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As ships travel the world’s oceans, they leave behind a giant carbon footprint – and that’s why decarbonization in marine industry is on the rise today.

The shipping industry contributes 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions to the global environment each year. This is because shipping is a major mode of transportation for goods and commodities globally. These emissions, largely caused by fossil fuels, have cast a pall over all efforts to combat climate change. So, what’s the solution? The answer is maritime decarbonization. This blog focuses on understanding decarbonization in marine industry, its importance, what barriers it confronts and how it is guiding us towards a cleaner future.


Firstly, What is Maritime Decarbonization?

Maritime decarbonization refers to the comprehensive effort to significantly reduce the carbon emissions generated by ships and the broader maritime industry. The sector has traditionally relied heavily on fossil fuels, mainly heavy bunker oil, to power vessels and enable global trade. However, the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, along with other pollutants like sulfur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), have prompted a pressing need for transformation. The goal behind decarbonization in marine industry is to transition the industry towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future, in line with global efforts to combat climate change.


How do Shipping Emissions Harm the Environment?

Shipping emissions cause significant environmental damage, such as:

  • Climate change: By trapping heat in the atmosphere, shipping emissions contribute to climate change. This is causing sea levels to rise, extreme weather events to become more frequent and intense, and glaciers to melt.
  • Air pollution: Pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are emitted by maritime transport. These pollutants can cause respiratory problems, heart disease, and cancer.
  • Underwater noise: Shipping noise can interfere with marine life and underwater communication. This can make finding food, mates and avoiding predators difficult for animals.
  • Oil spills: Ships’ oil spills can contaminate beaches, wetlands and marine ecosystems, killing marine life and harming habitats.
  • Ballast water pollution: Ballast water is water that ships use to improve their stability. It may contain invasive species that, if released into the ocean, will harm native marine life.


The Need For Maritime Decarbonization: Why Is It Important?

The maritime industry contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions. As per reports, it was responsible for about 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, making it the world’s sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. Truth be told, this figure is expected to rise in the coming years as shipping demand rises.

Maritime decarbonization is of paramount importance due to its potential to mitigate the substantial carbon emissions generated by the shipping industry. This action is pivotal for achieving climate targets, sustaining trade and preserving coastal communities’ well-being. By adopting cleaner energy and adhering to emissions regulations, the maritime industry can ensure its long-term viability while contributing to a healthier environment.


Maritime Carbonization: Technologies & Strategies Used in 2023

There are various maritime decarbonization technologies and strategies that can be used to reduce carbon emissions from ships. Some of these include – 

  • Alternative fuels: First and foremost, alternative fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydrogen, ammonia and biofuels can significantly reduce carbon emissions from ships. LNG burns cleaner than traditional marine fuels and can reduce emissions by up to 20%. Biofuels, made from renewable resources such as biomass, can reduce emissions by up to 80%. Hydrogen, a zero-carbon fuel that can potentially revolutionize the maritime industry, is still in its early stages of development. Ammonia, another zero-carbon fuel, is currently being investigated for use in shipping.
  • Electric and hybrid propulsion systems: Second, electric and hybrid propulsion systems can also reduce carbon emissions from ships. These systems use batteries to power the ship’s motors, capable of reducing emissions by up to 50%. Hybrid propulsion systems, on the other hand, use an electric and diesel engine combination to reduce emissions by up to 30%.
  • Wind-assisted propulsion: Wind-assisted propulsion systems (WAPS) are a type of marine propulsion system that uses wind power to supplement a ship’s main engine. This can help reduce fuel consumption and emissions, while also increasing ship efficiency by 20%. WAPS is classified into two types: sails and rotors. Sails are the most traditional type of wind propulsion system for maritime transport, and they have been used to propel ships for centuries. Rotors, however, are a newer type of wind propulsion system, gaining popularity due to their increased efficiency and dependability.
  • Improved hull designs and energy-efficient technologies: Improved hull designs and energy-efficient technologies can also help reduce carbon emissions from ships, as they reduce drag, thereby increasing fuel efficiency. Energy-efficient technologies such as LED lighting and energy-efficient appliances can also help reduce emissions.
    In addition to this, there are various secondary techniques that can be employed to lower ship carbon emissions, which are as follows:
  • Reduced speed: Reducing a ship’s speed by 10% can reduce fuel consumption by up to 20%. This is due to the fact that a ship’s fuel efficiency decreases exponentially as speed increases. Slow steaming, as it is known, is a popular strategy for lowering ship emissions, but also results in longer journey times and higher costs.
  • Better routing: By taking more efficient routes, ships can reduce their emissions. To achieve this, modern software can be used to determine the most fuel-effective path between two points, or currents and winds can be utilized.
  • Port optimization: By spending less time in port, ships can reduce their emissions. To accomplish this, the port clearance procedure can be streamlined, shore power can be used and cargo loading and unloading can be made to run more efficiently.

    To learn how to leverage AI to stay connected in the marine industry, read this.

Decarbonization in Marine Industry: Common Barriers & Challenges

There are various challenges to the widespread adoption of these technologies, such as:

  • Financial Challenges: Traditional marine fuels are frequently more expensive than decarbonization technologies. This is because they are still in the early stages of development and do not yet have a large market for them. The cost of an electric container ship, for example, is estimated to be 20-30% higher than a conventional diesel-powered ship. Overall, this cost premium becomes a significant barrier for shipowners, who are already under financial strain.
  • Availability Issues: Thereafter, decarbonization technologies are also not yet widely available for shipping companies, mainly because they are still in development, as we’ve previously discussed. For example, there are only a few liquefied natural gas (LNG) bunkering facilities in the world, and there is no widespread infrastructure for charging electric ships. This scarcity makes it difficult for shipowners to implement decarbonization technologies.
  • Regulatory Uncertainty: The use of decarbonization technologies in shipping is still subject to some regulatory uncertainty. Shipowners hesitate to invest in these technologies because they aren’t sure whether they will be compliant with future regulations. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), for instance, is still developing regulations for the use of LNG in shipping. Because of the uncertainty, shipowners may find it difficult to adopt LNG as a fuel.
  • Insufficient Infrastructure: Unfortunately, there is currently no widespread infrastructure for using maritime decarbonization technologies in shipping. This includes the most basic things, like bunkering facilities for alternative fuels and charging stations for electric ships. The lack of infrastructure makes it difficult for shipowners to implement decarbonization technologies.
  • Social Acceptance: Certain decarbonization technologies, such as nuclear power, face some public opposition, making widespread adoption of these technologies difficult. For example, in the United States, there is widespread public opposition to nuclear power usage, which could make it difficult to build nuclear-powered ships there.

    To learn why automation is the future of marina operations, read this.

Summing It Up

Decarbonization in marine industry is not just a response to environmental concerns; it’s a call to action for an industry that sustains the global economy. The urgent need to curb emissions, reduce pollutants, and minimize the industry’s carbon footprint is steering the maritime sector toward a new era of sustainability and innovation. While challenges are inevitable, the rewards of successful decarbonization efforts will surely be worth it.

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