The goal of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to turn the oceangoing vessel industry emissions and carbon free beyond 2050 will require a technological replacement to the dominant fossil fuel-burning engines of the world’s maritime fleet, World Shipping Council President and CEO John Butler told U.S. lawmakers of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee on Tuesday.
While emissions- and carbon-free technologies, such as battery and hydrogen power, are already in the development stages for short-sea and ferry vessel applications, their scale is nowhere near the level to power today’s large oceangoing vessels.
“We have to keep in mind that the scale is different for the transoceanic, larger international vessel sector than it is for the short-sea sector,” Butler said. “We can’t make the mistake that batteries work for ferries and we just need a bigger battery [for oceangoing ships].”
Maersk (OTCMKTS: AMKBY) is currently testing a 40-foot container-size battery on board one of its container ships, Lee Kindberg, the carrier’s North American head of environment and sustainability, told the House subcommittee.
Kindberg said the battery will not provide power for ship propulsion but will be tested for potential onboard power uses, such as shipboard lighting, electric pumps and refrigerated containers.
However, she said Maersk has committed to “net-zero carbon emissions” for its worldwide operations by 2050 and is currently retrofitting vessels with new technologies and testing “carbon-neutral” biofuels, such as those made from cooking oil and an ethanol made from the byproducts of agriculture, paper and wood products manufacturing.
“The transformation from low- to zero-carbon emissions is an energy transformation, not just a vessel modification,” Kindberg said. She added that it will require not only massive industry and government investments in new vessel propulsion systems development but also shoreside-support energy production and infrastructure.
In 2018, the IMO, a United Nations body of which the U.S. is a member, adopted a resolution that called for a 40% increase in overall fleet efficiency compared to 2008 by 2030 and then a 50% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with emissions being reduced to zero or near zero within ocean shipping beyond the half-century mark.
Butler told the House subcommittee members that it is possible for the ocean shipping industry to achieve the IMO’s 2030 goal.
“A highly competitive liner shipping market, fuel price increases associated with the IMO 2020 marine fuel sulfur cap regulation and increasing societal and customer requirements to reduce emissions provide vessel operators with powerful incentives to make their operations as efficient as possible,” he said in his testimony.
However, to achieve the organization’s 2050 goal and beyond will require a substantial, globally funded and driven research and development effort, Butler said.
On Nov. 18, the World Shipping Council and seven other shipping organizations proposed that the 174-member IMO establish a $5 billion to $6 billion research and development effort over the next 10 to 12 years to identify fuels and related technologies to aggressively achieve the IMO’s decarbonization goals for the global ocean shipping industry. The International Maritime Research and Development Board (IMRB) would be funded by a mandatory contribution based on each ton of fuel burned, Butler said.
“Because oceangoing vessels are long-lived assets (20-25 years), we must move as quickly as possible to develop and deploy low-carbon and zero-carbon propulsion systems and fuels to avoid stranded assets and delays in implementing next-generation technologies,” he said.