This summer, WWL shipped 13 brand new Toyota Mirai cars from Nagoya in Japan to Europe. The Mirai – the name means 'future’ in Japanese - is one of the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to be sold commercially. The four-door midsize car has a range of 502 kilometres and a 1.6kWh nickel-metal hydride battery. It’s just one of the new alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) that are making their way onto the market.

By 2020, sales of alternative fuel vehicles - powered by electric batteries, hydrogen and gas - are expected to double. WWL, which has transported electric cars for several years, is already taking steps to make sure it’s ready to handle these new types of vehicles.

“As with any new type of cargo, we have to adjust our traditional ways of handling vehicles,” says Captain Göran Söderdahl, head of Cargo Solutions at WWL, who has been sailing vessels for 23 years. “Transporting AFVs is not riskier than traditional vehicles. But we need to adapt our processes and vessels to make sure we handle AFVs correctly.”

Safety first

Some experts argue that there is a higher risk of fire when transporting AFVs as they contain lithium-ion batteries weighing up to 500 kilogrammes. Since July 2014, all ships carrying AFVs should have two sets of portable gas detectors in their cargo hold. They are used to check potential gas levels in the cargo hold to avoid the risk of a fire breaking out.

And starting in 2016, a new International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulation will come into force affecting new ship builds. 

“Ships built after January 1, 2016, carrying AFV cargo must be equipped with explosion-proof equipment,” says Söderdahl.  “In addition, the fuel system of each AFV should be checked to make sure it’s leak-proof and marked according to its fuel and engine type before transportation.” The IMO is also coming out with new recommendations for the safe handling of cars, vans, buses, trucks and other heavy vehicles that run on alternative fuels. 

One step ahead

In preparation for these new regulations, WWL formed a project group back in 2013. Together with EUKOR, one of the world’s largest shipping companies; ARC, the American-based RoRo carrier; Wallenius Marine; Wilh.Wilhelmsen; and the Swedish Technical Institute, the group will conduct in-depth research to understand more about AFVs and how to handle them during transport. To support this research, WWL will engage with customers in 2016 to collect more technical information from AFV manufacturers.

“We’ve held workshops with some customers who are planning on launching AFVs in the near future,” says Nick Bryan, WWL’s Head of Global Corporate Accounts. “It’s important to understand the requirements and implications together with them. The purpose is to cross-share information on AFVs, make sure we are all aligned on the handling process and the associated costs, and to ensure we are all compliant with the new regulations when they come into effect.”


Fact box:

Electrification of the vehicle: a growing market

To get better fuel economy and move towards a greener future, auto manufacturers are adding various electrification systems to their cars, including electric propulsion, fuel cells and various forms of hybrid and start/stop systems. For 2015, the global market intelligence company IHS Automotive expects the share of sales of cars with these features to be more than 26 million vehicles, or about 30 percent of total global car sales. This volume is expected to increase to 73 million units by 2022, or 69 percent of total global car sales.