Coverage of Maritime UK South West – Road to Net Zero Event

Maritime decarbonisation projects based in the UK’s south west were highlighted this week in the first of a series of virtual ‘Road to Net Zero’ roadshows led by Maritime UK. The key message from the event was that maritime’s energy transition is on the country’s to-do list, but can best be accelerated and optimised if there is ‘joined up thinking’ and political will on investing in the sector, together with sustained cross-sector collaboration between industry stakeholders, academic institutions and national and local government.

The event, which was also facilitated by the Maritime UK South West regional cluster (the largest maritime cluster in the UK) and national trade association members, showcased six initiatives that are currently exploring technological pathways to decarbonisation, as well as three larger projects that are engaged in next-level funding bids.

Event co-chair Ben Murray, Director, Maritime UK, kickstarted the event with an overview of the UK government’s current roadmap for maritime’s decarbonisation. Its initial ambitions and priorities were laid out in its Maritime 2050 document, published in January 2019. This was followed by the ambitious Clean Maritime Plan last July, which is the first national decarbonisation strategy for the maritime sector and calls for all new ships for UK waters ordered from 2025 to be designed with zero-emission capable technologies

In mid-November, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson rolled out his ambitions for a ‘green industrial revolution’ in a 10-point clean energy plan. The main thrust of the plan relates to domestic power generation, with a focus on increasing offshore wind power and switching to nuclear, hydrogen and electricity as energy sources. However, the programme did include support for research projects to enable ‘difficult-to-decarbonise industries’ such as aviation and shipping to reduce their carbon footprint.

At the south west event, co-chair Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and Shadow Environment Secretary, said the 10-point plan was ‘a positive step in the right direction’, but he emphasised that: ‘We need to make sure that we are getting the political backing, not just from the government but on a cross-party basis for this.

‘This is clearly an area that will require an element of government support, but it also requires a political will to encourage and set the conditions for business and research to thrive in our region.’

Ben Murray also called for a cohesive approach on maritime’s decarbonisation, with buy-in from central government and local government tiers.

‘We want to make sure that we are all pulling in the same direction on this, because what is very clear is that we haven’t got any time to waste,’ he said.

Many of the projects showcased in the roadshow have received funding from MarRI-UK, a consortium of UK companies, academia and government which was set up last July and subsequently launched two competitions to foster technological innovation – the first of these was focused on finding maritime emissions reduction technologies.

Such initiatives were important and necessary, said Murray, but more investment is needed. In October, the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak put plans for a multi-year comprehensive spending review on hold, in light of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Maritime UK had submitted a £1 billion bid relating to the maritime sector to cover, amongst other things, funding for clean shipping and investment in green infrastructure for the provision of shore power technology and alternative marine fuels.

The spending review has been delayed until next summer, but Murray said that the £1 billion bid could also have been a catalyst to unlock industry investment as well, potentially leading to the creation of 75,000 green jobs, primarily in coastal areas like the south west.

The first project at the virtual roadshow was presented by Andy Hurley, project manager at Plymouth Boat Trips and the Voyager Marine boatyard. Plymouth Boat Trips currently operates 8 vessels which carry some 300,000 passengers a year around the Plymouth Sound area. Collectively, they account for around 375 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year as well as other pollutants

With a future focus on the 24-metre commercial vessel sector, the company has developed the e-Voyager, the first fully-electric seagoing passenger vessel to operate in the UK. Converted and launched in October 2020 and able to carry 12 passengers, the 8-metre vessel is being used as a testbed, with a view to scaling up to larger passenger vessels.

Using lithium-ion batteries, the boat has a speed of around 8 knots and can operate for a full day of service on a single overnight charge. Hurley said the company had received seed funding from bodies such as MARri-UK and has worked closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and class society Bureau Veritas on the project. It has also partnered with the universities of Exeter and Plymouth, as well as local companies.

Through Innovate UK funding and support, Plymouth Boat Trips now plans to convert the 103-passenger Plymouth Princess to become the first full-size fully-electric passenger vessel in the UK. The company is also working with a south west-based naval architect on the UK’s first purpose-built zero carbon emissions vessel, which would replace the Edgecumbe Princess which operates on the Cremyll crossing.


Hurley said that the battery technology has been adapted from the road transport sector and the emphasis from the outset has been on developing commercially viable solutions. Echoing Murray’s comments, he said that the development of a shore power infrastructure was essential to encourage the move from diesel to fully-electric vessel solutions.

