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  August 21st, 2017 | Written by


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  • It is in everyone's interest to ensure that shipping becomes safer, greener, and cleaner.

The shipping industry hasn’t always had the best environmental reputation. Yet stewardship, public perception and new regulations have driven many shipping companies and ports to significantly clean up their acts over the past decade. Some shippers are even becoming models of environmental leadership with investments and initiatives that conserve resources, minimize emissions and reduce their impacts on the environment.

From more efficient ship designs to larger cargo capacities to increase the economies of scale, shipping companies are continually reducing their emissions on a per-ton basis. They’re also instituting more efficient designs and new technologies such as “scrubbers” (a.k.a. emissions cleaning systems) to remove sulphur from their emissions. And in conjunction with ports, they’re tapping into things like shore-side power and real-time information to reduce their environmental impact while at berth.

Reducing Emissions Through Economies of Scale

Air pollution remains the single biggest challenge in the shipping industry. The International Chamber of Shipping reports the 50,000 merchant ships operating around the globe touch 90 percent of the global trade. The industry also accounts for a large portion of CO2 emissions that are expected to grow to 17 percent of all global CO2 emissions by 2050.

Natasha Brown, Media and Communications officer with the International Maritime Organization, says despite the numbers, shipping remains the most environmentally friendly means of transporting cargo on a per-ton basis. A greenhouse gas study by IMO found that a very large container vessel (18,000 TEU) produces CO2 emissions of only 3 grams per tonne-km compared to 80 for trucks and 435 for a 747 plane.

Shipping is by far the most environmentally friendly means of transporting large quantities of goods,” Brown says. “It is in the interest of everyone to ensure that shipping continues to become safer, greener and cleaner, as well as more efficient.”

Rainer Horn, spokesman for Hapag-Lloyd, says the largest modern vessels can carry up to 140,000 tons with a fuel consumption of only 100-130 tons per day at 16 knots. While the continuous growth of ship size has been driving fuel savings through economies of scale, Horn believes the growth is waning with the development of the Ultra Large Container Vessels (ULCVs) of up to 20,000 TEU capacity. Aside from Far East vessels, he says these larger ships don’t provide greater cost advantages over the 15,000 TEU ships. They also require longer port stays and have less flexibility for capacity management.

Reducing Emissions Through Self-regulation

Brown says the industry has been working for decades to reduce the environmental impact by addressing operational pollutants and the causes of accidents. Statistics compiled by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation found a 90 percent reduction in the number of oil spills since the adoption of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) in 1973. New annexes in the past couple of decades have addressed air pollution and the disposition of garbage from ships.

In 2011, IMO became the first international regulator for a transport sector to adopt globally binding energy efficiency requirements that apply to all ships globally regardless of trading pattern or state flag. MARPOL Annex VI, Chapter 4 aims for a gradual reduction of CO2 emissions in the shipping industry from a 10 percent reduction by 2020 to a 50 percent cut by 2030.

Today, the expanded, amended and updated MARPOL Convention remains the most important as well as the most comprehensive, international treaty covering the prevention of both marine and atmospheric pollution by ships,” Brown says.

IMO has also placed a cap on sulphurus content in marine fuel oil of .5 percent by 2020. The move is designed to force shipping companies to invest in scrubbers and look to low sulphur marine fuel or alternative fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG).

MOL on June 1 was delivered the LNG carrier CESI Beihai, the third of six such vessels now on line through a joint venture with COSCO and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. The other three will be ready to sail in 2018. Meanwhile, the MOL-operated 50,000 DWT methanol carriers Taranaki Sun, Manchac Sun and Cajun Sun received the Technology Special Prize at the 2016 Ship of the Year awards sponsored by the Japan Society of Naval Architects and Ocean Engineers, the shipping company announced on July 10.

But Horn points out that while the industry should work on reducing emissions such as nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, small local laws can present big challenges for an international industry. “Changes should be done with enough lead time to prepare efficient and viable technical solutions,” he says, “and last but not least, one needs efficient enforcement and monitoring.”

Hapag-Lloyd collaborates globally with industry partners, terminals, port authorities and technical suppliers to reduce its environmental impact. Many ports are leading initiatives that help reduce emissions while at berth. Christopher Cannon, director of Environmental Management at the Port of Los Angeles, says they are installing at-berth emissions control devices and testing a smokestack “hood” that will collect and treat emissions from ships while at port. The port is also aiming to have the first terminal in the world to operate entirely on zero-emissions equipment fueled by a $27 million solar array and microgrid with 2.6 MW of battery storage.

Innovative Technologies

New technologies are also reducing the environmental impact of the shipping industry. Many manufacturers are experimenting with ways to mitigate the environmental impact of big ships. One of the most effective mechanisms is a scrubber that can remove sulphur emissions from the exhaust gas. Shippers are also upgrading propellers and engines to boost fuel efficiency and increase the capacity of the vessels. Other new technologies are showing promise. German manufacturer SkySails is developing a high-altitude automated towing kite system that can partially power large cargo ships.

New Internet of Things devices and softwares are also enabling both shipping companies and port operators to more efficiently plan and transfer cargo. Horn says since 2013, Hapag-Lloyd’s Fleet Support Center in Hamburg, Germany, has consistently analyzed all types of fleet and other data to transport containers more efficiently with less fuel consumption per TEU and mile. The shipping company is also testing cloud-based stoward planning software to support real-time visibility into the loading and unloading operations. “The more transparency there is throughout the supply chain, the more efficiently everyone involved can make plans for and employ their assets and resources,” says Jörn Springer, head of Hapag-Lloyd’s Fleet Support Center.

Cannon says the Port of Los Angeles is also working on a new information portal that will enable its operators to obtain more updated information on cargo aboard incoming ships. As the port typically can’t get that information until 24 to 48 hours before arrival, having more real-time access to cargo information would allow them to prepare, sequence and move equipment in a more efficient manner. “By being more efficient with how we move cargo at terminals and how we get cargo in and out of the port, it allows for much greater efficiency in terms of all the steps in the movement chain that reduce emissions,” Cannon says.