According to CNN and AP Moller Maersk spokesmen: the world’s first carbon-neutral cargo ship will sail in 2023, as efforts to clean up one of the planet’s most polluting industries gain momentum.
The world’s largest container shipping company said Wednesday in a statement that the vessel will run on methanol produced from renewable sources or sustainable biomass. It will be able to sail distances of more than 4,000 nautical miles, roughly the distance from London to Miami.
Video from Maersk’s youtube channel
Denmark-based Maersk (AMKAF) said the breakthrough had been achieved seven years ahead of schedule. The company said all ships it buys going forward will come with dual-fuel technology that allows the vessels to be carbon neutral or run on a fuel containing less sulfur.
“Our ambition to have a carbon neutral fleet by 2050 was unthinkable when we announced it in 2018. Today we see it as a challenging goal, but achievable it will be reached,” said CEO Søren Skou. “Our customers expect us to help them decarbonize their global supply chains,” he added.
Maritime emissions pose a huge threat to the climate. Ships used to transport goods accounted for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), roughly equivalent to aviation. That was an 8% increase over 2012.
The biggest challenge for the maritime sector is to move away from heavy fuel oil, a type of diesel used by most of the world’s tankers and freighters.
The IMO aims to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by 2050, compared to the 2008 level. The UN body has been demanding progressive improvements in the energy efficiency of new ships since 2011. In November, it agreed new standards to reduce the carbon intensity of existing ships. These standards will be presented for formal adoption at a meeting in June.
Separately, new restrictions on sulfur in fuel oil (IMO 2020) that came into force early last year caused a 70% reduction in total sulfur oxide emissions from shipping compared to 2019, IMO said in a statement last month.
Maersk said about 100 of its largest customers, which include automakers, retailers and consumer goods companies, have set or are in the process of setting carbon emissions reduction targets for their supply chains.
Challenges on the horizon
There are some challenges in the way of this decarbonization: Maersk may not be able to source enough carbon-neutral methanol to use in its new ship, and the technology can only power smaller vessels for now.
“It will be a major challenge to get an adequate supply of carbon-neutral methanol within our timeframe to pioneer this technology,” said Maersk’s head of fleet and strategic brands Henriette Hallberg Thygesen. Success will require collaboration with fuel manufacturers, technology partners and developers to scale up production, she added.
However, big questions remain about how to power the new vessels ordered by Maersk. Using the largest methanol engine currently available, Maersk said the vessel it is building will be about 180 meters long and have a capacity of 2,000 containers. The largest vessels in its current fleet can carry about 20,000 containers and are 400 meters long.
The company said it is also exploring alternative fuels for the new ships, such as ammonia, a gas composed of hydrogen and nitrogen. Some scientists have questioned whether biofuels, such as the biomethanol Maersk plans to use, are a sustainable substitute for fossil fuels in high-consumption sectors such as shipping and aviation. Ammonia produced from clean electricity is the best solution for long-distance shipping, Abbasov said.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a 2019 report that mass adoption of biofuels is not the answer to the climate crisis because of the land it uses, which could increase water scarcity and threaten food security.
Maersk is “ignoring the basic science that biofuels cannot be a scalable solution,” said Faig Abbasov, director of the shipping program at European climate lobby group Transport & Environment. “You can produce it in small quantities, but if you want to scale it up, you won’t be able to do it because the feedstock is limited.”‘