Next up was Martin Boulter, the lead on marine autonomous vessels at City College in Plymouth. Here, in the college’s engineering department, over 95% of students are drawn from industry, either following an upskilling programme supported by their companies or part of a higher apprenticeship band within their employers.

Final year students usually focus on marine autonomy technologies, but this year they have been challenged to use hydrogen fuel cells to power a 2-metre fully autonomous vessel. They will be working with fuel cells obtained from the UAV sector.

‘All the technologies we use are available off the shelf – we are just using them in an innovative way,’ said Boulter.

He highlighted that the students don’t work in a silo but collaborate within their respective competencies, such as marine architecture. ‘We see the sharing of information as very important and it generates innovation very quickly,’ he said.

He also highlighted the key issue of developing employee skills to meet the demands of the UK’s maritime energy transition.

‘We are going to have to train up a lot more people at entry level coming into the sector,’ he said.

‘It is about creating that grassroots knowledge in young people and then what they do with it in their career is the critical element of growth.’

Andrew Openshaw, Head of Electronic Design and Engineering at the luxury yacht manufacturer, Sunseeker International, outlined innovative projects underway at the Poole-based company which are focused on carbon emissions reduction.

Sunseeker is working on the design of a 55ft sports yacht which will use lithium battery storage and an onboard power management system. Moving forwards, and in partnership with Rolls-Royce Power Systems, the ambition is to use this technology for the yacht’s propulsion as well as power generation.

This is the first step to introducing zero emissions pleasure yachting, being mindful of client and environmental demands, said Openshaw. As with other contributors to the event, he also pointed to the imperative of using technologies and systems that are commercially viable.

Victoria Limbrick, Energy Manager with the RNLI, told event attendees that the organisation may be at the beginning of its decarbonisation journey, but emissions reduction will be a ‘critical element’ of its work in the years ahead.

In terms of future targets out to 2050, she said that from 2020 the RNLI will ‘always consider sustainability in what we do’. By 2024, the target is zero avoidable single-use plastics and by 2040 the aim is ‘zero waste to landfill’. By 2050, the ambition is zero carbon (within scope 1 and scope 2).

The RNLI currently has 28 solar powered installations (accounting for about 3% of its annual consumption), 30 ground or water source heat pumps, and a 20kW wind turbine in the Shetlands.

‘Wherever we build and refurbish, we will install as much renewable technology as is available and practicable at the time…and our renewables portfolio is backed by a robust business case,’ said Limbrick.

She also said that the RNLI’s engineers are constantly improving the fuel and energy consumption of its vessels, while in future the organisation’s programme of action on decarbonisation will be very much supported by the skillsets of its future volunteers.

Limbrick also made the stark point that climate change is already impacting on the environment the RNLI operates in, through challenges such as rising sea levels, but, she emphasised, ‘there are very few challenges the RNLI can’t tackle!’

The roadshow also highlighted that maritime’s decarbonisation will also bring the focus and expertise of other sectors into play, in ways that may not be initially considered. To illustrate this, Kevin Jones, Executive Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Plymouth, spoke about the work of the Cyber Ship Lab at the University of Plymouth.


As Jones explained, ‘Introducing new technology potentially introduces new problems and new threats.


‘Cyber-attacks in the maritime space are growing, from accidental damage to commercial operations through to targeted attacks and ransomware, going up to state-sponsored activity.’

Ship Lab combines cyber tech and maritime operations, he said. ‘We expect this to be a collaborative venture which will allow UK plc to be able to address some of the cyber issues that are emerging from the new technologies we are approaching.

‘We have a number of partners at industry and university level,’ who are working to ensure ‘that we are not introducing new problems through new solutions.’

In the south west, there will be a focus on next generation thinking around smart ports and autonomous shipping, he said.

‘Smart ports can reduce the carbon burden on the shipping sector, but to be able to do this we have to be sure it can be done in a secure way,’ said Jones, noting that this will also require collaboration with class societies and the MCA ‘to ensure that as we develop these new technologies there is the appropriate support within the regulatory structure to enable it to be deployed.’

As the UK maritime industry focuses on hitting government targets – and also the International Maritime Organization’s 2030 and 2050 initial GHG reduction ambitions (which are subject to further review in 2023), the need to encourage information and technology exchange across industry sectors is being widely discussed.

Ken Wittamore, founder of Cornwall-based Triskel Marine, picked up this thread and applied it to the potential parallels between the automotive and maritime sectors, or, as he pointed out: ‘How much cross over there is, and how much cross over there isn’t?’

