Green shipping is when people or goods are transported through ships using minimum resources and energy as possible, to protect the environment from the pollutants generated by the ships. Green shipping promotes cleaner practices to enforce emission control, efficient port management, and equipment management. It requires a huge effort from every element of the industry such as the regulators, port authorities and communities to carry this forward. For instance, the H&M Group wants to become climate positive by 2040 and has partnered with Maersk to use biofuel to reduce the emission in their shipments.

Shipping has become an essential part of the world supply chain and with the effects of climate change becoming more visible, the contribution of CO2 and GHG from the transportation industry is going up. According to the European Commission, the shipping industry releases 940 million tonnes of CO2 and makes 2.5% of the GHG emissions. Ships currently use heavy fuel oil which is a filtrate from crude oil distillation. Crude oil has sulphur and is emitted by the ships during transportation. Not only is this harmful to human health and contributes to respiratory and human diseases, but SOx also causes acid raid, which is extremely harmful to crops, ocean species and acidifies the oceans. 

Hence, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has taken a strong stance against these sulphur emissions and has introduced the mandate IMO Sulphur 2020. Under this mandate, all ships must switch to an alternative fuel oil that emits less than 0.50% sulphur into the environment from the 1st of January 2020. This can lead to a 77% drop in the emission of SOx from the ships and thereby reducing air pollution. It is a notable fact that if the sulphur emissions are not reduced, it can cause more than a million premature deaths between 2020-2025. 

Green shipping is a challenging task for the shipping industry, even when it is the cleanest and safest mode of cargo transport. An average cargo ship with 8000 deadweight tonnage emits 15g of CO2 which is much more efficient than Truck (50g) and air (540g), but this can increase by 50% to 250% with the increasing trade volume. In the last decade, efforts have been taken to enforce sustainable practices and green shipping initiatives.  Just recently, the United Kingdom has committed to 1 million pounds for R&D to reduce emission in the maritime industry and has become the first country to pledge zero emissions by 2050. 

green ship at sea


With IMO 2020 close at hand, some active green shipping initiatives are listed in this article:


LNG as an alternative fuel

A popular green shipping strategy is using LNG. Liquified Natural Gas is an alternative fuel option for ships. But this alternative raises many safety issues. It is essential to ensure safety, as low emission shouldn’t mean less safety. Great care needs to be taken as using gas as a fuel is not suitable for all ships and this requires a change in the structure and outfit of the vessel. But these structural issues are solvable by redesigning. Using LNG as a fuel will reduce CO2 by 20%, along with considerably reducing SOx and NOx. 

This year, Hapag-Lloyd has announced that 16 of their ships are ready to operate on LNG. These are ships they acquired from the Arab shipping company UASC that merged with Hapag-Lloyd in 2017. “Sajir”, one of their giant container ships has been running on LNG since 2015. With this new mission, they expect to save 15% to 30% on CO2 emission and reduce 90% of SOx and fine dust. They also plan to convert their engines to “dual fuel” technology to accommodate low sulphur fuel oil which will take place in Shanghai. Apart from Hapag-Lloyd, French shipping giant CMA CGM is also building LNG fuelled TEUs with a capacity of 22,000.


Slow Steaming

Slow steaming which is nothing but slowing down the speed of the ship is not a new concept for the shipping industry. It is one of the efficient green shipping methods to reduce emission. Seas At Risk, an environmental organisation which has been requesting the curb of the ship speed limit, has conducted a study that revealed, by reducing the speed by 10% it can reduce emissions by 19%. Slow steaming is an under-the-budget practice that has both economic and environmental benefits. It reduces the waiting time of the ship for port call and leans on Just-in-time arrival. Many shipping companies are already reaping the economic benefits of this method. Maersk has been slow steaming since 2007, which has helped decrease the engine load by 35% without any technical problems. Maersk also plans to work on super-slow steaming which would decrease the engine power by 90%. 

But slow steaming is not officially regulated. In October 2019, BIMCO, a shipping body from Copenhagen has proposed the IMO to bring regulation to speed limit as it believes reducing speed limit is an important variable to influence the CO2 emissions. This proposal will be introduced at the IMO in London later in the month. Slow steaming also helps reduce the time waiting for a port call where a considerable amount of energy is emitted. 

 ship running on steam

Reducing Empty Containers

It is a known fact that every third container is being shipped empty. This means about 1/3rd of the 150 million containers were moved empty in the year 2018, and this gives a lot of room for improvement. This cost about $20 billion to the shipping industry each year in terms of storage fees, handling fees and low utilisation charges. 

With at least 6.4 million TEUs repositioned every year, this adds up to 12,243,200 kg of CO2 just on empty containers. While trade imbalances contribute to 2/3rd of the problem, the inefficiencies within the company contribute to 1/3rd of the problem. Container xChange connects 300+ container owners and users such as Kuehne+Nagel, Seaco Global or CMA CGM use its neutral online platform to avoid empty container moves. It is like Airbnb for shipping containers.

Carriers collaborate with other companies and share their containers with them and move it from surplus to deficit locations. On average, each container saves $200-$400 just in handling charges. 


Ballast Water Management 

 Big container ships use water as a ballast to maintain its stability when it is not carrying any cargo. It reduces stress on the hull, makes the ship stable, helps to manoeuvre the ship and improves propulsion. While this helps the ship in many ways, the water pumped into the ballast becomes a host environment for organisms like bacteria, microbes, larvae, cysts and so on. The water is then pumped out at the port when cargo is loaded on to the ship and these newly bred organisms enter the water ecosystem where they are aliens, thereby infecting the ecosystem and posing threats. In the 1980s, this was brought to the attention of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).

After years of request, the International Ballast Water Convention has persuaded IMO to regulate Ballast Water Management. As of September 2017, all ships worldwide are bound under this. To comply with this green shipping strategy of IMO, Maersk chose Wärtsilä’s Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) for three new 50,000 DWT tankers that were built in China. Using BWMS, the water in the ballast goes through filtration and electro-chlorination (EC). The water is first filtered to remove sediments and microorganisms and then disinfected using medium pressure UV lamps or hypochlorite from the EC process. According to IMO, there are 60 ballast water management to choose from, that has been previously tested and tried. 


Renewable Energy 

The unending energy of the wind and sun can be harnessed to power all kinds of ships which helps to reduce fuel consumption, emissions and greenhouse gases. Eco Marine Power (EMP) is a company in Fukuoka, Japan that focuses on developing renewable energy for ships. They are passionate about designing, developing, zero or low-emission environment-friendly, sail-assisted propulsion solution for ships using wind and solar energy. The technologies developed at EMP will help shipyard and shipowners meet the requirements of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI). 

ship design development

A project that is closer to hitting the market is Neoline, whose ship design uses giant sails and claims this will reduce CO2 emission by 90%. The ship uses sail-assisted technology along with slow steaming and with a reduced speed of 11 knots, it only needs half the energy. It is expected to start operating in 2020 between the coastlines of France and the USA. By 2030, Neoline wants to develop a wider range of solutions for the maritime transport industry. 

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