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Thursday, September 17, 2020 

Under the recently-launched DFDS climate strategy, the Danish ro-ro and ro-pax operator intends to phase out the use of fossil fuels completely by 2025.

This will mean, says the company, a completely new approach to the type of vessels, how they are operated, how they are fuelled, where the fuel is obtained, fuel and how they connect to the necessary infrastructure. All will be radically different from today's operations.

“Adapting or replacing your fleet is expensive,” said DFDS’s Head of Innovation and Partnerships, Jakob Steffensen. “We are constantly seeking information to be able to make the right long-term decisions to become climate neutral. But we lack information and knowledge about the new kinds of fuels and technologies that will run ships in the not too distant future. When you work with innovation – coming up with radical new solutions to existing and uture challenges – you can go two ways to find the knowledge you need. You can buy knowledge by hiring people or you can cast a wider net and seek partnerships and joint ventures with other companies and organisations, to be able to get an even broader pool of knowledge and contacts. We choose to work in partnerships because it gives us access to bright minds working in other organisations. Our many projects within decarbonisation and automation help us qualify our assumptions every day. They also help us understand how the rest of the marine industry and those connected to it go about reducing their emissions.”

The Innovation & Partnerships team has a project portfolio aimed at providing the answers and partners DFDS needs to become climate neutral, being involved in a massive hydrogen factory in Copenhagen and using the Ark Germania test vessel to test fuel cells.

Steffensen said: “Changing the type of fuel on which a ship runs on is not a decision to be taken lightly. It has a massive impact on all aspects of our industry. Conclusions and choices are difficult to make as climate neutral fuels and technologies are still in their infancy. Some are more sophisticated and market-ready than others, but on a whole, there is very little out there that you can buy off the shelf, put it into your business and voilà – you reduce emissions. By doing joint investigative projects, we can go deep into theories and test them, without committing to specific technologies or equipment. And that is where we are now: investigating, trying, testing. Some industry actors seem to be jumping to conclusions and placing their bets on one kind of fuel. It’s human nature to want to stick with what we understand. And if we see that a ship can run on methanol, some people may say ‘done', that’s what we’re choosing’. But the choice of fuel is not a choice we are ready to make just yet. There are too many unknowns. What if the aviation industry goes for methanol, too? How can we know that there’s enough to go around for everyone and that the price of it doesn’t skyrocket? We don’t want to end up in a situation where the shortage of some of the elements we need for our fuel trigger a “who is willing to pay most” competition between aviation and shipping, for instance. We need to keep investigating and assessing results on an ongoing basis before we make decisions that cannot be unmade.”

“We do already know a few things,” Steffensen said. “We know which fuels have the biggest potential to work in shipping: ammonia, hydrogen, methanol. So far so good. And we know that we have until 2026/2027 to make a qualified choice of which fuels and vessels to go for. That’s our deadline: 2050 seems like an eternity away, but in an industry where a ship’s lifetime is about 25 years, the ones we purchase just five years from now will have a decisive effect on our ability to achieve our climate goals."

Steffensen concludes: “If anyone in the industry can achieve this, I believe it is us. It’s engrained in our culture that we listen before we make decisions, and that’s vital at this stage. We also share openly and because of that, our partners share, too. We know which partners to seek out and we work with them every single day. Our open partnership approach puts us in a good position to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.”

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