To go green, the shipping sector must use every lever at its disposal

According to one of the world’s leading makers of marine engines, there is no silver bullet for decarbonizing the shipping industry, and governments would be foolish to rely on easy solutions for one of the world’s most polluting industries.

Despite a drive by liners such as Maersk to accelerate the adoption of carbon-neutral fuels, Håkan Agnevall, chief executive of Finnish firm Wartsila, belives that fossil fuels will continue in the sector for some time.

“The issue here is that we attempt to find silver bullets and simple remedies that we try to prescribe to everyone,” Agnevall explained. “We are entering an era in which there will be various solutions.” “As a result, it’s a complicated future,” he continued.

Given that the Finnish company is one of the leading manufacturers of engines for the marine sector, which accounts for around 3% of worldwide emissions, Agnevall’s conclusion is likely to be taken seriously.

Shipping, which was not included in the 2015 Paris climate deal, is regarded as one of the most difficult industries to decarbonize since most container ships sail long distances between ports, making electric batteries an impractical option. At the same time, vessels have a lifespan of around 20 years, thus new technology can take a long time to be implemented.

Instead, several shipping corporations have promoted a variety of fuels, ranging from liquefied natural gas to hydrogen and methanol, preferably all produced using renewable energy.

Agnevall said he was unconcerned that Maersk and France’s MSC, which seems set to overtake the Danish business as the world’s largest container shipping line in the near future, were pursuing different tactics.

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“We’re going to have to use whatever solution we can get our hands on.” The worry is that after COP26 [the climate meeting in Glasgow], we will look back and say, ‘OK, we’re on the right track.’ We aren’t. “We need to go faster,” he added, adding that different fuels will most likely be used in different regions of the world based on availability.

Both Maersk and MSC have said that they want to be net zero by 2050, and the Danish company has stated that it requires carbon-neutral boats in operation by 2030 to do so. However, it has bought eight huge ships for delivery in 2024 that can operate on both fossil fuels and “green” methanol. MSC has yet to commit to a technology, although France’s CMA CGM, the industry’s third largest, has numerous LNG-powered ships.

According to Agnevall, such dual-purpose engines will become increasingly crucial as the industry struggles to determine which solution would be most effective.

He emphasized the difficulty in replacing the present bunker fuel, which is ideal due to its high energy density. LNG would need tanks around twice the size of bunker fuel; ammonia, which is preferred by the Norwegian shipping sector, would necessitate tanks four times bigger; hydrogen, eight times; and electric batteries, 40 times. All of them would need various vessel designs to accommodate them.

As container shipping firms respond to record-high freight charges as a result of the initial wave of Covid-19, Agnevall says they should keep in mind that the green transition is “less than one vessel lifetime away.”

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“What it implies is that shipowners intending to acquire new boats now need to think through their plan,” he added. You must invest in a technology that can subsequently be converted from fossil to carbon-free. It is vital to avoid being stuck with stranded assets.”

Retailers and manufacturers such as Ikea, Amazon, and Unilever are putting a lot of pressure on shipping companies to adopt zero-emission boats by 2040.