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Autonomy and clean fuels in the spotlight as new UK maritime strategies published

COP28  |  National Shipbuilding Office/ Mari UK Report  |  MOD Operational Energy Strategy | Workboat Code 3

Introduction As a recap, December was a big month for maritime strategy and policy announcements with the culmination of COP28 agreements, MOD’s Operational Energy Strategy, publication of the new edition 3 of the MCA Workboat Code and National UK Shipbuilding Office/ Mari UK Academic Capacity & Capability For Shipbuilding Report.All three identified the convergence of new technologies including autonomous systems, clean maritime propulsion systems and the need for increased operational capabilities.For USV designers and manufacturers like ACUA, the new regulations further validate our long-standing focus on regulatory engagement with Lloyd’s Register and the MCA alongside the importance of system interoperability, zero-emission clean technologies and operational capabilities in higher sea states. 

COP28's Environmental Imperatives Despite its ambiguity surrounding fossil fuel deals, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) marked a significant milestone in the global commitment to address climate change and environmental sustainability. A central outcome was considered to be ‘The global stocktake’; recognising the science that shows global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut 43% by 2030, compared to 2019 levels, to limit global warming to 1.5°C. But it notes Parties are off track when it comes to meeting their Paris Agreement goals. The stocktake contains every element that was under negotiation and can now be used by countries to develop stronger climate action plans due by 2025.

The maritime sector, being a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions (2.8%), faced intensified scrutiny and calls for innovative solutions. COP28 emphasised the importance of embracing technology to reduce carbon footprints and enhance operational efficiency in the maritime domain, consolidating the compelling case for long-endurance low-emission and carbon footprint solutions, such as ACUA’s H-USV. MOD's Operational Energy Strategy Aligned with the global commitment to environmental sustainability, the Ministry of Defence unveiled its Operational Energy Strategy, emphasising the need for energy-efficient solutions across all branches of the armed forces. As part of this strategy, a special focus was placed on developing a roadmap for the research, trials, testing and evaluation of energy transition technologies to enhance operational capabilities while minimising climate impact. Alongside the role of energy as a critical resource and capability, the report proposes a staged approach and adoption where there is clear operational advantage and no negative impact on interoperability.

The roadmap sets out the period 2025 to 2030 for making bold and informed energy choices, with a view to capitalising on this advantage from 2030 onwards. 5 Priority Actions were identified within the roadmap, two of which ‘Embed energy considerations into equipment acquisition and management’ and ‘Conduct innovation, research and experimentation to inform future energy choices’  are obvious drivers for MOD’s interest and engagement with ACUA’s H-USV as a potential solution feature to its maritime defence and security tasks, given the H-USV’s fuel and powertrain offering potential opportunity to de-latch from reliance on diesel or other imported fuels.

NSO/ Mari UK - NSO Shipbuilding Academia Investigation In December Maritime Research and Innovation UK (MarRI-UK) announced the publication of The UK’s Academic Capacity and Capability for Shipbuilding Report sponsored by the National Shipbuilding Office. 

The NSO’s CEO Rear Admiral Rex Cox said, “The UK shipbuilding enterprise can be world leading in areas such as decarbonisation, autonomy and intelligent systems. However, to reach this position we must commercialise the UK’s research capability, leveraging it to enable a productive, thriving and globally competitive industry.”

While the report highlights the UK’s leadership in areas of research and development such as autonomy and decarbonisation, it also identified that  the UK lags behind countries in Asia and the EEA which are leading in the commercial use of AI and automation.  In another example of how ACUA Ocean’s novel H-USV design and concept is in-step with governmental strategic maritime objectives, the report emphasises how the UK needs to catch up in its commercialisation of areas of , decarbonisation and exploring the use of advanced and alternative propulsion systems and alternative fuel cell technology

Workboat Code 3 The much discussed edition 3 of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) Workboat Code landed somewhat surprisingly just a few weeks before Christmas and applies to the design, build and operation of  commercial vessels of up to 24 metres in length. 

For the first time, the code also includes regulations to govern Remotely Operated Unmanned Vessels (ROUVs) as well as some tentative guidance in the installation and use of battery and battery-hybrid propulsion systems.

ACUA Ocean has been engaged with the UK MCA as well as Lloyd’s Register (LR) vessel classification society in the process of designing the H-USV for some time.  We are making significant progress in our journey to establish full UK MCA and certification of H-USV - aiming to be amongst the first (if not the first) USV/ROUV to be certified under the new Workboat Code; and where the MCA Code does not provide regulation for alternative fuels (such as gaseous or liquid hydrogen), we are aiming to be certified by MCA under assurance through LR rules.  ACUA is extremely well-positioned to be the first USV of its type, size and low-carbon propulsion system  to obtain certification with the UK’s marine governing body.


The confluence of COP28, MOD's Operational Energy Strategy, and the UK Shipbuilding Office's vision has set the stage for transformative changes in the maritime sector - and 2024 looks set to be the year where autonomy and clean technology take centre stage. 


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