The maritime industry is going green. But how?

2021 was a very important year for European shipping and its journey towards zero-emission targets. In June 2021, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) decided on measures to reduce the carbon intensity of shipping by 11% between 2019 and 2026, and that total annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping should be reduced by at least 50% by 2050 compared to year 2008.

Furthermore, in July 2021, the European Commission presented the Fit for 55 package, which included proposals for the inclusion of shipping in the carbon trading, the carbon content of fuels, the abolition of duty-free treatment for bunkers, and the distribution infrastructure for alternative fuels. In practise, these actions driven by the EU, put more pressure on shipping than those decided by the IMO.

Shipping currently accounts for less than 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This may be small from one point of view, but the share will of course increase as other sectors of energy production or transport become more low-emission.

Emissions from shipping can be reduced in three different ways. Ship fuel solutions, ship design and technological advancements, and operational solutions, i.e. ship type selection, and ship speed choices.

The whole maritime sector is now in turbulence. What are the practical solutions that guide the maritime sector towards zero-emission targets?  Energy companies are currently in an accelerating debate about fuel solutions, and ship designers about new technological solutions, yet operational solutions can bring the biggest emission reductions at the lowest cost, at least in the short term.

The service life of the fleet is practically always more than 20 years, and up to 30 or more. It is therefore important that the ship designs already on the table take the best possible environmental standards into account in the future as much as possible – energy solutions are as emission-free as possible, and the ship’s energy consumption is kept to a minimum in relation to the amount of cargo carried.

The importance of shipping in Estonia’s foreign trade is substantial, and it cannot be replaced by other modes of transport. The maritime support system must be reformed to encourage competitive carbon neutrality. The development of a carbon-neutral maritime business model requires the involvement of the entire industry, from shippers to ship technology.

TalTech is in a key position to bring various alternative solutions to the table, from technology, new fuels, like hydrogen, as well as operative solutions, for example fuel-efficient shipping and port operations.

The challenge is large, but the only way to tackle it is based on science, technology, and highly trained professionals.

The opinion article was published in Estonian on the ERR opinion portal 10.2.2022.

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