Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

Clydebank, home to major shipyards during Britain’s Industrial Revolution, borrowed its name from the COP26 Declaration on Green Shipping. Countries, including the US and the UK, have agreed to create zero-emission shipping corridors.

Disappointingly, the agreement did not have clear emissions targets. It is necessary to encourage a new era of low-carbon shipping, the technology of which can play back to the millennia before combustion-powered vessels took over. This is the third blue sky idea we explore in today’s thematic column.

However, switching to sustainable fuel is the first stop for most operators. International legislation to limit sulfur levels in marine fuels only came into place in 2020. Change is slow.

The demand for green supply chains is driving the private sector faster. Major Danish shipper Maersk plans to deploy its first carbon-neutral ship by 2023. It will run on methanol. The biofuel is one of three green fuels that the Danish group hopes to test. The others are lignin-based ethanol and ammonia made from green hydrogen.

Graphs showing EU shipping releases

Environmental experts meanwhile oppose plans for ships powered by liquefied natural gas. Methane has a powerful greenhouse effect when released. Fears are mounting that leaking engine designs will do more harm than good.

One solution that precedes even the glory days of Clydebank is wind power. Rotor sails are already installed on bulk cargo ships and vessels to improve fuel efficiency. The cylindrical rotors help propulsion by harnessing the torque of the Magnus effect. Kite sailing systems can offer similar benefits.

New ship designs to harness wind power are in the works. Roll-to-roll-down carrier Canopée, under construction in Holland, has four solid wing sails to help traditional engines. Sweden’s Alfa Laval and Wallenius, headquartered in Norway, have more ambitious plans. A joint venture hopes to implement Oceanbird telescopic solid sail technology on a transatlantic car carrier, which reduces emissions by 90 percent.

Accountability for ship emissions in national climate plans will give states a greater incentive to act, thinks Jacob Armstrong of Transport & Environment. It will also facilitate the advancement of new marine technologies. Re-inventing the sail should not be too much of a technical challenge. But it needs political winds to make it completely out of port.

This is the third of five articles on blue sky thinking published by Lex today. Look out for the others in Lex online.

The nationality of Maersk was corrected after publication.

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