Carbon cuts a huge challenge for shipping industry; can it be electrified?

Asia's Tech News Daily

Carbon cuts a huge challenge for shipping industry; can it be electrified?
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The shipping industry remains one of the most polluting energy sources in the modern world. Large ships accounted for 2.2 percent of global human-made emissions in 2012. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) expects shipping emissions to jump by 50-250 percent by 2050, if no mitigating actions are taken.

Marine shipping contributes one billion tonnes of carbon emissions each year already and market researchers at IDTechEx One have calculated that a large ship emits as much CO2 as 70,000 cars.

It is unlikely that shipping is going away anytime soon. With over two million merchant ships around in global fleets — with nearly 54,000 of them being ships of 1000 GT — the shipping industry is looking at alternatives for its highly-polluting fossil fuel. The IMO in 2018 had set an initial goal of cutting emissions from international shipping by at least 50 percent by 2050 when compared with 2008.

Also read: Shipping industry proposes levy to speed up zero carbon future

The challenge, however, is to find viable alternative fuels for ships. Clean Air Task Force research has pointed out that while ammonia remains a likely option for replacing oil for shipping fuel, it would be 3X as costly. The costs will be ultimately passed on to consumers. Synthetic fuels and biofuel blends were also seen as some of the alternatives for fossil fuel but would still contribute to carbon emissions while being costlier than shipping fuel at the same time and thus can only play a transitionary role.

“Most of the solutions we’ve read about and seen will all wind up costing the consumer more,” Steven Henderson, Co-Founder of Fleetzero said. “Either they use a fuel that is a derivative of a fuel we use today, or it’s a fuel that is going to cost more.”

With a lack of viable alternative fuels, and the rising impetus to reduce its greenhouse emissions, the industry is increasingly looking towards electric batteries. Pressure from larger corporations like Amazon, IKEA, Patagonia, Michelin and Unilever is also pushing global shipping to move to zero-carbon emissions by 2040.

While most modern ships are partly electric — the ship’s transmission being powered by an electric motor that itself is powered by a diesel engines — the technological hurdle remains in scaling up batteries for ships. The hurdle of using electric motors for ships is that batteries need time to recharge and ships often do not have enough time at port to recharge their batteries quickly enough.

For now, electric ships have mostly been relegated to smaller passenger vessels and ferries that run for smaller distances. Giant container ships longer than the Eiffel Tower, however, need much more energy than what today’s battery infrastructure can achieve.

Also read: Zero emission but electric vehicles aren’t so green as projected; here’s why

But a new solution is quickly emerging — battery swapping. Instead of recharging batteries on the ships themselves, ships may be able to switch out their large batteries in port for fresh batteries in order to reduce turnaround time.

More research is needed before the shipping industry as a whole can be electrified but increased pressure and investments from large companies can hasten the process considerably.

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