Pathways to sustainable shipping

“Pathways to sustainable shipping” This was the title of a new outlook published by American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) a few days ago. The outlook introduces and analyzes new types of fuels which the shipping industry could use in order to achieve its ambitious climate goals and zero carbon emissions in long term. Among the introduced pathways are light gas, heavy gas and alcohol, bio/synthetic fuels and their current status, medium- and long term developments and challenges for each fuel type. Outlook also assesses hybrid ships and fuel cells as options to power the global merchant fleet.

The outlook argues LNG and Alcohol based fuels would provide good short-term carbon reduction, while electric solutions would lead to mid-term carbon neutrality. Solutions such as hydrogen and ammonia based power generations are seen as a solution for long-term zero carbon emissions from shipping. Fascinating!

The outlook has been organized in an interesting manner. Outlook presents the first pathway to long-term carbon neutrality as follows: For short term, use of LNG as ship fuel. In medium-term technological breakthroughs would make Bio-/Electro-Methane solutions possible. In the long term Bio-/Electro-Methane solutions would be further developed into hydrogen solutions to achieve the ultimate goal: Sustainable zero carbon shipping.

Second pathway presented in the outlook is LPG for short term, Bio-/Electro fuels for medium-term, and finally Ammonia for long term. Third presented pathway starts from Bio-/Renewable diesel, advances to Gas-To-Liquid Fuels and ends at 2nd or 3rd generation biodiesel for zero carbon emissions.

Of course all the three pathways sound futuristic today but the shipping industry is known for aiming higher and not being afraid of the challenges!

Hydrogen as fuel would be an excellent choice for shipping, but probably the most notable challenge to be solved is the cost of transportation and distribution which can be up to three times as high as its production costs, according to the outlook. In an industry with low margins, this is among the first issues that needs to be addressed before wider adoption can even be considered.

Methanol would also provide a way for zero emissions, but again, there are some serious challenges to overcome first. Most notably Methanol would require considerable safety

precautions due to its toxicity to humans and aquatic life. Everybody agrees oil spills are bad but a big leak of Methanol from grounded vessels would be disastrous.

Regardless of the challenges, It is great to see how shipping as an industry has not stopped innovating and taking steps on its climate goals despite turbulence in the global economy. Shipping industry has always been home to the greatest minds and a source of great innovation. Even in times like this, people in the industry press full steam ahead with environmental innovation!

The full outlook is available at ABS website

About Author

Tuomo Keltto

Tuomo Keltto is a logistics engineer who continued his studies in Seoul, South Korea. He studied at the Korean Government scholarship for a Master's degree in international trade and logistics. Now he is back in Finland and he works at Neste in Porvoo. - He has previously been in Steveco Hietanen for three summers as a temporary stevedore and as a foreman for one summer.