Maritime Vision 2050 : Decarbonisation


The maritime industry is continually evolving and adapting to meet the demands of the commercial marketplace and to become more competitive and cost-effective. Being a huge and complex matrix, shipping is inevitably affected by global trends and also by advances in technology, materials and fuels. 

One of the more significant and dynamic changes is decarbonisation. Maritime trade volume is projected to triple by 2050, and in the same period, if things stay the same, the industry’s carbon impact could increase by 250%. 

But the pressure on the world’s fleets to lessen their carbon impact is relentless and will only intensify. So the key questions are : what does the future look like, and how can we strike a balance between lower emissions and increased growth? 

The simple solution for achieving (or at least coming close to) a net zero emissions shipping industry by 2050 is to start acting today. In the words of Dr Uwe Lauber, CEO of MAN Energy Solutions, “In our industry, 2050 is just one ship-generation away”.

Much of the shipping sector is committed to decarbonising, but there is still a lot to be done.

A pathway to decarbonise the maritime sector by 2050

The shipping industry is responsible for a significant proportion of the global climate change problem. More than 3% of worldwide CO2 emissions are attributed to ocean-going ships. To avoid a future that no one wants, we must all work together to address what is nothing less than a global crisis. We must accelerate our efforts to minimise greenhouse gas emissions in the maritime industry.

Here are some of the key, and immediate, steps.

1. Speed reduction

Reducing the speed of ocean-going vessels is a quick, simple and effective strategy. Given the recent rise in oil prices, it is environmentally and also economically beneficial.

Emissions, particularly CO2, are directly proportional to fuel burn – plainly, higher speeds mean greater fuel use – and even a slight speed reduction can result in significant fuel savings and lower emissions. Research suggests that a speed reduction of just 10-15% across the global fleet would result in a 20-30% emission reduction. 

2. Just-In-Time Arrival

JIT Arrival has long been in the mix. In essence it allows a ship to maintain an optimal operating speed so as to arrive at the pilot boarding place when the berth, fairway and nautical services are available. 

However, it should not be confused with slow steaming or maintaining an average speed limit. Instead, JIT Arrival aims to optimise the whole voyage without impacting its overall length or duration. It is a question of timing.

Ships currently spend 5% to 10% of their time waiting to enter port, either dropping anchor or navigating at low speed, burning fuel to some extent all the while. This demonstrates the potential that JIT Arrival has, if properly implemented.

3. LNG

LNG’s potential as a commercial marine fuel is attracting increasing attention. According to the Energy Transitions Commission, LNG can lower CO2 emissions from ships by 9-12%, while also being less expensive than heavy fuel oil.  Traditional oil-based fuels will probably continue to dominate the immediate future, but LNG usage – and certainly for specialist vessels – is likely to expand, providing an opportunity to validate and improve the technology on an even bigger scale.

4. Other future fuel alternatives

A fully decarbonised shipping industry will require ship owners to move from conventional heavy fuel oil to alternative fuels and engines. For example, shipping giant Maersk plans to deploy a methanol-based liner in 2023. From 2030 onwards, zero carbon bunker fuels are likely to enter the worldwide fleet, and rapidly scale up. Biofuels and synthetic kerosene also have smaller carbon footprints than fossil hydrocarbon fuels, provided that the biomass is sourced sustainably. 

Ammonia, a hydrogen-based fuel that generates no CO2 when burned, appears to be the most appealing future fuel alternative. It can be made from air, water and, of course, a lot of energy. Though toxic, it is nevertheless a viable alternative because many vessels’ systems and crew are well adapted to it. For example, ammonia tankers already transport the chemical. Ammonia, used in internal combustion engines or fuel cells, is projected to be the most cost-effective zero carbon fuel in the long run, particularly for long-haul carriage. 

Another alternative is wind, with Wallenius Wilhelmsen aiming to build a wind-powered carrier in 2025.

These sustainable energy solutions can either be incorporated  into existing fleets or implemented in new shipbuilding and design. However, the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy needs to be planned carefully and together with support measures.

5. Land-based infrastructure

As well as increasing marine demand for green fuels, another potential is substantially to increase their land-based production, and make them available in ports worldwide. In a recent World Economic Forum panel discussion, Johannah Christensen of the Global Maritime Forum rightly emphasised that “shipping’s decarbonization is not really done with the ships alone.” 

Ports also need to make changes to reduce their environmental impact, as well as their carbon footprint. These can include:

  • Providing shoreside/onshore power supplies from renewable sources
  • Developing infrastructure to support the supply of alternative low carbon and zero carbon fuels
  • Improving waste disposal facilities

An example is the Long Beach Green Port policy. Long Beach mandates that at least half of all cargo ships use shoreside electricity, and has power hookups and other infrastructure to make shore power more accessible and reduce carbon emissions. 

Marching towards a greener future

Given the complexities of these measures and the number of fossil-burning ships in service, the shift to a zero emissions maritime industry will not happen at the flick of a switch. This is a further reason why all possible measures should be adopted right away. 

Reducing global emissions is feasible on all fronts – fuel supply, vessel technology, port infrastructure, safety, demand, government commitment and finance – and we are confident that the maritime sector will thrive and strengthen as it harnesses all these various means and opportunities. 

ETR Rahul Khatri – “CAP SAN SOUNIO”