Please send me any questions

I make very occasional updates to this blog. Its heyday of daily visitors are long over. But I work on projects related to energy efficiency in the maritime sector all the time. Very little reaches this blog due to lack of time. If you find the blog and see anything interesting you’d like to know more about, please let me know. Also, I’m always interested in helping out with new ventures and projects.


How to establish industry-led maritime research projects in the age of decarbonisation, part 1

I read this article on new fuels a few weeks back, where it is said that “to navigate [decarbonisation] successfully, we will need an unprecedented level of collaboration between fuel suppliers, OEMs, lubricant providers and owners, operators and managers.” Such an increased level of collaboration is becoming necessary for all sorts of projects related decarbonisation.

Swedish government agencies have been rapidly expanding the R&D funds available for maritime research. Decarbonisation is a clear goal in the calls for projects. They also want to see more industry involvement in research, “beyond participating in reference groups”. Preferably with co-funding. One of the main problems for us Swedes though is that many actors in the industry have not been involved in this way in academic research over time. There are (as far as I know) no PhDs employed at all among Swedish shipping companies, for example. How can actors (large or small) with little experience of research start navigating this new ocean of research and research funding? How can they start translating their practical problems into problem suitable for academic research? Can they lead research projects themselves? Also – not to forget – can they get used to the rejection rate of research funders?

We have one, quite high-profile project running in Sweden now: between Wallenius Marine, KTH and SSPA on wind-powered vessels. We also have our competence center Lighthouse, where they are working hard to achieve more research projects with involvement from across the sector. I myself have been helping a Swedish technology provider for the past year with forming a research project together with academic partners. After three rejected submissions, we finally succeeded in June in getting approval for our project. The project included two companies, two universities, and implementation would take place in three shipping companies (who were not partners in the project).

For context, I’ve been working on maritime energy efficiency research for the past 10 years. I’ve succeeded in achieving funding for myself, and for PhD students together with others. But I’ve also received a fair number of rejections. I now mainly work as a consultant at CIT Industriell Energi AB, a small research-based consultancy active in energy and decarbonisation issues for industry, governments and academia.

After an initial meeting with us, almost a year ago now, the technology provider started out quickly writing a proposal on their own. The deadline for proposal was only a day or two away. We made some quick additions. The proposal was rejected. Then they turned to us for help. How to make their idea a proper research project?

I set about working by contacting some academic researchers that I knew did good work in adjacent areas. After a few rounds of discussions and meetings, we settled for a project idea that included both technical and human factors research. The technical track would involve developing, testing and exploring new models for live performance prediction of ships in operation. The human factors track would examine how new means of predicting and semi-autonomously controlling ship propulsion in an energy efficient manner would be used by crew in practice. Each track would be run by an experienced researcher. In sum: we had a interdisciplinary research project, that was headed by industry, that would see results implemented in practice (in three shipowners in our case), and would lead to measureable (quite substantial) savings in emissions and energy use. Ticks off all the right boxes right?

Our first joint proposal (their second proposal) was indeed approved. The funders appreciated the practical aspects but were concerned that the results would only benefit the existing users of the systems sold by the technology provider.

So, we set about expanding the academic aspects of the project. We made it 6 months longer, to have more time for evaluation. But our first stage-2 proposal was rejected. The funders still thought it would mostly benefit the existing users.

In response to this, we set about thoroughly examining the state-of-the-art. We needed to show that what we developed would both be innovative and would also benefit parties other than the users of this specific system. That it would benefit these existing users, we argued, would be the very reason for the take-up of our results in other places. We included more deliverables, for example in the form of a technology-netural guideline for implementing these kinds of systems onboard vessels.

Our second stage-2 proposal was also rejected, on similar grounds as previously. Our research proposal had also slowly grown to become quite complicated. A state-of-the-art text on what really separates this machine learning technique from that other data analytics-method is hard to write in a non-technical language. But this time, along with the rejection, we were invited to a special session a couple of weeks later with other industry representatives of projects where the board could ask questions. They asked, we answered, and we were finally approved. We can now start working, almost a year after our first discussions.

One of the main reasons this process was long, in my view, is of course that while industry involvement in research sounds great on paper, the EU regulations around state aid for R&D are rather tricky to navigate. How to pick the appropriate aid category? Industrial research, one of the categories, is defined as follows:

“‘industrial research’ means the planned research or critical investigation aimed at the acquisition of new knowledge and skills for developing new products, processes or services or for bringing about a significant improvement in existing products, processes or services. It comprises the creation of components parts of complex systems, and may include the construction of prototypes in a laboratory environment or in an environment with simulated interfaces to existing systems as well as of pilot lines, when necessary for the industrial research and notably for generic technology validation;”

What is a “significant improvement” in this context? And how to show that negative distortions to product markets are avoided? How to establish research projects that are academically sound, and that forward state-of-the-art in the industry? On a more philosophical level, what kind of work is research (and what isn’t)? I’ll write another post about these issues soon.

