruising yachts. While carbon fibre is lighter and generally faster than aluminum, aluminum is more comfortable, impact-resistant and 100% recyclable.

The latest developments at Royal Huisman include the lengthening of the largest construction hall and the Advanced Composites Hall. Additional offices have been built for engineering, production, and owner’s representatives, meeting the latest requirements with respect to construction, insulation, heating and ventilation.

So the shipyards it seems, at different speeds and under different ‘sails’ are floating downstream in the right direction.