Transportation & Logistics Analysis

Shipping and the environment : the race to reduce emissions

March 08 2022

The NGO platform Transport & Environment has attacked the European Commission's draft FuelEU Maritime regulation, arguing that it encourages the use of LNG fossil fuel. The shipping companies have no immediate alternative, however.

European NGO platform Transport & Environment (T&E) has just published a study of the proposed FuelEU Maritime regulation published by the European Commission in July 2021. The least one can say is that it is not tender with the draft. "EU policies to clean up shipping will lead to replacement of conventional marine fuels with fossil liquid natural gas (LNG), with little benefit to the climate," it said.

The draft regulation seeks to limit the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions. It proposes reducing greenhouse gases between 2025 and 2050 through the introduction of steadily increasing percentages in five-year stages.

T&E calls for eFuel quota

According to T&E, the draft in its present form does little or nothing to encourage shipping to adopt more sustainable solutions like green hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels known as eFuels. T&E recommends making a 6% eFuel target obligatory in the shipping sector from 2030 on, arguing that that it is "the most straightforward way to ensure supply and demand for sustainable fuels, while providing business predictability to shipowners and fuel suppliers".

Things are not so simple in reality, however. The shipping industry has not waited for public opinion to become aware of the problem to take action on the environment. IMO 2020 was a successful first step towards the reduction of emissions, even though the shipping companies were in serious financial straits at the time. Their finances have improved quickly and spectacularly since then. Shipping companies are taking their responsibilities seriously by increasing their investment in energy transition.

No immediate alternatives

The T&E study seems to ignore a fundamental reality in the shipping sector, however. There simply is no immediate alternative to the internal combustion engine. The industry can only reduce emissions, therefore, through the use of hybrid fuels like "flex fuel", helped in some instances by wind power.

Green hydrogen is certainly a panacea which ticks all the boxes…but, from the technical point of view, its development is still in the early stages. It is illusory to believe that big merchant ships using this type of propulsion could come into operation in less than 15-20 years. And this is without taking account of the need to ensure that the hydrogen is not produced with fossil energy. Otherwise, we would simply be creating a new problem. In its study, T&E is careful to say that the origin of eFuels must be subject to strict rules.

The only zero emissions technology which has really been tested and could be used for for long-haul shipping in the short term is nuclear power and this is an option which is not mentioned by T&E.

75% of EU foreign trade

Shipping accounts for 3% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and 90% of international trade. In Europe, it is an essential part of the transport system, since it accounts for 75% of the European Union's external trade and 31% of internal trade. At a time when it is making an honest attempt to reduce its carbon footprint, the industry deserves better than an excessively radical approach, which would above all threaten the EU's economic growth.

Almost everyone agrees today on the need for an energy transition, for ecological but also economic reasons. But, in the event, underlying ideology is taking us away from the fundamental problem, which is not political but technical!

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Expert in Ocean shipping for 25 years, Jerome puts all his knowledge of the industry to contribution for Upply. Ship captain at heart, he has written the English-French Lexicon of Containerized Shipping (Paris: CELSE, 2001).
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