The Complex Route To Green Shipping

One of the biggest stories around the future of shipping has been the movement towards carbon-neutral sea freight.

A lot of measures have been suggested, from the phasing out of heavy fuel oils to the use of hydrogen fuel cells and even wind power as an alternative.

To work on a solution, it is important to see how marine shipping agencies have gotten to this point, and how much work needs to be done.

Heavy Fuel Oil

Shipping at the levels the maritime industry does requires a lot of power. According to the Department for Transport, 486m tonnes of cargo were handled at UK ports alone in 2019, emphasising the scale of the operation.

As a result of carrying huge amounts of cargo across the world, a lot of fuel is required, and due to its relatively low cost, much of that fuel was what is known as heavy fuel oil or bunker fuel.

Most fuels, such as diesel or kerosene are distilled oils and what is left (the residual oils) are what make up the majority of shipping fuels.

Heavy fuels are cheap, but this comes at a significant carbon cost, releasing large amounts of black carbon into the atmosphere.

As a result, either through legislation or industry intervention, the first step to any green shipping is the removal of HFOs.

Economies of Scale

This leads to the issue of what to replace it with. After the Clean Arctic Alliance campaigned against the use of HFO in Arctic waters (where the effects on climate change are magnified), there have been several suggested replacement fuels.

Choosing the replacement, most likely between Liquid Petroleum Gas and other sources in the short term and renewable energy sources such as wind and hydrogen fuel in the long term, is a critical decision that will affect the whole industry for generations to come.