Sailing the High Seas—Emission-Free

Sailing the High Seas Boat Crew Photo

The world’s largest emission-free cargo ship, Ceiba, will eliminate more than 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide (C02) each year by moving about 250 tons of goods otherwise transported on fossil-fuel-burning ships.

“Ceiba is being built to prove the value of clean shipping,” said Danielle Doggett, cofounder and CEO of Sailcargo. “We wanted to focus on the triple bottom line—people, planet and financials—and prove all three can be viable while remaining emission-free.

Ms. Doggett, who has a background in project management, has been leading a team of 45 employees, including architects and engineers, in Costa Rica. The team has put in more than 100,000 combined hours to build Ceiba, which is expected to launch in 2022.

The cargo vessel will primarily rely on wind power, with an auxiliary electric engine powered for maneuvering  in ports or in low winds. The engine will be powered by electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells or algae-biofuel. The 14 sails will potentially be made out of solar fabric. There will be no need for the ship to wait in line at ports to refuel as Ceiba can recharge herself. An experienced crew of 12 professionals will run the ship with additional room for trainees or guests.

To build her team, Ms. Doggett was able to attract experienced shipbuilders from around the world, but she also focused on recruiting team members from the local community in Puntas Morales.

“Puntas Morales is one of the most financially impoverished communities in the entire country, and we provide locals with paid apprentice opportunities,” she says. The apprenticeships are mainly in woodworking and construction, though there are also opportunities in steel work to create the tools needed to work on the ship.

Navigating Covid-19, Culture and Other Challenges

In dealing with the pandemic, Sailcargo worked directly with the Ministry of Health in Costa Rica to avoid shutting down and keeping staff employed. The team followed safety protocols such as temperature checks and enhanced cleaning, while the majority of the work was done in the open air, making it safer. Even Sailcargo’s offices are outside.

“The thing we had to focus on most was the communication, because our team members come from such varied backgrounds and have such diverse family situations,” says Ms.Doggett. “Somebody here could be living with their 90-year-old mother.”

Challenges are something Sailcargo deals with every day. “Our team constantly solves problems on everything—whether that's Covid-19 or how are we going to launch the ship,” says Ms. Doggett.

One example of this is importing the wood for the masts. The wood—from the west coast of British Colombia, Canada—was not initially recognized on Costa Rica’s import national register.

The Future Looks Green

Like every new ship, Ceiba will go through trials and testing, with careful attention to the installation of the double electric engine. To help, Sailcargo has worked with established companies in Europe that have used electric and solar power technology in other vessels.

The move toward reducing emissions in the shipping industry is becoming increasingly important. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has called for the industry to cut annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least a half by 2050.

“The existing fleet of ships cannot achieve that [goal], and there's no way to retrofit them,” says Ms. Doggett. “Shipowners who understand that their ships have a lifespan of approximately 25 years need to look today at new shipping options or they will be heavily fined or simply tied to the dock.”

Producers of goods also want to reduce their carbon footprint, and coffee makers, who face one of the highest carbon footprints of any beverage, have shown interest in transporting with Ceiba. Other candidates include barley for beer brewing, bioplastics and electric bikes. 

The initial trade route for Ceiba will run from Costa Rica on the Pacific side, up to Canada via Hawaii and back down. A second ship is being designed to go from the north coast of Colombia on the Atlantic to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

There is a rising movement toward making supply chains fully sustainable. Since the Ceiba project started in 2016, the ship has attracted private investors in 26 countries who see the value of clean shipping.

“Covid-19 brought a lot of global attention for the need of increased resiliency,” Ms. Doggett says. “The focus on renewable energy made telling our story a lot easier overnight.”

Digital Exclusive article developed for Project Management Institute, Inc. by Joanne Frearson. Frearson is a U.K.-based business reporter.

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