Report: A Combination of Approaches Needed for Carbon-Free Maritime Sector (05 NOV 2019)

With heavy fuel oil covering 82 percent of the shipping sector’s energy needs, decarbonizing global shipping will play a critical role in achieving climate objectives, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds.

Entitled “Navigating the way to a renewable future: Solutions to decarbonise shipping”, the report explores the impact of maritime shipping on CO2 emissions, the structure of shipping and key areas that need to be addressed to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint.

Speaking at the launch of the report from the Global Maritime Forum’s Annual Summit in Singapore last week, Francesco La Camera, IRENA’s Director-General, said it’s clear that the industry has recognized the urgent need to address its decarbonization options.

“Decarbonising transport is critical to a sustainable future. Shipping is a major contributor to transport emissions and it is encouraging that the industry has shown a clear willingness to engage the energy sector to exchange ideas on low-carbon pathways,” La Camera pointed out.

“As the cost of renewables falls, the decarbonisation options available become increasingly competitive. By 2030 alternative low-carbon fuels could reach parity with heavy fuel oil, so it is vitally important that the ship industry prepares itself for a low-carbon future.”

Cutting carbon emission levels in 2008 by half in 2050, in line with IMO goals, requires a combination of clean energy options and alternative fuels based on renewables, the report says. This includes a shift from fossil fuels to alternatives like advanced biofuels and hydrogen-based fuels, upgrading onshore infrastructure and practices during docking, electrification and reducing fuel demand by improving operational performance.

Ready-to-use biofuels, such as Bio-LNG, hold tremendous potential as a transitional fuel which could gradually replace fossil fuels. Other synthetic fuels being considered as potential replacements for conventional ones include methanol, hydrogen and ammonia.

Although currently not economically competitive, in the medium- to long-term, alternative fuels are expected to become viable as their prices fall, adoption grows, and technology improves. Yet, a shift from heavy fuel oil to a clean fuel would also include adjustments to the refueling structure in around 100 ports which account for 80 percent of global freight and the retrofitting of around 25,000 ships, according to IRENA.

Bulk and container carriers, as well as oil and chemical tankers, represent one quarter of the global shipping fleet and emit 85 percent of global shipping emissions. Seven ports are responsible for nearly 60 percent of the bunker fuel sales around the world. Singapore alone delivers 22 percent of today’s total bunkering.

In terms of short-distance applications, such as ferries and other small vessels, electric ships powered by batteries are currently a feasible option. In the long term, with improved battery storage technology and decreasing costs, full electrical propulsion can become economically attractive also for bigger, long-distance ships, the report concluded.