Energy Transition Interviews Shipping

Green and mean: Veer’s CEO outlines plans for zero-emission fleet

Sustainable technology to drive freight rates upward, but conscientious clients are jumping on board

Danielle Doggett is the founder and CEO of two zero-emission shipping start-ups. Sailcargo Inc. is working on wooden cargo sailing vessels. The first ship – Ceiba – is under construction in Punta Morales, Costa Rica. But Doggett just announced the launch of Veer, a company with a planned fleet of six 100-TEU steel vessels with DynaRig rigging and hydrogen-electric auxiliary propulsion.

The ships are being designed by Dykstra Naval Architects, the same company behind famous sailing vessels such as DynaRig pioneers Black Pearl and Maltese Falcon, the Brazilian Navy training ship Cisne Branco, Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, among others.

Doggett chatted digitally with Maritime South after participating in the Ship Zero Conference, an event organized by ZESTAs (Zero Emissions Ship Technology Association) in Glasgow, as part of the COP26 activities.

Maritime South: How is the progress with Ceiba, from the construction side and also the financing side?

Danielle Doggett: It’s been incredible back there. I’m not on the ground right now, but in terms of woodwork, it’s going very well. The team is expanding, we brought in a bunch of new energy from around North America and Europe, who have traditional skills in wooden boatbuilding and timber-framing. That’s really great to augment or supplement the rest of the team that might be from Costa Rica or other places that don’t have as much boatbuilding history. On our Instagram, which is our biggest social media channel, you can see updates every day.

We have also announced the build of a second ship of the Ceiba design, which is called Pitaya, and pitaya means dragon fruit. At this time, we are collecting letters of intent for this second vessel already. And the reason for this great success, in my opinion, is that we have secured cargo for all northbound voyages for a multi-year contract, a long-term contract. So, we are still working through some of those details, but we have the confidence from our client base to go ahead right away with the second vessel, which is also filled for all northbound voyages.

Veer’s flagship vessel Mamba. Image credits: Veer

Will you paint Pitaya purple? That would be nice.

[laughs] We were thinking to keep kind of a classy look with a light or off-white hull, but there will be a stripe and there’s been talk about making it a brighter color!

“Our business model has nothing to do with fossil fuels. We really need to start from scratch and we want the meanest sailing machine that we can make”

What are the main design differences between the projected fleet of Sailcargo Inc. and Veer? 

Ceiba is a traditional vessel inspired by the Ingrid, which was built in 1906 in Åland Islands between Finland and Sweden. And I think on a good day she will be able to reach up to 14 knots. However, we use a very low average calculating speed to do our financial projections. Because these traditional vessels, they are a little bit less efficient. The flagship vessel of Veer, which we are calling project Mamba, is fast! She’s designed to be fast. Our architects are in a very early stage with this, and some of our figures will be changing as we refine the design, but she can sustain 20 knots, completely emission-free. Many people will say that the design of this vessel is very similar to the Ecoliner, an earlier design put out by Dykstra Naval Architects, the same company we are working with. This design of the Ecoliner, which has been around for at least 10 years, has been very inspiring to a lot of people, it’s a study that was done with different organizations. It was a motor sailing vessel with a diesel engine that could do approximately 12 knots on average. So, it is a motor-sailer. When I sat down with the architects at Dykstra, I said: “Our business model has nothing to do with fossil fuels. We really need to start from scratch and we want the meanest sailing machine that we can make”. So, we actually tried to think about this as: What is the fastest sailing vessel we can do right now that can also be a reasonable cargo vessel? We started off by looking at their most recently launched sailing yacht Black Pearl, which can apparently reach up to 30 knots. 

Wow. So, does that mean you have carbon fiber masts, unconventional rigging? This is very expensive, right?

We are working with Southern Spars, which provides the masts for the other vessels that are existing, Maltese Falcon and Black Pearl. These are carbon fiber composite masts that employ the DynaRig technology, which was actually first designed around 1960.

Would you still have some installed power on board?

Yes, it will be a 100% clean hydrogen engine. There will be a hydrogen engine on board and an electric motor powering the propeller. And we’ll use battery power for peak shaving. We are looking into the idea of having regenerative propellers too.

Like you’ll have in Ceiba.

Yes, with Ceiba we are working with a company called Hundested, and these propellers are very sophisticated and they can regenerate energy under sail power, to top off the batteries. We are looking into whether or not this will be appropriate for the flagship of Veer.

“We want a ship with longevity. With Ceiba, we anticipate over 100 years of service. There is no reason we cannot anticipate the same number for the flagship of Veer”

Danielle Doggett. Image credits: Veer

What about the hull material? You are moving out of wood in this case. Are you going to aluminum? What will be the carbon footprint?

We did briefly discuss aluminum, but I don’t think that it is recommended. The largest yacht that Dykstra has done in aluminium I think was 80m, and with the flagship of Veer right now, the smallest we are looking at is 100m. For us at Sailcargo Inc., this conversation about metal is very important, because we are always working with organic, regenerative, sustainable materials. This includes locally sourced wood that we harvest responsibly and then replant. Great, that narrative is great. Now with steel, we have to write a new narrative, making sure that we are fact-checking everything and verifying everything. Right off the bat, I’m going to admit that steel comes from open-pit mines, many of which are in Brazil as you know. This is not great. We’ve already committed to looking into the end-of-life cycle as well, with a study in Bangladesh. But the main point that we already have established is that we’ll be as much as possible working with cleanly produced steel, a steel that has been produced with clean hydrogen.

In the process of refinement, that’s where the largest carbon footprint comes from. And one company that we just began talking to, from Sweden, they say that there’s about one to two tons of carbon associated with a ton of steel for the production, and their production will be as low as 150 kg of carbon per ton. Another thing that we are very committed to is the lifespan of the vessel. Steel is not as attractive as aluminum for recycling, so we want a ship with longevity. With Ceiba, we anticipate over 100 years of service. There is no reason we cannot anticipate the same number for the flagship of Veer.

