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☁️ "The Bottom Line on Sustainable Shipping: Can the Shipping Industry Reach Zero Emissions?"

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Photo by Ian Taylor / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: James Lawler
Guest: Bryan Comer | Marine Program Lead | The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)
Category: ☁️ Carbon Reduction | Sustainable Shipping

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[3:28] “The shipping industry moves about 11 billion tons of stuff around the world each year. That's about 300 times more than what you move by aircraft, for instance. […] And to move 11 billion tonnes of cargo, ships are emitting about a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. And if it were a country, the shipping sector would rank six, more than Germany. […] About 80% of total freight transportation by mass is carried by ship. […] That's about 70% by value.”

[4:49] “There's the big three and those are container ships, bulk carriers, and oil tankers. Those three ships account for over half of the emissions from the sector. There's about 50,000 to 60,000 commercial ships that are big enough to really count. […] So of those 50,000 to 60,000 ships 5,000 are containerships, so about 10 ish percent of the fleet. And they're responsible for about 25% of carbon dioxide emissions from the sector. And then we have bulk carriers. There's about 10,000 of those. And they are responsible for about a fifth of emissions. And then oil tankers for about a sixth of emissions.”

[6:02] “The other portion of the shipping industry that maybe doesn't get as much attention is just how much fossil fuels are transported by ships. So we have bulk carriers and oil tankers, and those two are transporting coal and crude oil and petroleum products, diesel fuel. And about 40% of that 11 billion tonnes of cargo that's moved is fossil fuels.”

[6:51] “The shipping industry is regulated by the International Maritime Organization. It's a specialized agency of the United Nations. […] In 2018, we agreed to a couple of targets. The first is that by 2050, absolute emissions from the sector would fall at least 50% from 2008, which was the historic peak in shipping emissions just before the global financial crisis. And by 2030, we would reduce the carbon intensity of shipping, so how much carbon dioxide or greenhouse gasses are emitted per ton nautical mile by at least 40%, compared to the 2008 baseline. And that we would work to eliminate greenhouse gasses from the sector as soon as possible before the end of the century. […] The vision of the strategy is to be aligned with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.”

[10:54] “The easiest thing to do is to slow ships down. There's a cubic relationship between how fast you go and how much fuel you consume. So in order to go just a little bit faster, you have to consume a lot more fuel. And the opposite is also true. If you go a little slower, you consume a lot less fuel. Even though it'll take you a little longer to complete your journey, because it's a cubic relationship, you end up saving fuel.”

[14:21] “The only way we're going to reduce emissions from the shipping sector is either if we make regulations that mandate that ships do something different than they are currently doing, or if it's less expensive to do the right thing. And on the policy side, the International Maritime Organization usually ends up with regulations that are the lowest common denominator because they're trying to work under consensus. […] That needs to change if we're going to achieve zero emissions by 2050, for sure.”

[15:16] “The other challenge is, it's a global industry and competition can be fierce. And so whoever is offering the cheapest way to move, whatever you're trying to ship from point A to point B, that's who wins. The option now to run a ship the cheapest is to flag in a country that isn't going to charge you any extra taxes, is going to have lacks environmental and safety and labor standards, and is going to allow the ship to use the cheapest fossil fuel. […] Until the alternative fuels are less expensive than the fossil fuels, then nothing's going to happen on the market side. […] So far, between 2012 and 2018, we saw a 10% increase in emissions, so we're going the wrong way.”

[17:13] “There's a lot that we can do on the operational side, […] but in order to get to zero emissions, we need to change the way that ships are fueled. And that's requiring a change not only in the type of fuel that's used onboard ships, but also the type of propulsion system that we have onboard the ships. […] You need something that has a good energy density and that's not too difficult to handle. And that you can use either in an internal combustion engine, or maybe a fuel cell. And so if we start with maybe the hardest situation, which would be a liquid hydrogen fuel, in combination with a fuel cell, that requires having very insulated tanks, very cold fuel, and running it in a fuel cell, which hasn't been tested at scale yet for international shipping.”

[18:16] “It gets easier from there if you go to ammonia, which you can use in an internal combustion engine. It is easy to be liquified, […] but burning it, you're going to reduce nitrous oxide emissions […] and that's a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential almost 300 times as strong as carbon dioxide. And we don't know how much will be emitted by burning ammonia in a marine engine. So it's not going to be zero greenhouse gas, like using hydrogen in a fuel cell would be.”

[19:00] “Then we're talking about methanol. Methanol is a liquid at room temperature and pressure. […] We can store it on board the ship. It's got about half the energy density of fossil fuels. So you need twice as much of it if you're going to go the same distance. But the same is true for ammonia as well. It is a hydrocarbon fuel, so when you burn it, you're going to produce carbon dioxide. So the source of the carbon is really critical when you're using methanol as a decarbonisation strategy. And we have biofuels and we have synthetic fuels as our options. There are huge concerns on the sustainability of biofuels because many of them are made with corn or soybeans, and those have direct and indirect land use change consequences that can make them worse than fossil fuels that they're replacing. […] If it's from direct air capture of carbon dioxide, that's good. […] But that's where the challenges of cost and scaling up come into play.”

[24:22] “We modeled out the trans Pacific containership corridor and we looked to see if you could complete those voyages using liquid hydrogen fuel, which is cryogenic, by fitting it within the same space as the existing fuel tanks and the engine systems and not changing the speed of the ship or anything like that. Half of the voyages could be achieved just as they normally would […]. The other half, you would need to add an additional refueling stop to complete the voyage. And in that case, you could achieve 99%. The other way to achieve it is you replace some of your cargo space with fuel. But it's not necessary if you have that additional refueling stop.”

[26:05] “We've definitely modeled out how exactly you could get to zero emissions on a trajectory that could be consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals. It requires slowing down as the first step. And then it requires scaling up the low and zero lifecycle greenhouse gas fuels pretty rapidly. And that would require reducing all of the political and economic barriers to progress. So it's certainly possible […]. The challenge here is going to be to do it in good time and make sure that we have rules that are in place that forced the transition to occur, and not just things that rely on the market to incentivize the change. And we need a combination, not only of the market based measures, but also command and control.”

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🕰️ 28 min | 🗓️ 05/02/2022
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Additional Links:
Article: “Forty percent of all shipping cargo consists of fossil fuels” (Quartz, 2022)

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