Sparks

Increasing shipping’s sustainability

 By Mike Scott

Shipping fuel is one of the most polluting forms of oil there is, not just for carbon emissions but also SOx, NOx and particulate matter. Shipping emissions will rise by up to 250% by 2050 if no action is taken, says the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Pressure is growing on the industry to reduce its emissions. Efforts to reach a global agreement are proving difficult, but a number of national governments or individual ports are imposing tighter regulations such as low-sulphur zones and emissions control areas. Mike Scott describes the technologies that ships can use to harness the power of the wind and cut their fuel consumption…

Shipping is vital to world trade, with more than 90% of the world’s products and commodities being shipped at some point during their journey to market.

It is also, according to the Carbon War Room (CWR), a not-for-profit founded by the UK entrepreneur Richard Branson,“by far, the most energy-efficient mode of freight transport.” It is currently responsible for just 2.2% of global CO2 emissions.

But at the same time, shipping fuel (also known as bunker fuel) is one of the most polluting forms of fossil fuel, not just for carbon emissions but also SOx, NOx and particulate matter, which are damaging to human health as well as the wider environment. And because of the predicted growth in global trade, shipping emissions will rise by up to 250% by 2050 if no action is taken, says the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Pressure is growing on the industry to reduce its emissions, but efforts to reach a global agreement are proving difficult. However, a number of national governments or individual ports are imposing tighter regulations such as low-sulphur zones and emissions control areas. Shanghai is the most recent city to take action, having included shipping in its carbon market earlier this year, but it is unlikely to be the last. To contribute its fair share of emissions cuts in order to meet the international goal of limiting overall warming to 1.5°C (34.7°F), maritime shipping will need to achieve reductions on the order of 80% from the business-as-usual trajectory (BAU) case.

 

SEE MORE: An incredible visualization of the world’s shipping routes by Vox

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Technical and operational efficiency measures already being implemented by the industry “are on track to achieve a 25% reduction of the industry’s emissions from the BAU scenario by 2050,” says CWR. These range from simply reducing speed to using less fuel to special anti-fouling paints that reduce friction on the ship’s hull and improve fuel efficiency.

But a new suite of wind-based technologies, some traditional and some more radical, could cut the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 60%, CWR says in a new report published in association with University College London in the Journal of Marine Policy. The first, sail power, is perhaps the most traditional, but the sails proposed for cargo ships don’t look like the billowing canvas of historical tea clippers or even today’s round-the-world yachts. Instead, they are rigid aerofoils that rotate around their masts to optimize the available wind energy.

The next technology has also been around for centuries, and indeed would look familiar to watersports enthusiasts today. Companies such as Germany’s Skysails use what look like giant kitesurfing kites to help propel ships. Because they are deployed hundreds of meters above the ship, the company claims the kites are much more powerful – up to 25 times – than sails at ship level. “There is enormous, free wind energy potential on the high seas,” says Gerd Wessels, managing partner at Wessels Reederei GmBH & Co. “We can cut fuel consumption of our ships in half on good days and save an average of 10-15% in fuel every year.”

(Imagine by www.readmt.com)

The final wind technology highlighted in the study is less familiar. The Flettner rotor, named after its inventor, German engineer Anton Flettner, uses a scientific phenomenon known as the Magnus Effect, which also helps baseball pitchers, tennis players and soccer player curve balls in unexpected ways. Ships with Flettner rotors use a motor to spin giant cylinders and exploit the pressure differences to rotate the cylinders and propel the vessel. The technology was invented in the 1920s but never caught on because diesel engines became the norm. However, a Swiss company, Thiiink is looking to revive the technology, which it says could cut fuel consumption by up to 25%. The German wind turbine maker Enercon has built a ship to transport its turbines that has four Flettner rotors and cut fuel consumption by 30-40%.Norway’s Norsepower is also working on the technology.

However, despite the potential, the relative simplicity and the low cost of all of these technologies, there are a range of barriers to their wider application, says CWR. These include split incentives between ship owners and customers, imperfect information, hidden costs and difficulties in accessing capital. These factors create a commercialization “valley of death” that prevents the technologies being adopted at scale even though they are cost-effective even at today’s fuel prices.

“It is clear that a first mover — whether an owner, a charterer, or a public/private partnership— is needed to demonstrate that the barriers to wind technology can be overcome today. Moreover, the industry should work together to invest in R&D, so that risks and rewards can be shared by all,” says Victoria Stulgis, senior associate at Carbon War Room.

about the author
Mike Scott
Journalist. Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change, Investing, Energy, Supply Chain, Transport, Circular Economy, Stranded Assets, ESG, Smart Cities, Wealth Management, Family Offices, Asset Management, EU.