fbpx

Voice of the Commonwealth - The Global Influencer

Voice of the Commonwealth - The Global Influencer

The Premises of Marine Propulsion: Reframing the challenge to realise net-zero GHG emissions

By Kavinda Ratnapala

The global shipping industry has problems, too many to count. They range from the lack of containers in the key shipping routes to ever-evolving national regulations to labour strikes and shortages. However, on a planetary scale, the biggest challenge that is faced is that of the nearly 100,000 merchant ships at sea only one ship can carry out a carbon-neutral voyage. This too being a proof concept vessel, is not a suitable comparison to the kind of cargo vessel at scale which needs to be decarbonized. To put into perspective the scale of the emissions challenge faced by the global shipping industry. In 2020, the industry accounted for roughly 11% of the total anthropogenic global greenhouse emissions in the transport industry which is the 2nd largest emitting industrial sector in the world.

In this article, I will elaborate as to why the global merchant fleet has as of yet, not moved, toward carbon-neutral modes of transport. Next, it will detail a tangible alternative to the fossil-fuel-based propulsion, that is being trialled in the market. The essay will make the reader aware that there are no silver bullets in the path to net-zero emissions. Rather, meaningful and sustainable progress is only attenable through multipronged approaches that not only sees off overreliance on fossil fuels but also negate tendencies towards dependence on any single solution.

The Current State of Shipping

The main challenge that shipping magnates including the three dominant shipping alliances namely: Ocean Alliance, THE Alliance and 2M Alliance, face in transitioning to a carbon-neutral option is a matter of Energy Density. What this boils down to is a matter of weight. Replacing fuel with a battery to get the same mileage is not possible simply due to the fact that the batteries are just too heavy. In road-based transport, this issue has been solved through the shorter travel distances and increasing the number of charging stations. However, this is not the same for ships in the merchant navy. For instance, The Guardian has estimated that larger merchant ships with about 18,000 twenty-foot container equivalent units or TEUs, designed to circumnavigate the world require about 33mn pounds of fuel. The weight of a battery system to match these specifications would weigh approximately 1.6bn pounds which is well beyond the dead-weight capacity of any ship which could be hypothetically envisaged. That’s why decarbonizing ships requires a different kind of innovation.

Moreover, apart from the prohibitive costs associated with infrastructure upgrades and replacing the diesel-powered merchant fleet.  Diesel continues to be the most cost-effective, universally available and most critically, energy-rich fuel enabling the circumnavigation of the globe on a single tank of fuel.

Reframing the Question at Hand

While Hydrogen has been promised as a real alternative to fossil fuels. Its practical application has been a long time coming. To date, there has been no evidence to suggest that hydrogen has been seriously considered by the aforementioned shipping alliances as a real alternative. The story thus far narrated seems to lead to a dead-end, with no clear path out of the conundrum that is rising emissions in the shipping industry.

As always, when faced with an impasse the solution seems to be the reframing of the question to solve a more amenable problem. For the past 100 years, the economics of shipping, the design of vessels and their accompanying infrastructure has been geared towards accommodating bigger and bigger vessels. Which in turn has been predicated upon the continuous use of fossil fuels to power these behemoths. The task at hand as exemplified below then is to return to the drawing board and ask the question: how can fossil fuels be dropped and shipping optimized around the none fossil fuels as the source of propulsion?

Replaceable Battery Technology

Developing upon the reframing of the question to focus on electrification. It seems the future of electric transport is not only in fast charging and denser battery capacity but in battery interchangeability. This idea is not a pipe dream for it is being trialled by a Chinese EV (electric vehicle) company dismissing Tesla which as of early 2021 questioned its suitability for widespread use. It is this very logic that the company Fleetzero is championing with its prototype interchangeable container-size battery. By optimizing shipping, around replaceable batteries that can be loaded and offloaded through the use of cranes -the method through which containers are unloaded by terminal operators. The goal was not to replace 20,000 TEU ships capable of circumnavigating the world, this was where the previous attempts at electrifying ships failed as detailed in the preceding section. But the goal is to focus on medium-size ships carrying under 5,000 TEUs designed to make quick stops along short-sea shipping routes. This thinking is capitalizing on an increasing trend of most ports requiring ships that dock to cut their highly polluting engines and plug into the port’s power supply directly.  

The benefits of electrification and in the process shifting focus towards increasing the size of the global fleet via medium-sized ships does not stop here. Because the ships are smaller, they are not restricted to dock at a select few deep-water ports and as such the number of ports from around the world that become useable increases manyfold. By having more ports from which business can be carried out shippers reduce their exposure to unloading delays that have been experienced at some of the major ports from around the world -as has been experienced over the past year. The cause of such delays being due to a combination of ships having to wait for berthing spots, the lack of container unloading space on the docks, the lack of chassis on which containers sit, long wait for trucks at ports and over-crowding of warehousing

Another benefit of this approach is the enhanced efficiency enabled emissions and cost savings. As sea freight is a cheaper service than road freight and mid-sized ships can access a greater number of ports. Containers can be delivered closer to the final destination reducing the middle-mile constraints that reliance on container trucks brings with them along with reduced GHG emissions. Which is the reason behind all these developments in the first place.

