Enveloping over 70% of planet’s surface, oceans have been used by humanity for centuries as a medium of connectivity. But over time, the intensifying climate changes due to proliferation of anthropogenic activities have compelled humanity to refine its interaction with the nature. The climate change is a byproduct of human progression. But now it’s the modern technology which is offering us a way forward for sustainable progression while mitigating threats to our environment.
With more than 80% of global trade transportation share, the shipping industry’s contribution to globalization has been momentous. But the cost of this contribution is also enormous. With almost 3% contribution in overall green-house emissions, shipping at a casual glance appears to be the least climate destructive mode of freight transportation.
But this amount cannot be dismissed as inconsequential at all. Every year the cargo vessels emit more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon and other contaminated emissions into atmosphere. To put it into perspective, if global shipping was a country, it would have been the sixth largest producer of green-house emissions.
In this regard, International Maritime Organization (IMO) has chosen “new technologies for greener shipping” as theme of World Maritime Day 2022. The theme contemplates the need of innovating, developing, and employing technology for achieving a greener and sustainable shipping sector. Since the theme calls for innovation in industry, climate action, sustenance of life below water, and partnerships for achievement of goals, thus it directly links with United Nations’ sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG-09, SDG-13, SDG-14, and SDG-17 Respectively.
Since 2007, shipping industry has been using a simple yet efficient way to reduce emission. The net fuel usage of ships can be reduced significantly by cruising at low speed. However, slowing down ships to minimize emissions is an equation of diminishing returns. The speed of ships cannot be reduced beyond a moderate mark otherwise it would stagnant the entire industry. This necessitates the usage of innovative technological solutions for reducing carbon footprint and gradually transitioning towards green shipping.
Green shipping is sustainable shipping with minimum to no carbon footprint. For green shipping it’s important to use carbon neutral fuel, field better propulsion systems, optimize the ship designs, revise the ways shipping is conducted, enhance safety standards, and incorporate smart technologies in the shipping industry. In brief, four key areas in shipping can be identified where new technologies can be adopted for achieving periodic transition towards green shipping. These areas deal with upgradations in fuel, propulsion, hull design, and navigation systems.
First, instead of using heavy fuel oils (HFOs), fuel with low or no carbon emission can be used. Shipping has been using HFOs as it is cheap and has high energy density. The industry burns HFOs at the rate of roughly 300 million barrels per day. This is approximately 5% of total oil production.
The fuel has high content of toxic sulfur oxides (Sox) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) which severely contaminate the environment. Instead of HFOs, current ships can be retrofitted to support low emission fuels like Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), hydrogen, methanol, or ammonia.
In particular, LNG offers major improvement over HFOs as its global adaptation in shipping can reduce Sox, NOx and CO2 emissions by 99%, 80% and 20%, respectively. LNG is now increasingly being used in commercial vessels and in the past decade the number of ships using LNG as fuel has increased to hundreds.
Second, diesel propulsion in ships can be replaced with environment-friendly alternatives such as electric propulsion.
Electric propulsion utilizes electric motors for propelling the vessels. Using smaller and light weight electric motors instead of large main diesel engines offers more space, reduces the maintenance requirements, lowers the operational costs, provides better safety generate less noise and vibration, reduces risks of fuel spillage, and most importantly, minimizes the ship’s carbon footprint. Interestingly, wind-ship technology, which utilizes wind for energy generation for ship’s propulsion, is also in experimental phase and so far has shown promising results.
Third, the incorporation of ballast-free ship designs in shipping industry can secure marine environment. Ocean-going cargo vessels utilize ballast water-filled tanks known as ballast tanks for manufacturing the buoyancy according to load requirements. But on downside, ship’s ballast water carries organisms and sediments which also travel to different regions with ships and upon discharge cause severe ecological impact on marine biodiversity.
As a preventive measure, ballast-free ship designs are already in various phases of development. Once incorporated, these new ship designs will help in avoiding carriage of unwanted organisms from one region to another.
Fourth, route forecasting by collecting ocean graphical and metrological data can help reduce fuel consumption. Ships can transit longer routes and consume less fuel. Tides, winds, ocean current, and wave frequency, all contribute to determination of fuel efficiency. By route forecasting, most feasible routes can be chosen for ship transit and hence, maximum fuel efficiency can be achieved.
Shipping industry has already started its long voyage to decarbonize itself by taking into account the obligatory prerequisites of climate change mitigation. Maersk, one of the largest shipping companies, is working in collaboration with other shipping companies to minimize emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and achieve carbon zero emissions within this century.
Maersk will also be utilizing alternative fuels in near future. By first quarter 2024, Maersk will be operating eight methanol fuelled container vessels. The new vessels will replace the older ones and reduce annual CO2 emissions by one million tons. The initiative taken by one company encourages other companies to follow suit.
For shipping industry, the technological age is opening new landscapes of opportunities. However, global transition towards green shipping will also require commitments and actions by governments, industries, and individuals. To protect environment and for ultra-efficient sea-borne transportation with radically low cost and greener profile, we must establish consistency and synergy in our efforts.
Only then will we be able to secure the environment for our future generations.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022