Shared challenges, shared solutions: partnering with customers to meet sustainability challenges

We are currently witnessing a huge period of change for the global shipping industry. The need to create a more sustainable global economy means businesses, regulators, industry bodies and customers are all looking for ways to reduce the impact of shipping on the environment.

From the fuels we use to the way we build ships and use data, every part of the industry needs critical examination, innovative thinking and bold action. What is clear is that no company can do it on their own.

Stolt Tankers and its customers are having to adapt to a changing market. As sustainability becomes an increasingly important strategic priority and compliance requirement, many businesses are looking for stronger partnerships. For Stolt Tankers, being customer-centric means providing solutions that not only help customers today but innovate and drive positive, long-term change too.

Collaboration is at the heart of sustainability

Recent years have seen Stolt Tankers begin embedding sustainability values, thinking and best practices into everything the company does. As well as being a signatory of the UN Global Compact and aiming for a 50% emissions reduction (compared to 2008 levels) by 2030, the company is making sure sustainability is considered in all its processes – from worker safety to the optimisation of technical systems.

“Making sustainability a key part of our culture is a big priority for us over the next couple of years,” says Gabriel Poritz, Business Partner Sustainability and Decarbonisation, Stolt Tankers (pictured). “It’s important to get to a place where our decision-making always considers the impact on the world around us as well as the profitability of the company and the safety of everyone involved.”

“We were pleased to have been able to bring in Stolt Tankers for the subsequent detailed design. The company is a creative, reliable and highly experienced partner." Uwe Liebelt, President, European Verbund Sites, BASF

And while the company can do a lot of good on its own, the challenges faced by the shipping industry are too big for any one party to deal with alone. By partnering with industry groups like the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping and several industry-led future fuel initiatives Stolt Tankers can make sure it has a place at the table where these important discussions are taking place.

“There are so many aspects to this challenge – from adapting and standardising infrastructure across the supply chain to testing fuels and working out how to bear the costs involved,” says Giorgio Guadagna, Business Partner Sustainability and Decarbonisation, Stolt Tankers (pictured). “We have a lot to contribute to the conversation and we are showing we have a range of practical solutions as well.”

The scale and timeframe of climate change means that doing the bare minimum is simply not an option when it comes to sustainability. The team at Stolt Tankers wants to be a proactive player helping to drive positive change in the industry. Achieving that means more than working to make its own operations more sustainable – it also means helping customers achieve their sustainability goals too. 

“We want to be heard when it comes to the decisions being made by industry bodies, regulators and our peers,” says Poritz. “That way we can help move things forward and create the best results for our customers as well as the wider maritime industry and the planet.”

Helping customers do more

As Stolt Tankers moves forward on its own sustainability journey, it is finding more and more ways to help its customers on theirs too. From transporting less carbon-intensive fuels to supporting clients with their compliance-related disclosures, this additional support is helping the company become an even more valued partner to its customers. 

As well as helping customers explore ways to transition to biofuels, one of the most valuable ways Stolt Tankers is supporting customers is through transparency. The company’s Scope 1 emissions are Scope 3 for its customers – which can be difficult to calculate and verify but are increasingly required as part of sustainability-related disclosures.

“Collaboration is impossible without transparency, and we have implemented the right tools and systems to provide customers with the information they need,” says Poritz. “They really value us being able to provide data on every one of the cargoes we ship for them.”

Innovation in action: achieving results with BASF’s new low-water tanker

One of the things that makes sustainability such a complex challenge is its scale. The effects of climate change will impact the lives of everyone on the planet in a myriad of ways. And they are not due at some point in the future – they are already beginning to create changes to which businesses and communities need to adapt.

In 2018, water levels on the Rhine in Germany reached an historic low. As one of the most important waterways for transporting chemicals in Europe, the fact that barges were unable to fully load created a major logistical challenge for many companies. “As a result, the import of raw materials was severely limited,” says Uwe Liebelt, President, European Verbund Sites, BASF. “We were looking at a financial impact of around €250 million.”

With climate change set to make these once extremely rare weather events more likely, businesses were looking at higher transportation costs, shipping delays and the need to identify new logistics routes.

That same year, global chemicals company BASF set up a consortium of several companies with expertise in ship building to try to create a viable long-term solution to the problem of lower water levels on the Rhine. “We were pleased to have been able to bring in Stolt Tankers for the subsequent detailed design,” says Liebelt. “The company is a creative, reliable and highly experienced partner.”

Stolt Tankers was able to bring the joint design by BASF, Duisburger Entwicklungszentrum für Schiffstechnik und Transportsysteme e.V, (DST), Technolog Services GmbH and Agnos Consulting to life. The resulting tanker, the Stolt Ludwigshafen, is an example of how thinking about sustainability can both reduce risks and create opportunities.

Not only can the ship pass through the critical point of the Rhine at Kaub with a cargo of 650 tonnes – even when the water level is as low as 30cm – its carrying capacity at average low water levels is still twice that of conventional inland vessels.

It is equipped with ten stainless steel tanks and three separate loading systems designed to handle high-density products like acids and alkalis. A hydrodynamically optimised hull supports the 135-metre by 17.5-metre ship, while innovative lightweight construction methods, usually employed for seagoing vessels, provide high structural stability.

“From a sustainability perspective, we’re reducing carbon emissions through three state-of-the-art electric engines, fed by latest-generation diesel generators with exhaust gas treatment (EU Stage V),” says Liebelt. “This engine mix is more efficient, reduces our footprint and allows us to utilise other generator types such as hydrogen when it becomes feasible.”

The result, says Guadagna, is not only an innovative new tanker that helps set a new standard for the inland shipping sector. “This project is also an example of the practical solutions and upgrades we can achieve here and now. It’s these kinds of smart designs that help improve efficiency that will be key if the industry wants to meet the targets it is setting itself.”

As well as overseeing the construction, Stolt Tankers will operate the Stolt Ludwigshafen exclusively for BASF. The ship will embark on its first voyage in spring 2023.

The project has also opened the door for Stolt Tankers to continue contributing to projects of a similar scale in the future, such as a new game-changing innovation that will help another customer design and build a fully methanol-powered ship.

Navigating change together

The success of the BASF project demonstrates Stolt Tanker’s ability to work on big projects, using its technical insight and expertise to solve complex challenges for customers and help push the industry forward. Sustainability is an important and complex issue for the shipping industry and the BASF project is proof that as well as mitigating risk and overcoming logistical hurdles, thinking sustainably creates opportunities to optimise processes, increase efficiency and ultimately deliver more value for customers.

“The BASF project is really cool, and I hope it looks very normal in a few years’ time,” says Poritz. “I hope when we look back, we can see it as part of the industry’s step-by-step improvement on its way to achieving its sustainability goals. That would be the best outcome for everyone involved.”

For Stolt Tankers, continuing to enhance collaboration and transparency with customers is proving to be the most effective way of maximising its impact and supporting its customers on their own sustainability journeys.