The world’s largest shipping business, Moller-Maersk, plans to have the first carbon-neutral container ship on the water by 2023, seven years ahead of its schedule, a win for an industry that is notoriously difficult to decarbonise.
What is Happening?
- The Danish group says that the medium-sized “feeder” container ship would be capable of carrying 2 000 20-foot containers and would be powered by carbon-neutral methanol. Maersk adds that it will also ensure that all new vessels ordered from now on will be able to run on carbon-neutral fuels, which will only be “marginally more expensive.”
Morten Bo Christiansen, Maersk’s head of decarbonisation, told the Financial Times, “It’s an important step. It’s the vessel that will show the world it can be done, it’s the vessel that will kickstart a market for these fuels . . . Our customers expect us to solve this for them.”
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- Container shipping is one of the most difficult industries to decarbonise because options such as electric batteries available to other forms of transport do not work for vessels that need to be able to travel thousands of kilometres without stopping.
- According to the UN shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) GHG Study 2014, the industry accounts for 2.2% of the world’s carbon emissions.
- Currently, the majority of container ships are powered by “bunker fuel,” a thick, polluting product left at the end of the oil refining process.
- Maersk has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, which it says would require the first carbon-free ships to be operational by 2030. It adds that the main challenge to building and operating these ships safely will be sourcing the fuel.
- Methanol produced using natural gas, which is cleaner and less carbon-intensive, already powers a handful of tankers. Maersk is considering using either e-methanol, which is produced using renewable energy, or bio-methanol to power its feeder vessel. It says that where the vessel will be based depends on where the fuel can be sourced from.
- Maersk says that about half their top 200 customers had set or were close to setting zero carbon targets for their supply chains. “We want to get the ball rolling. We want to show customers a sustainable product,” Christiansen said. He added that progress required cooperation with everybody from container shipping rivals to customers, regulators and shipbuilders.
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