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THE SHIPPING NEWS 2 - Container Ships, Tankers and Bulk Carriers


To me, the Ever Given is a metaphor for the shipping industry itself, reflecting both its huge size and its vulnerability to the slightest perturbation. 

-This Photo of the Evergiven by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY Creative Commons C3.

Turning juggernauts around is never easy. So it is with the shipping industry, yet here too changes are underway. Until four days ago I would have said that to have big container ships such as the notorious Ever Given (above) which recently got itself stuck in the Suez Canal, run on batteries would take a battery the size of the ship itself with no room for cargo, but this has recently been challenged by the launch of a battery electric tanker by Japanese Asahi Tanker Co.

Other technologies are emerging here too. They range from the use of rotor sails and wing sails where winds are favourable, to the use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and biofuels, along with improved logistics and efficiencies which simply reduce the need for fuel. Just travelling more slowly produces fewer emissions and immediate reductions can also be achieved by using sophisticated logistics programs to find the shortest possible routes. However, these alone will not result in the scale of emission reductions needed to reduce the shipping sector's carbon footprint enough to keep warming below 1.5Cᴼ so let’s start by looking at some of the emerging technologies. For more on how international shipping works and why shipping a pair of shoes from say, Vietnam costs less than a chicken nugget, see this video. This one about shipping containers is quite interesting too. 

Back to the future with wind and sail


A ship with Rotor Sails
  • French – based Airseas has just installed its first kite-wing on a commercial vessel and expects to be producing 1000 such sails a year by 2030. CEO and founder, Vincent Bernatets says, it is an easy technology which can be applied to existing ships  and which can save between 20% and 40% of fuel depending on the route taken without having to purchase new vessels while technology is in flux.
  • Swedish designed Oceanbird has enormous retractable sails. Though they may  make for a somewhat slower journey than enormous diesel engines, they have the potential to reduce emissions by 90%.


New coalitions and alliances

Unfortunately, most alternative technologies and fuels are still more expensive than fossil fuels and cannot compete without strong political will in the form of  regulation, subsidies or other incentives to even the playing field because strong environmental commitment alone will not be enough if it simply gives other countries or companies without such scruples, a competitive advantage.

In consequence, a group of more than 150 of shipping industry leaders  - such as Maersk, Trafigura, Euronav, GasLog, Hapag- Lloyd and Cargill, representing 15% of the industry globally, came together in September 2021 as the Mission Possible Partnership, itself part of the Getting to Zero Coalition which includes the World Economic Forum, the International Maritime Organisation -the UN body responsible for the high seas, as well as representatives from governments and civic organisations such as Friends of Ocean Action. Together they have developed action plans and outlined business models required by 2030 in order to reach the 2050 zero emissions target. As with road freight, it is this type of collaboration which creates the preconditions and critical mass for widespread change, driving down costs, funding research, creating infrastructure and standardised regulations.

These companies are calling on national governments to set firm targets and to introduce carbon taxes, to encourage first movers and to make the use of alternative fuels more attractive and competitive relative to fossil fuels. Another proposal is for the industry to impose a self – tax to support new developments. Many of these giants of the shipping industry aren't waiting for market signals and are already cementing their status as industry leaders. A few recent examples follow.

Full steam ahead on Alternative Fuels
  • The world’s largest shipping company by tonnage and fleet size, Denmark’s Maersk has just ordered eight container ships which will run on carbon neutral methanol and will be able to transport 16,000 containers. These are being built by Hyundai Heavy Industries and the first will be operational by 2024.
  •  In March, The Norwegian company Teco 2030, announced that it would begin work on a Gigafactory for hydrogen fuel cells in Narvik, which would begin production in 2022.

  • Norwegian shipping Company Viridian has received funding from the Norwegian government to build ammonia powered ships for short bulk carriers and facilities .
  • Belgian tanker group Euronav is working with South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industry to build a 227m ammonia – powered carrier.
  • In December 2019, Japan’s Kawasaki Industries launched the world’s first hybrid liquified hydrogen carrier to transport hydrogen from Australia to Japan.

  • Another Japanese company, Mitsui O.S.K. lines, is also building dual fuel vessels, since the demands of both LNG , LPG and Ammonia are similar 
  • Japanese shipping and logistics company NYK which runs 826 major ocean vessels – car carriers, container ships, bulk carriers and tankers, as well as planes and trucks, placed orders for 2 carriers which can transport and run on dual fuels -LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) or Ammonia. They can also generate electricity from the rotation of their propellers. Although they still need an initial amount of fossil fuel, their sulphur emissions will reduce by 95% and CO2 emissions by 20%.
  • NYK already has approximately 20 LNG powered ships in service, mostly car and truck carriers, with an additional eight expected to be launched by 2024.  LNG and LPG are not zero emission, but are being used as an interim measure since they do reduce emissions by around 50%. 

The Mission Possible Partnership argues that the short -term gains from gas alone aren’t practical for the shipping industry because of the long life span of both ships and infrastructure and their high cost, therefore any delay in switching to zero or lower -carbon fuels would mean that the zero emissions target would not be reached by 2050. Far better they say, to invest immediately in the infrastructure including production, distribution and storage for true zero emissions fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia and methanol. 
Most alternative fuels -hydrogen and ammonia, methanol are only as green as the energy used to produce them and the feedstock used. They are only green if produced with renewable energy or made from biomass gasification. If being made from the organic waste that otherwise ends up in a rubbish tip, from methane captured from say pig farms or sewerage works, or from crop residues, then it may also reduce the amount of methane entering the atmosphere which could solve two problems at once. On the downside, alternative fuels are generally less dense than conventional fuel meaning that they will take up more space, or ships using them will need to refuel more often. Methanol is also highly corrosive and thus needs special storage and handling. It also becomes extremely toxic if spilled, inhaled or ingested.

