With the ongoing concern of climate change and the recent crisis in Ukraine, crude oil has been a key topic in the shipping industry. Although there is no exact date on the expiry of oil, Ritchie and Roser believe oil will run out in 51 years, whereas other sources predict a much earlier date as soon as 2052 (Roser, 2020). Due to the heavy reliance on fossil fuels for the power of global energy systems, there is constant pressure on finding solutions. As of 2021, the shipping industry accounts for 940 million tonnes of CO2, which is at least 2.5% of the world’s total CO2 emissions (UK Research and Innovation, 2021).
The advancements and recognition of this problem are clear from the fact in 2014, the IMO rejected a proposal on capping emissions, reassuring us that the issue would be ‘addressed at an appropriate future date’. However, in August 2021, the IMO has set a target to cut emissions by 50% before 2050. In response, the UK government has been the first to add emissions from international shipping in its domestic carbon budget (Gov.uk, 2021), highlighting the importance of solving this issue.
In recent news, the Russian Invasion of Ukraine has caused major disruptions for the industry, with many vessels stuck in ports and freight costs increasing (Murray, 2022). With the closure or restrictions of shipping lanes in the seas surrounding the current crisis, vessels are being forced to divert their routes. Consequently, increasing the amount of oil needed and emissions being released.
Although Covid pressure has eased, Russian sanctions have catapulted oil prices, affecting many shipping companies. Not only increased prices but increased delays are occurring as vessels are diverting paths to avoid any potential conflict in the black sea.
Types of fuel alternatives
To combat the high emission released from shipping and the decreasing availability of oil, there are potential fuels that could be revolutionary replacements. It is vital these alternatives are affordable, accessible and capable of generating enough power to propel huge shipping vessels around the world.
Jack Wittels proposes 6 alternatives (Wittels, 2021): ammonia, methanol, biofuels, hydrogen, liquefied natural gas and nuclear. Despite them all being potential alternatives, methanol has been the preferred direction for sustainable fuel.
Methanol has been the leading substitute due to the fact it is produced using renewable resources such as the sun, wind and biomass. Lower production costs and improved safety also support the demand for methanol fuelled shipping. With IMO striving for greener fuelled ships to avoid rising CO2 emissions, methanol as an alternative to oil quickly becomes a key feature when manufacturing new ships. Not only is methanol allowing companies to meet the strict emissions regulations, but it is providing a cost-effective substitute with oil prices set to increase.
Jacob Sterling, Maersk head of decarbonisation innovation and business development, hopes to kickstart the demand for methanol fuelled ships by ordering 12 ocean-going vessels that run on methanol (each £130m with storage of 16,000 containers). In addition, Sterling also recognises the need for greener fuel but knows there will be a huge increase in production. Maersk estimates that these new ships could save 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year (4.5% of its fleet’s emissions) (Murray, 2022).
Smart Vertical Aerofoils
A UK start-up is working towards implementing technology to aid in the battle of reducing CO2 emissions in the shipping industry. A series of ‘smart’ vertical aerofoils will be mounted on vessels. These aerofoils contain a sophisticated analysis system that can accurately calculate the available wind to any ship at any speed. As a result, this technology aims to reduce fuel consumption by at least a fifth (UK Research and Innovation, 2021). With further technological advancements, there is potential for the figure even to increase.
Space Tech & Wind Power
The world’s leading testing and inspection company, SGS, has been using meteorological and satellite technology at the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre, UK. This technology has been introduced via ‘intelligent’ wing sails, which sense when to turn to make the most of the wind angle and speed. In doing this, less fuel will need to be consumed and the ship can rely on natural resources such as the wind to generate power at sea. Furthermore, it does this autonomously, suggesting that no additional crew members are required (UK Research and Innovation, 2021).Diane Gilpin, Founder and CEO of SGS, suggests how important this technology could be for a low-cost, zero-emissions future by stating:
“Our modern wind-assist solutions are highly advanced and optimised to enable the shipping industry to start driving down emissions immediately (Business & Innovation Magazine, 2021).
“Wind is free, clean and abundantly available to ships that are equipped to harness it” (Business & Innovation Magazine, 2021).
Is greener fuel the future for the shipping industry? Even with renewable energy becoming increasingly cheaper, fossil fuels such as oil are still being used in the shipping industry. The growing concern for climate change is accelerating prices of oil and causing freight prices to rise. It is vital a substitute product is used with the fast-approaching expiry of oil and the environmental demand to move away from fossil fuels. Companies such as Maersk are already in the process of manufacturing methanol fuelled ships, hoping to encourage their competitors to take the same action. Clearly, the move to greener fuel is inevitable and a necessity but will methanol be the preferred alternative to crude oil?
Business & Innovation Magazine. (2021, August 11). SHIPPING INDUSTRY REDUCES CARBON EMISSIONS WITH WILTSHIRE BASED SPACE TECHNOLOGY. Retrieved from Business & Innovation Magazine: https://www.businessinnovationmag.co.uk/shipping-industry-reduces-carbon-emissions-with-wiltshire-based-space-technology/
Gov.uk. (2021, April 20). Climate change and energy. Retrieved from Gov.uk: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-enshrines-new-target-in-law-to-slash-emissions-by-78-by-2035
Murray, A. (2022, March 4). The shipping giant banking on a greener fuel . Retrieved from BBC News: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-60433204 .
Roser, H. R. (2020). Fossil Fuels. Retrieved from Our World in data: https://ourworldindata.org/fossil-fuels
UK Research and Innovation. (2021, August 10). Shipping industry reduces carbon emissions with space technology . Retrieved from Shipping industry reduces carbon emissions with space technology – UKRI
Wittels, J. (2021, December 1). What’s the green fuel of the future for shipping? Retrieved from Bloomberg Quint: https://www.bloombergquint.com/quicktakes/what-s-the-green-fuel-of-the-future-for-shipping-quicktake