New paper: Inter-organizational collaboration for energy efficiency in the maritime sector

This paper is based on the extensive field work of Josefin Borg, former PhD student at Chalmers.  I was her co-supervisor for two years. The paper is an in-depth look at an attempt to create a database for sharing knowledge and information related to energy efficiency. Sounds like a straightforward project, right? It turned out to be more complicated than expected… Abstract as follows:

This article explores the complexities of establishing knowledge-sharing practices between organizations through a case study of the creation of a database for energy efficiency measures relevant to the shipping sector. As researchers and policy-makers tend to point towards knowledge sharing and collaboration as means towards a more energy-efficient society, there is a need to better understand the knowledge sharing practices in such initiatives. The study is based upon extensive fieldwork where the first author was recruited to a collaborative network on energy efficiency in the shipping sector, to aid in the development of the collaboration while carrying out participatory-observational research in an ethnographic tradition. The study highlights the need to maintain realistic expectations for new knowledge-sharing collaborations, and the necessity to allow such arrangements to develop over time.

Borg, J. and von Knorring, H. (2019). Inter-organizational collaboration for energy efficiency in the maritime sector: the case of a database project. Energy Efficiency.

Josefin Borg also co-wrote a paper on this topic together with associate professor Anna Yström:

Borg, J., & Yström, A. (2019). Collaborating for energy efficiency in Swedish shipping industry: interrelating practice and challenges. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 1-22.

New paper: Energy audits in shipping companies

A paper long in the making was finally published this year, in the journal Transportation Research Part A – Policy and Practice.

The paper revolves around a key question I’ve been struggling with since starting out   my PhD 10 years ago – how to work with  the “organisational barriers” to energy efficiency that previous research largely left aside. From the perspective of people working in an organisation, what does it mean that there is an energy efficiency gap there? A stroke of luck led me to take an in-depth course in qualitative research methods for professor Barbara Czarniawska, which in turn took me on a long path to thoroughly read up on Scandinavian and European management and organisation studies. This paper is the result – an action-net perspective on energy efficiency in a shipping company.


An energy audit is a method for determining the most cost-effective measures that improve energy efficiency in an organisation. This article describes a longitudinal action-research case study of an energy audit performed in 2012 on a short-sea ship owner and operator and a follow-up study conducted three years later. The study showed that following the suggestions made in the audit would have had a significant economic impact but that few of the audit recommendations had been successfully implemented. An analysis of the qualitative and quantitative material collected during these two studies pointed in particular to the need to understand energy efficiency measures in their organisational context; many of the measures concerned redesigning organisational routines. It became obvious that more studies of practice are needed in order to evaluate policies and programmes aimed at achieving a transition to low carbon emissions in the maritime sector. Despite the failure of this particular audit, energy audits in shipping companies should be paid more attention because of their relative success in other sectors.

von Knorring, H. (2019). Energy audits in shipping companies. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 125, 35-55.


New position!

In April this year I took on a new position at CIT Industriell Energi, a small, specialized consultancy owned by the foundation Chalmers Industriteknik. We are 14 people, most with a research background, all working on energy, climate, and energy efficiency issues for industry, academia and government. There was no maritime connection before I arrived, but I’ve now coordinated one major research application for a major shipowner, and taken part in another application for two suppliers, so hopefully there will be in the near future!

I’m still a researcher at GRI but only for 5% as a co-supervisor for our PhD student, in the project posted below.

Now hiring a PhD student!

Apply here.

We’re looking for an ambitious business administration PhD student, who is interested in going out there to the field and coming to understand how things work in practice. In this project, the student will be studying how ambitious shipping companies organize their work with energy efficiency. The topic requires an interest in learning about themes that lie across disciplinary boundaries. Shipping companies act all over the world: some travel will also be necessary.

The PhD student will be placed at the Gothenburg Research Institute (GRI), an interdisciplinary institute at the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Here researchers work in program format on projects that are highly relevant to current business developments and contemporary society. We conduct research in subjects like business administration, ethnology, sociology, law, psychology, education, Swedish language, technology, and environmental science. GRI stands for collaboration and foresight.

Close connections exist between researchers at GRI and the Swedish shipping industry, where field research will be carried out. There are plenty of potential research sites, as seen for example when OECD recently highlighted Sweden as a case of decarbonizing maritime transport.

The successful applicant will take part in doctoral studies at the School of Business, Economics and Law, as well as a national interdisciplinary research school organized at the University of Linköping on interdisciplinary energy research. In this way, the student will receive a strong interdisciplinary as well as disciplinary foundation for conducting interesting research.

The position is fully funded for 4 years. It is part of a larger project on understanding energy efficiency practices in different industries. A “twin” PhD student who is to study Swedish production industry will be recruited separately at the University of Linköping. 9 other PhD students will start their different projects at the same time in Sweden in the interdisciplinary energy research school.

Received funding for two interdisciplinary PhD students on energy management practices

The Swedish Energy Agency recently made a new call for project proposals for their post graduate school in energy systems research (Swedish: “Forskarskola energisystem”). A project should include 2-3 PhD students with supervisors from different faculties; a nice way to provoke interdisciplinarity.

