With an ambitious 1.5C warming limit supported by over 50 nations opting for carbon neutrality in the shipping industry by 2050, zero emission ships are expected to become mainstream technology and see significant market penetration by 2030. This prediction comes after UK shipping minister John Hayes announced a new £6 million fund to accelerate the development of zero emission shipping.
A four-year research consortium on sustainable shipping, ‘Shipping in Changing Climates’ (SCC) supported by over 30 partners from industry and academia, including Lloyds Register, Rolls Royce, BMT, Shell and MSI, indicated that continued rise of trade and demand would mean LNG or improved energy efficiency of ships would no longer serve as adequate compensation for pollution. The research indicates that international shipping will need to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 50% by 2050 and reduce carbon intensity by 60-90% on 2012 levels by 2050 just to reach a two degree pathway. The current IMO efficiency regime will only lead to a 3% reduction in emissions by 2050. Speed reduction will be important even with future technology, and wind assistance will be critical to this. The shift to carbon neutral fuels will mean that ships will need to slow unless they can run on cleaner fuels like hydrogen, biofuels or battery packs. Although these are viable solutions, they require fundamental changes in operational philosophy and voyage planning, and care taken with upstream emissions.
This certainly seems indicated in the market’s increasing introduction of zero emission ships. In 2015, Siemens launched the world's first electric car ferry, with plans to expand the technology to 40 routes across Norway. The Energy Observer aims to be the first hydrogen-powered vessel to cross the planet and has set off from France this year, while May 2017 saw YARA and Kongsberg announce plans for the world's first zero emissions autonomous cargo vessel to be launched by 2020.
The SCC also suggests that major companies consider undertaking climate risk analysis and implementing internal carbon pricing to prepare their business for forthcoming regulation under tougher climate policies.
“The risk for shipping companies is that, distracted by nearer-term regulations on SOx and other air pollutants, they fail to spot the growing political pressure behind the sector’s decarbonisation and the development of enabling technologies in the wider economy," says Tristan Smith, a reader in Energy and Transport at UCL-Energy. "The opportunity exists in spotting this change, and its synergies with compliance with other air pollution regulation. Companies need to identify which of biofuels, electrification and/or the use of synthetic fuels such as hydrogen, are best suited to their company’s decarbonisation pathway. These are not trivial changes and so need to be prepared for now.”