With more than 80% of international goods estimated to move by sea, ocean freight fuels our global economy.i In fact, the industry has been on a long-term track to growth, with volume nearly tripling since 1990.ii 

Since ocean freight is clearly here to stay, many have become concerned about its environmental impact. The industry faces several challenges along the road to sustainability, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

However, thanks to advances in green technology, many shipping companies are successfully reducing their environmental footprint.  

Whether you’re a company looking to embrace sustainability or simply curious about sustainability, we’ll give you a run-down of the latest green tech solutions for ocean freight. While some have become established practices, others are still in development—truly on the cutting edge of “what’s next” for the shipping industry.  

We’ll start with a look at the driving forces behind the green technology movement. 

The “Why” Behind Sustainability & Green Technology 

One of the big motivators behind recent changes in the shipping industry are the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) worldwide mandates. Most recently, their low-sulfur mandate, known as IMO 2020, pushed many companies to adopt alternative fuels. With the 2020 deadline behind them, many shipping companies are already preparing for the IMO’s next big landmark: their 2030 goal to reduce greenhouse gasses (GHG).iii  

Beyond IMO mandates, other organizations have taken on sustainability measures by principle, incorporating the ideal into their organizational vision.  

Still others are adopting environmental measures in response to pressure from customers who are looking for end-to-end sustainable products. 

A recent Forrester study published in Forbes revealed that 32% of U.S. consumers “prioritize companies that are actively reducing their impact on the environment.”iv In a similar study from Deloitte, 28% of respondents stopped doing business with a brand due to sustainability and ethical concerns. 

While many consumers don’t have insight into the shipping companies moving the goods they purchase, increased transparency from B2C companies may change this going forward. Shipping companies who align themselves with sustainability measures may find greater opportunities to partner with B2C companies who market themselves as environmentally friendly. For many shipping companies, making sustainability a reality begins with the industry’s most obvious and well-known impact: emissions. 

Reducing Emissions Through Alternative Fuels 

As ships burn standard bunker fuel – called Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), they release emissions into the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that shipping currently accounts for: 

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Global Carbon Emissions
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Particulate Matter Emissions
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Global Sulfur Emissions

A study by the IMO linked these emissions to asthma, pulmonary, cardiovascular, respiratory diseases, and premature deaths.vii  To combat this—and to establish compliance with the IMO’s low-sulfur mandate—many shipping lines have started using low-sulfur fuel oil. Others have installed “scrubbers” that remove components, such as sulfur oxides, from ship emissions before they get released into the atmosphere.  

Additionally, shipping lines are increasingly embracing liquid natural gas as an alternative fuel source. LNG can offer significant advantages, including: 

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Reduction of sulfur oxides and fine particle matter
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Reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions
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Reduction in carbon dioxide emissions

Although LNG-fueled ships are estimated to be 15-30% more costly,ix the emissions results are significant, so many sustainable-mined companies believe they’re worth the price. In addition to investigating alternative fuels, many steamship lines are also looking for ways to simply burn less fuel—in surprising ways. 

Harnessing the Wind  

Yes, you read that right. Maybe it feels like a step back in time, rather than a nod to the future.  However, exciting technology is emerging in the area of wind power.  

The SkySails Group in Hamburg has created a towing kite that pulls cargo ships, offering fuel savings of as much as 10 tons of oil per day.x Additionally, the company Norsepower is fitting ships with rotorsails, which use spinning cylinders to harness the power of the wind. After installing two of these on the Maersk’s tanker, M/V Pelican, an independent study found that the rotor sails reduced fuel consumption by 8.2% in their first year of use. See these fascinating power-generating cylinders in the video below:

Although LNG-fueled ships are estimated to be 15-30% more costly,ix the emissions results are significant, so many sustainable-mined companies believe they’re worth the price. In addition to investigating alternative fuels, many steamship lines are also looking for ways to simply burn less fuel—in surprising ways. In addition to investigating alternative sources of fuel and energy, shipping companies are also investing in green technology that leverages the power of physics. 

Doubling Down on Efficiencies 

Continuous optimization isn’t just for supply chain managers. By tweaking various aspects of its ships’ movement, shipping lines can create new efficiencies. These allow  vessels to burn less fuel, ultimately reducing their emissions footprint. Examples include: 

Although LNG-fueled ships are estimated to be 15-30% more costly,ix the emissions results are significant, so many sustainable-mined companies believe they’re worth the price. In addition to investigating alternative fuels, many steamship lines are also looking for ways to simply burn less fuel—in surprising ways. 

Finally, the last piece of green technology we’ll discuss shifts the focus away from fuel and toward ships’ impact on the marine environment in which they operate. 

 

Ballast-Free Ships May Decrease Spread of Invasive Species 

Red LionfishBallast water plays a crucial role in a ship’s trim and stability. However, ballast water practices can also contribute to the spread of invasive species. Organisms can get caught in a ship’s ballast tanks and released in a different part of the world, disrupting local marine ecosystems. 

For example, the lionfish, originally native to the Indo-Pacific, started appearing in the Caribbean a few years ago. These fish have few natural predators in Atlantic waters. Scientists were concerned that they would spread unchecked, consuming massive quantities of reef organisms and disrupting the established food chain. While there’s no evidence around how lionfish have spread beyond their natural habitat, some believe ballast water might be to blame.  

Some operators have begun treating their ballast water to manage foreign organisms. Others are working on ballast-free ships to eliminate this problem altogether. One solution from the University of Michigan allows a constant flow of sea water through the hull. However, many of these solutions either take up a significant amount of space, which would either mean lost revenue for shipping lines or larger ships to make up for the lost cargo room. Others worry that ballast-free designs will increase drag—and fuel consumption along with it. 

In other words, this area of green technology is still in development, but remains critical to the future of our global ecosystem. 

Embracing Sustainable Solutions for the Shipping Industry 

As IMO targets loom—and consumers continue to demand end-to-end sustainability—expect to see continual innovation in the green technology sector. Especially when the results lie in reduced emissions and lighter footprints, green technology is a win for everyone—the ocean freight industry, consumers, and our global community. 

Looking to create greater efficiencies within your supply chain? Our experts would be happy to help. Just reach out to us for a complimentary consultation, and we’ll take a holistic look at your supply chain—together. 

 

i https://unctad.org/topic/transport-and-trade-logistics/review-of-maritime-transport ii https://www.statista.com/statistics/264117/tonnage-of-worldwide-maritime-trade-since-1990/ iii https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Reducing-greenhouse-gas-emissions-from-ships.aspx iv https://www.forbes.com/sites/forrester/2021/01/21/empowered-consumers-call-for-sustainability-transformation/?sh=498deb572042 v https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/sustainable-consumer.html vi https://marine-digital.com/article_green_ship vii https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Sulphur-2020.aspx viii https://www.marineinsight.com/tech/10-noteworthy-lng-fueled-vessels/; https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-51114275; https://www.elengy.com/en/lng/lng-an-energy-of-the-future.html ix https://www.wsj.com/articles/shipping-companies-banking-on-gas-carriers-as-lng-demand-grows-11552555800; https://www.mol-service.com/blog/lng-as-ships-fuel x https://skysails-group.com/ xi https://marine-digital.com/article_green_ship

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