While the economics of these two markets are very different the expectations are the same, he explained.

The electric vehicle market with its high-volume production capacity can achieve compound growth of around 50% per annum. The sector is dominated by a few global players who can justify a massive R&D spend because they can see a return on their investment, said Wittamore.

However, the maritime market, where production runs are on a completely different scale (much smaller), there are therefore much lower rates of growth.

‘There is nobody at the scale of Tesla or General Motors behind this and therefore the ability of the maritime sector to invest is very much more limited than the automotive sector – yet the drivers are the same,’ he commented.

‘My own view is that our industry is very risk averse; because the [production volume] numbers are low you can’t afford to get the first vessel wrong.’

He also reiterated the need for collaboration on decarbonisation projects. ‘We need collaboration because [this will require] systems development and not necessarily specific technological development – and clearly, as ever, we need cash.’

The roadshow concluded with a review of three projects that are looking to move on to the next stage of development through new funding bid submissions.

Professor Deborah Greaves, Head of School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics at the University of Plymouth, offered an overview of the South West Flow Accelerator initiative which is looking to support the development of the floating offshore wind sector in the Celtic Sea in the south west region – and its supply chain, which could include providing renewable energy to the maritime sector.

Project value is £65 million, and it is one of 17 submissions that have reached the full proposal stage, with a proposal submitted in November

Commodore Steve Jermy, Executive Chair, Wave Hub, described the initiative as ‘probably one of the most exciting things I have seen in working for over a decade in this sector.’


He explained that what differentiates the floating offshore wind sector from conventional offshore wind is that the ‘floaters’ can be constructed in sheltered waters and, perhaps most importantly, construction can be scaled up rapidly.

Discussions are at an advanced stage on the sale of the Celtic Sea site to a project/technology developer, he said, and operations could begin as early as January next year, with power coming on stream as soon as 2023.

‘I think we need 3 gigawatts [of power] in the Celtic Sea by 2030 and 3 gigawatts in Scottish waters – if we can get that pipeline then we can establish a world-leading position.’

Alasdair Ambroziak, Head of Policy and Government Relations, Thales UK, talked about the Future Oceans Institute project.


There is a massive opportunity in the blue economy, with economic value growth estimated at £1.9 trillion to £2.3 trillion, he said, and this offers a huge opportunity for the south west region.


But the key questions centre on how we are going to capitalise on the huge potential in the region and accelerate growth, particularly around sustainability, he commented.


The Institute will seek to bring together key economic drivers from both the private and public sectors with the aim of developing a nationally and internationally recognised hub ‘to support the UK as a science and technology superpower and really align on the government’s broad and strategic narrative on “levelling-up”,’ said Ambroziak.


Opportunities in the south west for aquaculture was the focus of the final presentation from Martin Sutcliffe of Dorset County Council, who is also Chair of the SW Aquaculture Network.


He discussed a proposed aquaculture innovation centre as well as the concept of aquaculture parks.

He highlighted England’s recently released aquaculture strategy, Seafood 2040, which has an ambitious target to increase seafood production by 10-fold in the next two decades.

Sutcliffe noted that in terms of the licensing and permitting of aquaculture sites, many stakeholders are involved, such as landowners, councils and inshore fishery conservation bodies. For a new SME entrant to the sector, capital costs can potentially be prohibitive, he said. However, aquaculture parks, such as the one envisioned for Poole Harbour, can reduce start-up costs as the licensing and permitting work is carried out by one controlling body.

Aquaculture parks align with net zero emissions, he said, noting that seaweed can also act as carbon sinks.

The Maritime UK roadshow presentations certainly focused attention on how diverse the UK maritime decarbonisation ‘ecosystem’ will be – and that its creation will come at a cost.

Maritime UK’s Murray pressed home the point in relation to the UK government’s delayed spending review: ‘We have got the time now to make the argument as comprehensive as possible and the way that we can best do that is by showing tangible, real examples that exist today and also by demonstrating what more could be achieved with further government funding.

‘We need to keep the pressure on to work to develop that business case and with COP 26 to be hosted in the UK in autumn next year we will use this as a shop window for some of the great things that are already happening,’ he said.

‘We also want to put pressure on the government to show climate leadership and put its money where its mouth is further than it has done already, because we know that the ambitions that we share can’t be there without significant public investment.’


Maritime UK South West plan are setting up a Clean Maritime working group to help create investment in the area. If you would like to find out more please contact