Can Shipping Ever Be Low Emission?

Updated: Sep 21

This week Reuters reported that a group of shipping companies have come together to launch an initiative to research the different ways in which they can cut emissions from the shipping industry. The move marks a major step towards making the industry greener, but considering shipping alone contributes 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions, can shipping ever be low emission?

Currently, around 90% of world trade is transported by ships, creating one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. But recently the International Chamber of Shipping outlined that they are committed to total decarbonization by 2050. A stat that looks pretty hard to achieve considering ships will need carbon neutral, or at least greener fuel, but there is yet to be an endorsed alternative.

Alternatively, to combat this, more companies have been switching to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), which produces less carbon, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide. However, new studies have shown that this fuel releases significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere, representing a major challenge to the industry.


Methane is particularly damaging to the environment. It is more potent than carbon dioxide and can trap 25 times more heat in the atmosphere. Contributions of the gas have more than doubled recently because of increased methane emitting activities brought on by globalization.

However, this could be changing with the new coalition of shipping companies stepping up to make a change. The new group, which launched on Tuesday, includes businesses such as Shell and MSC. During their first year, they are hoping to find new technologies which can limit the amount of methane leaked from vessels. Once the solution is found the companies will then endorse it to the industry in 2023.

Methane restriction will be top of their list with Andreas Spertos, the EVP-technical director stating “however, in light of the strong warming potential of methane releases to the atmosphere, keeping tight control over methane emissions is critical to ensure that LNG’s overall GHG footprint delivers as much GHG reduction as possible.”

Additionally, in June a climate tech start-up Amogy received $46 million from South Korea’s SK Innovation. The company aims to speed up the movement toward zero emissions by converting carbon-free ammonia into fuel for heavy industries including shipping.

The firm is also looking to solve the problem of electric batteries. The firm outlines that as batteries were originally invented for small electric vehicles they now need to be adapted for larger vessels such as ships, trucks and planes to help ease the amount of carbon produced. The company is set to trial the demonstration vessel in 2023, just in time for an endorsement by the new shipping coalition.

New works to make shipping greener are in the pipeline, however, the industry needs to act quickly to ensure that irreparable harm is not done to the environment. As demand picks up after the pandemic it is vital to ensure that the industry takes productive steps to lower greenhouse gas emissions, hopefully this can be done through the new shipping coalition.


Photo: He Qijie/VCG via Getty Images

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