Some Concluding Thoughts.

Clearly, de-carbonizing at a societal level is no easy feat and none of the solutions will be silver bullets. But if any meaningful headway is to be made toward realizing the bare minimum of carbon neutrality a multi-pronged and multi-technology path is the way forward. While it is too soon to make definite claims concerning the viability of battery replacement as a means for de-carbonizing the merchant fleet. This nuanced approach which practically solves more than just the primary impediment at hand, deserves more than the typical scorn and doubt innovation brings forth.

Related to this article:

For an account of the impacts of alternative greener fuels used by the global shipping industry see here

Latest news

Calls to import coal through aggregating agency

KOLKATA (CU)_Over the recent months, there has been an increase power generated through coal in India, both domestic and imported. As of Friday, power...

Related news

Hydrogen On The High Seas: The Great Hope For Net-Zero Emissions

By Kavinda Ratnapala Note to the reader* This article is a supplementary essay which is to be read in tandem with a previous article on alternative green...

First cruise ship arrives in Sydney after 2-year pandemic hiatus

AUSTRALIA - The first cruise ship to sail into Sydney in over two years was greeted with tug boats and water cannons.P&O Cruises Australia...

Royal Caribbean Makes a Change Passengers Will Love

CARIBBEAN - Royal Caribbean has done something that will delight cruisers. Cruise ships have an endless array of food and beverage choices. Passengers on...

3,000-passenger MSC Magnifica to berth in Cobh

IRELAND - The biggest cruise ship to visit Cork since Covid hit is due to berth in Cobh on, heralding the return of a...

Freight Forwarding Industry in India: Market Outlook and How to Set Up

Increasing integration with the global economy coupled with improving production activity and consumption trends at home has presented the Indian freight forwarding industry with...

Shell ‘sorry’ for buying cheap Russian oil shipment!

GLOBAL - Major oil firm Shell is to leave Russia and has apologised for buying a shipment of Russian crude oil last week as other international...

War in Ukraine Puts Shipping’s Tentative Recovery in Jeopardy

GLOBAL - Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has the shipping industry bracing for new shocks to its labor force, which relies on experienced crew...

Lawmakers call to waive a 100-year-old law that makes US gas shipping more expensive.

GLOBAL USA – the shipping sector took a bit of a hit with the pandemic and just as they thought things were going to...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest News

Calls to import coal through aggregating agency

KOLKATA (CU)_Over the recent months, there has been an increase power generated through coal in India, both domestic and imported. As of Friday, power...

Over 6000 employees required for Singapore Changi Airport!

            Singapore (CU)_ Changi Airport Group (CAG) has announced the launch of one of the largest recruiting campaigns in Singapore's aviation sector, with more...

One of Australia’s most anticipated mineral exploration targets is about to be drilled

PERTH (CU)_Chalice Mining has finally received long-awaited approvals to work inside a state forest in Western Australia, which would mean one of Australia’s most...

President Hichilema’s vision for Zambia’s vital mining sector

CAPE TOWN (CU)_Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema recently participated in the annual African Mining Indaba that was held in Cape Town, South Africa. The Zambian...

A clear signal of intent after breaking the trust of Aboriginal Australians

PERTH (CU)_Back in May 2020, Rio Tinto destroyed a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site in the expansion of… an iron ore mine in Western Australia. Although the...

A marathon trip designed to signal Beijing’s broader ambitions in the Pacific

HONIARA (CU)_Over the recent weeks, China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific has come under the spotlight following a controversial security agreement that was signed...

Queen to perform at Platinum Jubilee concert alongside Sir Elton John and Alicia Keys

LONDON (CU)_In less than two weeks, Queen Elizabeth will be celebrating her 70th anniversary of taking the throne. A series of events are scheduled...

Popular Indian Americans are investing in the US T20 cricket league!

California, USA (CU)_ According to recent media reports, popular Indian American business executives including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen are...

Suhana Khan’s 22nd birthday bash was with the Archies squad!

Mumbai, India (CU)_ Suhana Khan turned 22 this year. The popular star kid celebrated her 22nd birthday with ‘The Archies’ team filled with enjoyment....

Singapore envoy lauds Bangladesh’s electricity and energy sectors

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CU)_ The energy industry of Bangladesh is booming. Recently, Bangladesh began building the 2.4-gigawatt (GW) Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, which is anticipated...

25 years after the murder, Metropolitan Police still has ‘much to do’

LONDON (CU)_Back in April 1993, Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager from Plumstead, southeast London, was waiting for a bus in Well Hall Road,...

The transgender community welcomes Pakistan’s Transgender Endowment Fund Bill 2022

Islamabad, Pakistan (CU)_ The transgender community and civil society have lauded the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for passing Pakistan's Transgender Endowment Fund Bill 2022....