Together with professor Patrik Thollander at the Division of Energy Systems, Department of Management and Engineering, Linköping University, professor Ulla Eriksson-Zetterquist and I submitted a project to study energy management practices in different industries. The project included two PhD students: the student at GRI was to study how energy efficiency is being managed in shipping companies, while the LiU student was to study land-based production industries.

Today we finally received official confirmation that our project, worth 9.3 million SEK (~850 000 EUR) over 4 years, received funding! I was glad to read from the decision document that the Energy Agency had found that:

The project is of high scientific quality and relevant from an interdisciplinary perspective by being innovative and involving two research environments with partly different methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives. Studying practices – how actors and sectors do and act – is a perspective with a methodological stance which is seldom prioritised in energy efficiency research.

Recruitment processes for the PhD students will begin later. More info on this project will be presented in due time.

Skärmavbild 2018-04-11 kl. 16.34.36

Paper abstract accepted for SCOS/ACSCOS 2018, Tokyo

I’ll be presenting the paper “Introducing transcience and incompleteness in energy efficiency research” at the joint SCOS/ACSCOS conference this year in Tokyo. From the conference page:

SCOS is a global network of academics and practitioners, who hail from a hugely diverse range of disciplines and professional backgrounds. We were formed in 1981, originally as an autonomous working group of the European Group for Organizational Studies, but have been an independent academic venture for over 30 yearly conferences. Our central interest is in the interlinked issues of organizational symbolism, culture and change, articulated in the broadest possible sense and informed by our commitment to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary understandings of organization and management. Thus our work draws, inter alia, from organization studies, social anthropology, cultural studies, media studies, philosophy, history, social psychology and politics. The theme of our conference this year is ‘Wabi-sabi (侘寂): Imperfection, incompleteness and impermanence in Organisational Life.‘”

This paper is part of my post-PhD effort to move from engineering into management and organization studies. Picture from a weekend in Hakone during last year’s stay in Tokyo.

At last, an update

Life and work has kept me a bit busy. From here on I’m going to update much more frequently again.

2017 was a packed year. I spent five months as a visiting research fellow at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo. I brought my wife and two children with me and we stayed in a beautiful small house in Setagaya-ku (the picture above is from a “play-park” close to our house). My aim was to look into some interesting matter of concern in the Japanese maritime cluster. I had been reading about the organisation Maritime Innovation Japan Corporation (MIJAC) in international maritime press, and wanted to see how they were doing. Unfortunately, it closed the week we arrived! I still managed to interview quite a lot of people (around 30) in the cluster who had been working with MIJAC or related matters. Extremely interesting case, which will be the topic of an upcoming paper together with associate professor Yarime Masaru. Below is from a visit I did to Oshima Shipyard, on the west side of Kyushu.


I then spent the autumn writing up old material into papers, with teaching maritime energy issues at Chalmers and also of course with Sweship Energy. The innovation cluster funding we received in 2016 has now come to its end and we are awaiting a new funding process. I’ve also been part of the group discussing how the Swedish Shipowners’ Association should work towards 2045 foremost with the climate challenge.

I was going to visit shipyards in China for field research, but had to postpone to this year.

No papers published in 2017, but I did present at two conferences: the 2017 Conference of the International Association of Maritime Economists (IAME) in Kyoto, and at the 2017 Shipping in Changing Climates Conference in London.

I’ve recently submitted three different research applications, all to the Swedish Energy Agency. They are really pushing for more interdisciplinary and especially social science research which suits me perfectly. The first application concerns my own funding – I want to continue studying innovation in the process of ordering new ships. My present study concerns larger shipping companies with their own technical departments and resources for R&D. My suggested continuation project will concern how smaller companies without resources deal with these issues. The second concerns two PhD students on energy management practices, an application which I submitted together with professor Ulla Eriksson-Zetterquist at GRI and professor Patrik Thollander in Linköping. The third concerns a PhD student at Chalmers, Josefin Borg, who needs funding to continue her research on collaboration and knowledge-sharing in the maritime cluster. I was a co-applicant together with associate professor Anna Yström at the Department of Technology Management and Economics at Chalmers.

Next week I will finally begin my final case study in this project, the HERO-series of ships being ordered by Wallenius Marine in Stockholm.

Settled in Tokyo

We’re about a month into the 5-month visit to Japan and the University of Tokyo, where I am visiting the Graduate School of Public Policy. The goal of this short visit is to do a small study of collaboration in the Japanese shipping and shipbuilding sector on energy efficiency matters. Coming from Sweden, it is also very interesting to see a maritime sector that is quite a bit larger than the one at home. I will also be attending some maritime conferences, in Imabari for the maritime fair and Kyoto for the International Association of Maritime Economists’ (IAME) conference.

Last week for example, I was able to meet with representatives from Japan Maritime Center, Alfa Laval, and also the science and technology attachés at the Swedish Embassy. The recent decision to cap sulphur content in ship fuel to 0.5% percent seems to have generated a similar discussion here to what we had in Sweden a couple of years ago after the 0.1% per cent ECA-decision.