Technology and alternate fuels will be the driving force to address climate change and enforce decarbonisation
Ever since December 2015, when the IMO’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted to address climate change, the maritime industry has made significant efforts to ensure that decarbonisation targets are met by 2030. The industry’s sustainability is built on three pillars, directly related to the Sustainable Development goals: environmental excellence, social responsibility and governance. Environmental excellence focuses on preserving the natural air and marine environment, as seen by global decarbonisation initiatives. Governance provides a higher-level view and focuses on the firm and its overall operational excellence, while social responsibility incorporates the human aspect into the design and management of maritime vessels.
The IMO has established targets for the maritime industry to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 (compared to 2008’s levels), reducing at least 50 percent of the shipping industry’s total green- house gas emissions by 2050. Considering 90 percent of the world’s trade takes place via the sea, the shipping sector emits about 940 million tonnes of CO2 per year; accounting for 2.5 to 3 percent of worldwide GHG emissions. This necessitates the development of alternative solutions to mitigate the industry’s impact on the environment.
Sustainability: A challenge and an opportunity
In the face of all of these challenges, classification societies such as the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) have been at the forefront of addressing IMO goals and are working to cut emissions through new policies and regulations. Chris Greenwood, Regional Director of Business Development, Middle East & Africa, ABS, said, “This is certainly a dynamic period for our industry, but it is also exciting, and there is a lot of opportunity. There has been a clear shift in societal expectations for companies to prioritise their ESG efforts, both in terms of their impact on the environment and how they finance their initiatives and considering the maritime industries carbon footprint we have a large part to play in the global decarbonisation efforts. Although technology has advanced quickly and become more efficient, it alone is insufficient to meet the IMO’s goals. Alternative fuels will be the most significant contributors to this drive towards decarbonisation, and ship owners and operators will require a new energy or fuel mix in the long term to facilitate this transition.”
Road to decarbonisation
ABS divides all decarbonisation solutions into three broad categories: alternative fuels and energy sources, which are expected to yield benefits from the use of low and zero-carbon fuels; technology improvements, which aim to improve vessel efficiency and enable the use of alternative fuels; and operational measures, which improve voyage efficiency and capitalise on the first two solutions.
In its second Low Carbon Shipping Outlook, ABS gave a projection of the fuel mix from 2025 to 2050. According to the report, the fuel mix in 2050 will contain 40 percent oil-based fuels and 35 percent zero-carbon fuels like ammonia and hydrogen. The remaining will be LNG, LPG, methanol and biofuels. Considering the sizable investments being made throughout the sector, and the fact that it currently has the best-developed infrastructure among alternative fuels, LNG is projected to play the most significant role in the industry’s drive towards decarbonisation. When compared to HFO (Heavy Fuel Oils), it reduces CO2 emissions by 20 percent.
However, since LNG is kept onboard as a boiling liquid, ships must be built to handle the boil-off gas in order to avoid undesired emissions while still making effective use of the fuel. Methane slip from LNG combustion on the other hand is an issue that will most probably be regulated in the future. Overall, the introduction of LNG and other alternative fuels necessitates holistic vessel design and optimisation of operational profile. Despite the hurdles, LNG is by far the most well-established of the alternative fuels under consideration. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that while shipping can achieve the IMO carbon intensity reduction targets, it may not be able to meet the absolute GHG reduction targets unless policies and decarbonisation efforts are adopted throughout the value chain.
Moreover, the fact that most large ships operate on low-quality fuels, further adds to the impact on the environment. Biomass-derived fuels, biofuels, and biogas might be a solution to this. These hydrogen and synthetic non-carbon fuels, such as ammonia, are produced using renewable energy or a mix of fossil fuels and CCS (carbon capture & storage). These fuels offer the benefit of burning on existing combustion engines, but the fact that there isn’t enough sourcing of them to fulfil industry demands is a challenge. It must be generated in parallel with food production and other industries increasing their use of biofuel as part of their own eco transition, resulting in fierce competition that the industry may not be prepared to face.
Furthermore, another suggested solution is to expand the number of electric vessels, although this is only feasible for shorter voyages. Despite the exponential rise in the deployment of electric ferries, the size of batteries required for greater distances raises the flag for more practical solutions for deep-sea vessels.
Role of classification societies
In addition to this, ABS has a dedicated Sustainability department split between Athens, Copenhagen, Singapore and Houston who can support existing fleets with EEXI Assessment Benchmarking and feasibility studies, as well as new construction services such as specifications reviews and hull optimisation, and company services including ESG Strategy & Reporting, Green Financing Support, and Carbon Inventories.