 Fortunately big players such as Maersk and NYK also have trials underway with biofuels. Like other alternative fuels, how much biofuels will contribute to emissions reduction depends on the source of the biomass and how it is processed. Is it truly made from waste? Or are we chopping down carbon releasing and sequestering trees for it? Or is it like US ethanol where the corn for it is especially grown - consuming land, energy and water and other resources which would normally be used to grow food? In that case, the amount of additional land needed to replace all the oil being used now would take up almost all the agricultural land in the USA or encroach further on as yet undamaged ecosystems. On the other hand, alternatives such as oil from ground sources or gas from fracking do a lot more damage to the environment and we could certainly do without those devastating oil spills.

  • Three weeks ago, the Sydney Eagle, a dry bulk carrier belonging to  US based Eagle Shipping which owns one of the world's largest fleet of mid size dry bulk vessels - completed its first voyage using Goodfuels advanced marine biofuel. This fuel is made from 100% renewable feedstock - things like animal fats and used cooking oils, which would otherwise go to waste, and is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by between 80 -90%. Fitted with scrubbers, the ship also virtually eliminates most sulphur emissions in accordance with the new 0.5% limits imposed by the International Maritime Organisation in January 2020.

  • Shell is partnering with French transportation and logistics giant CMA CGM, 4th largest in the world to trial the use of Bio LNG in its 1400 TEU Containerships Aurora at Rotterdam. Although this ship uses only 10% Bio LNG, Vice President of CMA CGM, Farid Trad, regards it as a transitional stage and expects that the dual fuel technology developed by the company to be ramped up to reduce emissions by 67%.

  • In September 2020, CMA CGM launched the Jaques Saadé, the world's largest LNG powered container ship, capable of carrying 23,000 TEU. Built by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation in Shanghai, it was the first of nine similar ships and is used on the Asia -Europe route.




Infrastructure development  

Infrastructure to support the switch to zero or low emission fuels is also rapidly evolving. It's called solving the 'chicken and egg problem.' It's interesting to see so many oil companies taking part in this transition.

  • On the 12th of November, Scandinavian Biofuels together with various partners, announced that it would build a plant near Stockholm to process 300,000 tonnes of animal manure and turn it into 120GWh of energy, the equivalent of 12 million tonnes of diesel. This not only prevents release of methane from animal production into the atmosphere but produces a high -quality fertiliser. This sounds like a win – win and seems a much better idea than having rivers polluted by farm waste which has been a concern in the UK and and New Zealand and no doubt many other countries.

  • Scandinavian Biogas' Skogn plant in Trondheim, Norway which has been operating since 2018 is also undergoing a NOK 170 million expansion (around $US 19,299,000) which will primarily serve the Norwegian shipping industry. The company has a number of other plants in Sweden and South Korea.
  •  In the Netherlands the EU is funding a  biogas production facility at Wilp, to service major ports such as Antwerp, The Hague, Paris, London and even Bremen, Hamburg and Lübek.This facility will use domestic waste streams, restaurant waste and crop yields and produce both bio LNG or methanol.

  • In Rotterdam Shell has just launched its second Sustainable Energy Park for the production of biofuels. The first was launched in the Rhineland in July. Both are part of its plan to transition its 14 refineries to 5  and reduce its production of fossil fuels by 55% by 2030. 

    Eurotank Amsterdam is setting aside a large area of its gasoil storage at the Port of Amsterdam for biofuels and has plans to become a hub for renewable fuels including hydrogen and e-methanol for both road freight and marine use.

  • Across the Channel, Essar Oil is developing the Port of Liverpool into the UK's largest centre for biofuel storage.

  •  At Southampton, Exxon Mobil is partnering with gas company SGN and Macquarie Green Investments with a view to establishing a major hydrogen hub which will serve industry, shipping and domestic users. 
  • In Australia, Swiss Company Trafigura has now partnered with the South Australian Government and Nystar to establish a green hydrogen facility at Port Pirie in South Australia and the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is partnering with the state of Western Australia to create a renewable hydrogen hub (Thanks Western Australia and South Australia for proving that not all Australians are stuck in the 1950s).
  • Together with partners, Singapore’s Jurong Port which handles some 40,000 vessels a year (2019), most of them bulk carriers and container ships, is also establishing itself as a major refuelling hub for ammonia.
 Bottom up change
  • Some 2000 private businesses and financial institutions have also committed to decarbonising  their supply chains via the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), a collaboration with the World Wild Wildlife Fund. One thousand, one hundred and eighteen members have already submitted firm targets. SBTi provides tools for measuring emissions from various types of vessels and creating a roadmap for achieving reductions. Their members include major corporations such as Amazon and Walmart.

  • Some companies such as German -based international Logistics Company DHL already offer their customers the choice of greener shipping.

  •  The Netherlands-based Smart Freight Centre is a non – profit organisation with 150 members in the logistics and shipping industries. Their aim is to calculate and reduce emissions through better logistics management and driving change through offshoots such as its Sustainable Freight Buyer’s Alliance which focuses on making better purchasing decisions and using its collective purchasing power to create demand for greener shipping and accreditation for those which reduce their emissions.


 This list is by no means exhaustive. See Ship.Energy's website for updates.Together, these initiatives give smaller companies, upstream processors, suppliers and investors the confidence to go ahead with expensive changes. Like the Ever Given the shipping industry is a huge juggernaut which has taken enormous effort to turn around, yet now that the process of decarbonisation has begun, let's hope that it will be equally hard to stop.


The Ever Given in happier times - May 2020 in Rotterdam

- Image by kees torn, CC BY-SA 2.0  via WikimediaCommons

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