In the overall sailing cargo movement, there are many projects, some operational, some still working on design and construction. Do you think that the progress is fast enough?

Yes and no. We have seen on the market side, that a lot of these big companies are signing on to things like the new Aspen Institute ambition statement of zero emissions by 2050. We’ve got Amazon, Ikea, many other large companies in there, and people are responding to that. But the actual projects I’m frankly surprised that there aren’t more realistic opportunities being presented. I don’t want to say anything bad, but I’ve seen a lot of concepts that integrate a lot of non-market-ready technology, and a lot of projects that are integrating a lot of mitigation technologies. But I just didn’t see another project that could offer zero-emission shipping that was not tied to the coastline. So, I think there’s room for more.

“So, when you’re talking about truly regenerative, circular economy, very high value, you know, coffee from this guy who picked it himself, those storylines generally can’t go into containers. Because they don’t produce enough”

Sailcargo workers pose for a picture inside Ceiba, the first wooden vessel under construction by Sailcargo Inc. in Costa Rica.
Image credits: Sailcargo Inc.

We could argue that there are two segments here. There are cargo vessels that are sailed traditionally, and there is commercial container shipping. You recently mentioned that Patagonia, the big outdoor apparel brand, wanted to ship a big volume with you, but it was too big for a project like Ceiba, for example. It is a similar situation with the sail cargo ships that are already on the water, they are shipping things like gourmet coffee and wine. Low volume, high-value cargoes. But if you are going to compete with general cargo or container shipping, you need to have a different approach. Is this what you are trying to do with Veer?

You hit the nail on the head there. It is interesting, though. We see this differentiation of the service as a strength, and not as a weakness. It is very important that people understand that Ceiba is going well. We’ve announced the build of a second ship of the same design of wood. We are not moving away from that. Each vessel is purpose-built specifically for its required job.

So, when we have a 45-meter wooden vessel, that is designed to do shorter runs, coastal hauls, inter-island, small-island nation jobs, it serves exactly its purpose. And what we want to do now is serve another purpose as well, which is commercial container shipping. One of the main strengths that we already identified – and this is early on – is that a vessel such as Ceiba has offerings that a vessel such as our new Veer campaign cannot offer. So, less-than-container load, in unconsolidated small amounts, is not something we’re going to be able to offer with Veer. So, when you’re talking about truly regenerative, circular economy, very high value, you know, coffee from this guy who picked it himself, those storylines generally can’t go into containers. Because they don’t produce enough. With Ceiba, that’s not a problem. We can take one sack if we wanted. And the other thing is that, with Ceiba, we can also take cargoes that are longer than 40 ft. And with Veer we will be able to do it too, if we choose, but other companies don’t. When you’re talking to a standard container shipping company, your cargo has to fit in the box. We’ve experienced a massive amount of pushback and struggle to get our masts down from Canada, because they are greater than 40 ft. With Ceiba, we could easily take 65-foot lengths of timber, for example.

“If you’re not already building a hydrogen vessel, you’re behind the curve, because it’s absolutely coming”

How mature is the Veer concept right now? Have you defined the routes, the markets? What about the fuel, how will you procure the hydrogen?

The flagship of Veer employs only existing technology or near-existing technology. This is why we are going to be able to fast-track the build of these vessels. One of the biggest questions is hydrogen. What I can say for being here on the ground in Glasgow, talking to people and hydrogen producers one-on-one, is that if you’re not already building a hydrogen vessel, you’re behind the curve, because it’s absolutely coming, very, very quickly. So that is going to be a major transition and, because we will not launch the first vessel for nearly 3 years from today, that system is going to be in place enough that we can use it.

Regarding the market, we decided to go for this vessel which is capable of carrying 100 TEU, although we are looking at larger vessels as well. And we have support from many clients. But one client, in particular, is really pushing us to go forward and that is Café William, headquartered in New Jersey. They import from every single coffee-growing country in the world, which allows us to explore routes all over the world. The first route that we are looking at is Colombia on the Caribbean side and going up to New Jersey. We need to be sure to acknowledge that all these different routes will not be serviced by one exact replica of this vessel. So, we have announced that we will build six units of this flagship, and we intend to do that, but as we look at longer, sea-going voyages, we are already exploring larger vessels and vessels that would serve those voyages more appropriately. 

On our website veer.voyage and on our social media @veer.voyages, there will be more information coming out, we have a lot more to present.

Since you are aiming at 2024, you have some established shipping companies that are announcing they want to move very fast in this decarbonization agenda. The world’s largest container shipping company, Maersk, is supposedly having in the next few years ships capable of burning green methanol, which is not the perfect fuel, but probably you can source it as a zero-emissions fuel eventually. And they will certainly have a cheaper price per TEU, because they are operating those huge vessels. So how do you see the competition there? Are your clients willing to pay a premium?

If you look exactly at what are the services we are offering, which are long, transatlantic, ocean-going, zero-emission shipping, there is no competition. There is none. So, I’m sure Maersk could do it in two seconds if they chose to, I’m very humble about that. But they are not offering that. We are employing existing and high-level technology, the DynaRig, to allow us to do any distance we want completely emission-free and energy-independent.

At the same time, we are offering a very beautiful experience, so the sailing vessel of course has ties to history, it’s a beautiful experience, that’s why people buy $300m yachts, and so what we are offering is that storyline and that narrative which is just so attractive to people. And we worked very hard to make this something that people wanted to see, because the shipping industry is not typically attractive.

You may also watch the full interview on Maritime South’s new Youtube channel.

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