Finnish shipping technology pioneer Laura Langh-Lagerlof is continuing to drive innovation in a traditionally male-dominated sector.
Born into the shipping family behind containership owner Langh Ship, Langh-Lagerlof founded Langh Tech in 2015 and still owns the company.
The latest product to roll out of the factory near Turku is a new smaller ballast water management system (BWMS) for tight spaces on vessels.
These systems purify ships' ballast water to prevent the unintended spread of invasive marine organisms.
The in-house development project was completed on a very fast schedule, with less than a year between the first concept and launch.
"During autumn 2020, we started thinking that there might be a need for even more compact systems than the ones on the market, so we decided to do one," said Langh-Lagerlof, who is also commercial director at the firm.
"We have feeder-size vessels in ... Langh Ship's fleet, and installing BWMS into the already fully-packed engine rooms seemed like a challenging task," she added.
Making compact units sounded like the most interesting and practical way forward, she explained.
"We like challenges," she added.
Asked if smaller scrubbers could also be developed, Langh-Lagerlof told TradeWinds that development of these systems is ongoing.
"One of the targets is to continuously find new solutions to make the scrubbers more compact in size," she said.
Langh-Lagerlof explains that the newest idea is a "double hat" at the exhaust gas inlet.
This is used for inline-type scrubbers where the inlet is at the bottom of the tower.
"Earlier we were using just one 'hat' on top of the exhaust pipe to prevent water from entering it," she said.
"When we introduced the double-hat solution we were able to reduce the total height of the scrubber tower."
Langh-Lagerlof believes the systems still have a future.
"If we look at the Energy Efficiency Design Index [EEXI] calculation rules, a vessel gets a much better score if it is burning heavy fuel oil instead of marine gasoil or low-sulphur fuel oil," she told TradeWinds.
"I think EEXI will be one additional boost for scrubber sales. If the gap between high-sulphur and low-sulphur fuels continues getting bigger, that will also give a boost."
Langh-Lagerlof said the company is also looking at various alternatives for carbon capture and storage.
The Langh group first began testing scrubbers back in 2012, within its own fleet.
Langh Tech was set up to separate the business and to sell to third parties.
Langh-Lagerlof has a masters in business administration.
"I have grown up in a family-owned shipowning environment," she said.
"Since a kid I have sailed on board the vessels, been very interested in ship technology and learnt a lot by myself. As I felt that I already had a strong technical knowledge, I decided to study economics."
Langh-Lagerlof said she is so used to the male-dominated environment that she is probably blind to gender-related challenges in the business.
What's in a name?
Her home life is also "very male-dominated", she added, with a husband and four boys.
But it has not all been plain sailing.
"I could tell a few funny incidents where the female name has not quite convinced people," Langh-Lagerlof said.
She gives one example of dealing with a shipyard where she supplied her name as the relevant person for a technical discussion about scrubbers.
The yard came back twice and asked for a different person for the talks.
"My name was apparently not suitable for a technical discussion," Langh-Lagerlof said.
The Langh family have farming roots in south-west Finland’s Turku archipelago and Aland Islands.
Long family history in shipping
Langh Ship chairman Hans Langh, Langh-Lagerlof's father, bought his first vessel in 1983. His grandfather and great-grandfather were also shipowners in their time.
From the 1920s to 1940s, his maternal grandfather, Carl Mattson — who studied to become a sea captain in Kristiania (as Oslo was known at the time) — owned small cargoships and passenger vessels sailing in the archipelago.
His father was a captain-owner of even smaller sailing boats.
The Piikkio-headquartered group now has a fleet of 10 ships: five feeder container vessels and five multipurpose ships.
Langh-Lagerlof's younger sister Linda Langh is also a co-owner of the business.