Different ways to reduce CO2 emissions from sea freight

Air pollution

90% of the goods sold all over the world are moved by sea, and the global trade growth means that there is an increasing vessel traffic, huge amounts of energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In order to reduce its environmental footprint, and make cargo ships more eco-friendly, the shipping industry can implement various solutions.  

Moving tons of cargo across the oceans every day cannot be done without adding to global emissions. That is a major challenge for the shipping industry because of high pressures from governments, regulatory bodies, business partners and consumers. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has committed to cut the industry’s emissions by 50% by 2050, a “green revolution” is ongoing. It comes with a combination of measures.  

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Route planning optimization

Optimized route planning is the first component of the shipping industry’s carbon-reduction strategy. The aim is to arrive safely at the port of destination on the required arrival time (RTA) without wasting fuel moving at high speeds. Thanks to digitalization and new technologies (Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, IoT…), companies have a huge amount of information that allows them to choose the best routes in order to save time and fuel consumption. Among others, they take into account the hydrometeorological to avoid storms, high waves, strong underwater currents… 

Transition to renewables and cleaner sources of fuel

At the start of 2020, the maximum allowable sulfur content in bunker fuel has been brought down to 0.5% (from 3.5%) in order to minimize sulfur emissions by 77% (i.e. 8.5 million tons a year). 

For its part, The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has successfully experimented biofuel blends with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15-20 % at first, then go up to the full potential reduction, at 80-90% over time.  

Biomass-derived fuels are also developed, to reduce CO2 and sulfur emissions by up to 90%, although the competition with food production industry might constitute a barrier. 

Green hydrogen also has the potential to create 100% emission-free vessels, but the main challenge is the physical space required to store it for long voyages, because the company would not be able to carry as much cargo. Furthermore, using hydrogen needs the change of all engines, meaning significant capital investment. Last, it is much more expensive (+800%) than traditional bunker fuel but as solar and wind farm are developing to produce more green hydrogen, the costs should fall, allowing virtually unlimited shipping carbon emission reductions. 

On another side, today’s global shipping companies are getting back to “old” solutions provided by Mother Nature, like wind power turbines to save up to 90% of CO2 emissions. 

Efficient port operations

What is the Maritime Supply Chain?

Accurate ETA allows port teams to get prepared and avoid waiting time before berthing, which generates additional GHG emissions. Digital tools enable continuous and fluid communication between the vessel’s crew and port authorities. Whatever the changes regarding weather, traffic, etc., real-time information exchange is key to update plans swiftly. 

Slow steaming

It consists of reducing travel speeds (powering-down engines) to conserve fuel while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The drawback of this method is that the transit time from one location to another is longer.

Energy on board saving

There are multiple ways to reduce the energy used by the ship: switch off internal lights when not used, use halogen or sodium vapor lamps, make effective use of the ship’s laundry, stop pumps (ballast, fire, lube oil, cam shaft pumps) when not required, etc. 

Battery technology adoption

To store energy, some shipping companies, such as Maersk in Denmark, develop low-carbon solutions, among which batteries to lower energy demands and emissions. Yara Fertilizer, a Norwegian company is building the very first all-electric container ship. This far, existing batteries are too heavy and bulky, and they only power small ships over short distances. However, as the industry players are moving steadily towards fleet electrification, batteries should become smaller, lighter, and cheaper. 

Why is the reduction of GHG emissions from sea freight a major issue?

By the latest official estimates, maritime transport is responsible for 2 to 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions with no less than 940 million tons of total CO2 emitted per year. Just to give overview, one of these container ships is said to be as polluting as 50 million cars. And the amount of emissions from all the cars in the world matches those of only 15 of the biggest ships. And according to the projections, they will keep on increasing by 4% annually under a business-as-usual scenario. This means a growth of between 50% and 250% by 2050. 

Apart from CO2, cargo ships release nitrous oxide (NOx) and sulfur oxide (SOx) among other harmful pollutants. These affect air quality and contribute to global warming. For all above reasons, mitigation measures must be put in place as early as possible. 

Sinay provides an air quality monitoring system, which can gather and analyze data about multiple sensors (for example sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter) via a single interface. Real-time reports enable prompt decision-making on how to get their activities greener while complying with environmental regulation. 

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How can BCOs contribute to shipping emissions reduction?

While globalization has led to positive changes in our lives, cargo ships that transport goods across the globe obviously have a substantial impact on the environment. Therefore, BCOs (importers) also have a key role to play to help the shipping industry keep on improving its efficiency with less atmospheric pollution. 

In the first place, to lower CO2 emissions associated with shipping/logistics industry, both individuals and companies have to review their sourcing strategy. This means buying goods that do not require expensive and polluting international transport. Not only shorter supply circuits effectively reduce the carbon footprint, but they support local communities hence benefit to the local (and national) economy. 

On a wider scale, businesses can use online carbon footprint shipping calculator to estimate – for free – their GHG emissions then take appropriate measures to restore the balance. Here are some common practices to do so, depending on countries: 

  • purchase certified carbon offsets to support carbon reduction initiatives; 
  • buying renewable energy certificates to support the country’s transition to green energy. 

Conclusion about CO2 emissions from sea freight

This list is, of course, non-exhaustive and the changes may not happen overnight. However, the sea freight industry is on a path to cause less pollution and increase investments into innovative solutions to minimize its damaging effects on the environment, especially the marine environment. Yet there is still much to do to reach the target set regarding greenhouse gas emissions. 

Frequently Asked Questions About: CO2 EMISSIONS

CO2= Carbon dioxide emissions.

It represents all the emissions stemming from the burning of fossil fuels and manufacture of cement.

Reducing CO2 emissions is possible by many ways:

  • Route planning optimization
  • Transition to renewables and cleaner sources of fuel
  • Efficient port operations
  • Slow steaming
  • Energy on board saving 
  • Battery technology adoption

Ship efficiency described the estimation of the current energy consumption of a vessel, and allow to lower it. 

The Ship Efficiency Management Plan is the document which gather all the details measures. 

  • Methanol
  • Ethanol
  • Hydrogen
  • Ammonia
  • Natural Gas

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