A lot of attention is paid to electric cars, long-haul trucks and other land-based electric vehicle (EV) technology. And rightly so. Making the switch from constantly polluting combustion engines to clean, battery powered EVs for daily driver vehicles and the semi rigs moving goods and products around the country will make a dramatic impact on greenhouse gas emissions. But an often overlooked source of atmospheric pollution is ocean going cargo vessels.
Globally maritime transportation accounts for around 2.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, per the International Maritime Organization, producing 1 billion tons of CO2 yearly. Research by IDTechEx found a single large ship emits CO2 equivalent to 70,000 cars, nitrogen oxide comparable to 2 million cars, and fine dust and carcinogenic particles equal to 2.5 million cars.
One factor figuring into the toxic emission capacity of oceanic shipping is the fuel used by the industry. Ocean-going ships typically use bunker fuel, an extremely dirty diesel fuel containing 3,500 times the sulphur than found in diesel used for cars. While oceanic shipping only accounts for 2.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, it’s responsible for 13% of global sulphur oxide emissions annually. Bunker fuel is used for maritime transport because it is inexpensive, and the industry isn’t subject to the UN Paris Accord’s greenhouse gas reduction recommendations.
To put things into perspective, shipping tech company Flexport said if oceanic shipping was a country, it would be the sixth-largest international polluter.
Electric shipping is on the horizon
Currently available technologies to move shipping away from fully diesel-fueled combustion power include: diesel electric drives which use diesel generators to generate power for an electric engine, hybrid drives using both diesel fuel and electric batteries to power the vessel, and full electric drives using nothing but battery power with no on-board combustion engines. While fully electric systems aren’t currently capable of powering oceangoing ships, the technology already has applications in inland shipping. An encouraging forecast by IDTechEx analyts predicts global sales of hybrid and fully electric ships will reach $20 billion by 2027.
Right now hybrid engine technology is in use in a number of places. The four ferries of the “bird flight line” between Germany and Denmark sail using hybrid engines, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 15% according to the shipping company. Norwegian shipping company Hurtigruten’s expedition cruise ship, “MS Roald Amundsen,” launched in July 2019 as the first expedition ship powered by hybrid drive using lithium-ion batteries. While running under electric power its passengers enjoy complete silence and no exhaust gases to interrupt the cruise experience.
Fully electric and hybrid drives are suitable for ferries and cruise ships because those vessels can operate using smaller batteries over relatively short distances. Current battery technology is main impediment to moving cargo ships to electric power. Right now using batteries for oceanic shipping would take around 40% of a vessels cargo capacity, a nonstarter for economic reasons.
To meet this challenge, in August 2019 six maritime transportation companies -- Asahi Tanker Co., Ltd., Exeno Yamamizu Corporation, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., and Mitsubishi Corporation – announced a strategic partnership and newly established company, e5 Lab, Inc., to provide new maritime shipping industry infrastructure services focused on electrically-powered vehicles. The newly formed company’s first objective is to build the world’s first zero-emission tanker by mid-2021, a coastal vessel powered by large-capacity batteries operating in Tokyo Bay. E5 Lab will also actively promote the electrification of coastal and oceangoing vessels, pooling resources to achieve the 50% greenhouse gas reduction target of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO’s goal is for annual emission to drop to 50% of 2008 levels by 2050.
E5 Lab seeks to address seven challenges including: converting vessels to electric propulsion, upgrade onboard communications systems to improve working conditions, leverage sensor technologies for ship maintenance, leverage autonomous sailing tech and big data, offer an electric vessel platform across marine shipping, propose standards for next generation technologies, and leverage large-capacity, rechargeable batteries for emergency backup power for local communities.
Getting maritime transportation off its cheap and dirty diesel bunker fuel and switched to some version of electric vehicle technology isn’t going to happen overnight. But initiatives like e5 Lab are certainly a step in the right direction.#Energy#energy-featured#Story#Article#Sidebar#Innovation#Transportation
Written by: David Kirkpatrick