Ro-Ro Carriers Look to Set New Electric Vehicle Transportation Standards

Ro-Ro Carriers Look to Set New Electric Vehicle Transportation Standards
Phubet Boonrasri

With the advancement of new technologies and the awakening of an energy conscious public, more people are beginning to look for alternatives to conventional vehicles. In particular, we’re seeing a rise in popularity of Electric Vehicles (EVs), and as such ocean transportation volumes of EVs are expected to increase as well. Therefore, the entire logistics industry is beginning to ask questions on how to prepare for this emerging new market segment.

Even though the initial cost for EVs is normally substantially more than their gasoline powered brethren, consumers are increasingly choosing electric powered vehicles for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s saving money over the long run or the smaller environmental impact, there are still limitations for EVs. One of the biggest is the range of the vehicles, and to increase the time between charges larger and larger batteries are being installed on EVs. This has been a point that has raised questions among many in the industry of how to safely ship EVs on Ro-Ro vessels, and when it comes to bigger shipments in the future, how should carriers prepare to handle increasingly large EV shipments?

For a more thorough breakdown on this and other questions regarding the shipment of EVs, we spoke to automotive transportation experts, Mr. Gur Prasad Kohli, Vice President, Head of Sales, South Asia at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean; Mr. Poomsit Khunsit, General Manager Commercial at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean (Thailand) and Mr. Yusuke Sasada, President at NYK RORO (Thailand) about how leading shipping lines should prepare themselves for transporting EVs.

On the Rise

The initial ‘wow’ moment for EV vehicles has already passed and it’s becoming common place now to see them driving on streets around the globe. Governments have also already begun announcing plans and programs to support the production, sales and use of EVs to encourage an increased adoption rate.

Mr. Poomsit Khunsit

“Even though EVs are trending and on the rise these days, the total volume transported on Ro-Ro vessels is not very high yet. If you look at the trends itself, the route most popular for EVs is from North America to Europe, especially from the US to Norway which has the highest percentage of any country’s imported new electric cars at nearly 46%.” said Mr. Khunsit.

While Norway has the largest percentage of sales for new electric cars compared to conventional cars, China and USA have the largest numbers in terms of sales volumes respectively. As these two major countries have their own inland manufacturers and distributors, their transportation modes are based on trucking and rail services. However, this growing trend could also apply to every corner of the world. That’s why leading Ro-Ro vessel operators need to be prepared for the changes and start to study all of the possibilities and challenges related to EV technologies.

Mr. Sasada stated, “As far as we know, there’s still no problems related to our operations, handling and the shipment of EVs since the volumes are currently not extremely high. Notably, currently EVs aren’t categorized as dangerous goods (DG) either, as long as they are carried on Ro-Ro vessels. EVs will only be considered as DG once it’s containerized. However, when we have larger shipments of EV in the future, we will reconsider and revise our plan for the best operations practices again. By that time, I also expect updated regulations for shipping EVs to come into effect.”

Mr. Yusuke Sasada

While the numbers are still low, Mr. Kohli pointed out that EV cargo is slowly signaling to every sector involved that there are factors to consider and to be prepared for, and for which laying down a firm foundation and setting operations standards for this type of cargo will be important. “Even though we currently handle and ship EVs the same carefully way we do with conventional vehicles, we have already initiated in-depth studies with leading universities and OEM manufacturers to learn how and what battery technology EV producers will use for their electrical automotive products, what could be the possible risks for transporting EVs, as well as how to prevent and solve each of the likely issues that we will come across in the future.”

Powering an Industry

While the shipment of conventional vehicles has already set industry standards, EVs still sit in a grey area. That’s why Ro-Ro vessel operators should plan ahead and study what the best practices and standards for shipping and handling of EVs are, while the growth is still modest. Some companies have come forward to discuss and find out the most suitable battery level that should be allowed on each vehicle. They are looking for the right amount to ensure that the remaining battery level is enough for driving on and off the vessel, but not too much as that can added and unneeded risks to the whole transportation process.

Mr. Gur Prasad Kohli

“What we worry about is the certain battery level allowed on board. Specifically, how much charge should be remaining in the battery of the vehicle that would be best for transportation due to safety concerns. If the volumes of EV shipments become larger, then with likely thousands of EVs onboard fully charged, it would become very risky for the whole shipment, vessel and personnel working onboard. For example, if there is any accident that causes batteries to overheat and explode. Therefore, we need to come together and figure this out clearly. For instance, when shipping conventional vehicles, the industry has clear restrictions for cars to have only 7-10% remaining fuel just to make sure that it’s enough for the cars to be driven on and off Ro-Ro vessels and to avoid any possible risks caused by too much unneeded fuel,” said Mr. Kohli.

Plan for Stability

Obviously, at the moment EVs normally use much, much larger batteries compared to conventional cars. They are still so large in fact that the average electric car weighs up to 1.8 tons per unit while conventional cars normally weighed around 1.3 tons. “With EV’s heavier weight, ocean carriers need to recalculate and plan for parking EVs onboard. Generally, we put the heaviest vehicles at the bottom and the lighter vehicles on upper floors due to stability and safety reasons. We have heard that manufacturers are doing research to find new battery technology which would be lighter while still enabling long distance travel, so we need to keep our eyes on this,” Mr. Khunsit said.

Charging Infrastructure

While manufacturing and the adoption rates of EVs in almost every region on Earth keeps growing, one of the main factors that throttles down this trend is charging infrastructure. With more charging stations easily accessible, people can be sure that when their battery level is getting low they can find the closest station to charge before the battery dies. That’s why charging station coverage plays a very important role to supporting the growth of EV usage amongst people in every country.

“As far as we’ve heard from major car producers, EV adoption will gradually increase, but the volume may not leap sharply. With the limitation of electric power charging station coverage, we would see more and more hybrid cars first, before jumping to complete EVs. However, the support from Governments and private sectors in providing charging infrastructure in each country can be vital for this growth, as well as privileges such as sales and tax incentives, that the Government offer to motivate EVs manufacturers and distributors to invest more into this technology too,” said Mr. Sasada.

With the growing trend of alternative-energy vehicles, there’s a clear sign that more and more consumers are becoming conscious of energy savings and sustainability. Moreover, we are already seeing coordination of every part of the supply chain to prepare for this change. It’s very important for businesses to be up-to-date in an ever-growing technological age, because having in-depth information and analytical tools can finally make huge differences to the future of business.

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Phubet Boonrasri

Phubet Boonrasri, or Chen, is an experienced writer with interests in many fields. As a one of the feature writers for Airfreight Logistics, Chen digs in deep to get his facts. Chen is an adventurer, an explorer of the world and spends a lot of his spare time with nature.

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