The shipping industry is one of the world’s most important global industry. The efforts of professionals at different links within the linear shipping chain make the worldwide economy fully functional. Global maritime shipping is the ‘backbone of world trade,’ and studies estimate that 80 percent of all goods are transported by sea. Likewise, the global seaborne container shipping has an economic value of USD 12 trillion. However, the massive structure of the shipping industry also leads to a major challenge when it comes to pollution. Fortunately, in the recent past, the global shipping sector has become very proactive in environmental sustenance.

Nowadays, the shipping industry has several tools to decarbonize itself and make it a better place. Nevertheless, let us first look at the various ways in which the shipping industry affects the environment.

Decarbonizing the shipping industry

What is the environmental impact of the shipping industry?

Environmental Impacts of Shipping

As essential as shipping is in the modern world, it is a major source of environmental disasters. The following are some of the industry’s negative consequences on the environment:

  • Emission of Greenhouse Gasses – The shipping industry is a major source of pollution in the atmosphere. The annual carbon emissions of Japan are nearly equal to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by commercial ships transporting cargo from one end of the world to the other.. The combustion of fossil fuels releases massive smoke and dust into the air, facilitating climate change.
  • Oil Spills – It goes without saying that oil spills are one of the worst manifestations of the global shipping sector. Oil spillage has a devastating impact on creatures living under water. As oil accumulates on the water’s surface, oxygen cannot diffuse into the water, thereby killing numerous marine creatures. Seabirds are also harmed by oil spills because they swim beneath to hunt prey but become caught in the oil.
  • Pollution through sound – Marine creatures such as whales rely on sound waves for their everyday activity, and ships’ noise might interfere with their normal patterns of behavior. 
  • Danger for creatures underwater – There is a constant danger of ships colliding with manatees, whales, and other huge marine life. Marine animals can be injured or even killed when they collide with fast-moving ships. For instance, if a ship is traveling at merely 15 knots, there is a 79 percent chance of a fatal collision with a whale.

The environmental determinants of the shipping industry have compelled global stakeholders to take measures and create environmental policies that will mitigate the same. Let us examine a few of them.

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Decarbonisation of Shipping Industry

What are the environmental policies for the shipping industry?

Until recent times, shipping companies that operate in remote international waters managed to avoid meaningful climate regulation away from the public eye. However, the tables are turning, and the industry is face to face with a reckoning. The US, the European Union, and other big shipping hubs pledge to opt for ‘green shipping.’ At COP26, the United Nations climate chance conference in 2021, signed a declaration committing to ‘strengthen global efforts to reach net-zero by 2050.

What are the objectives of International Maritime Organization (IMO)?

Likewise, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – the UN agency responsible for ensuring a safe, clean, and efficient global shipping sector, is set to cut the industry’s carbon pollution at least by half by 2050. In 2020, it implemented new regulations wherein a 0.5 percent sulfur emissions cap began. In addition to the IMO, the European Union is also on a mission to regulate shipping emissions with a phased approach beginning in 2023.

Under the considered law, by 2026, shipping companies will have to pay for the carbon they emit while traveling to and from the EU and between EU ports. As a result of this, the EU has proposed a fuel mandate to force the maritime industry to use a larger percentage of low and zero-carbon fuel.

What is the commitment of the United States?

The United States, in April 2021, also committed to pursuing a zero-emissions shipping industry by 2050. Clean shipping technology will be researched and developed if the International Chamber of Shipping implements a carbon tax of $2 per ton of fuel in 2021.

Researchers opine that if zero carbon emissions fuels comprise 5 percent of the international shipping fuel concoction by 2030, the industry could become fully decarbonized by 2050. Now that we know about the various environmental regulations in the shipping industry let us dovetail into the gauge into the meaning of ‘green shipping.’

What is green shipping?

Green shipping’s impact in the shipping industry

Green shipping refers to sustainable and eco-friendly measures, resources, and energy to transport people and goods by ships. Green shipping aims to preserve the sanctity of the global environment by reducing the emission of Greenhouse Gasses and other pollutants.

From an operational point of view, green shipping complies with the environment-related operating conditions regulated by IMO. The conditions are illustrated by conditions such as –

  • MARPOL 73/78
  • The Anti-fouling System (AFS)
  • Convention on Oil Pollution, Preparedness, Response, and Co-operation regarding Hazardous and Noxious Substances
  • The Ballast Water Management Convention, etc

What are the alternative fuels that are increasingly used in green shipping?

  • Electrofuels, namely green ammonia, hydrogen, and methanal made with untapped renewable energy, can be effective alternative fuels to decarbonize the shipping industry.
  • Sailing on Solar – analyzed the impact of green ammonia, which is ammonia created from renewable energy, on international shipping. The report revealed that green ammonia is one of the most promising zero-carbon shipping fuel options.
  • Liquified Nitrogen Gas – Fueling ships with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has been dubbed the “the shipping industry’s future.” A mixture of diesel and LNG will also improve energy efficiency and result in savings in terms of fuel.
  • Marine Biofuels – these fuels have a very low level of sulfur concentrations and hence emit less carbon dioxide.

After cruising through the environmental impact of the shipping industry and various policies it needs to adhere to, let us finally look at a few of the green technologies that are assisting the shipping industry in achieving its sustainable goals.

What technologies are used in green shipping?

 Technologies used in green shipping in the shipping industry

Some of the top-notch technologies that are changing the shipping industry for good include –

  1. Sulfur Scrubber System – Ships cannot use general fuels in their propulsion system since it is not feasible. Thus, an exhaust gas scrubbers system can be used to minimize sulfur emissions from the exhaust. Sulfur emissions are reduced up to 90% with this device, which removes sulfur from exhaust gas.
  1. Speed Nozzle – Small cargo ships and tugs are typically powered by these engines. Likewise, merchant ships can also increase propulsion efficiency through speed nozzles and save 5 percent energy.
  1. Sail and Kite Propulsion System – It is used along with conventional propulsion systems to reduce fuel and Nitrous Oxide, Sulphur Oxides, and carbon dioxide emissions by a whopping 35 percent.
  1. System for the Recovery of Waste HeatFuel consumption is reduced by 14 percent with the use of the Recovery System for Waste Heat. It is also possible to generate steam from the exhausts, which can be used to heat the cargo area, fuel oil and so on.
  1. Water Cooling System and pumping is improved– It is possible to save up to 20% of the ship’s electric power and up to 1.5% of the overall fuel usage by improving the ship’s cooling water system, which includes the pipes, coolers, and pumps. 

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The latest technology used in the shipping industry today.

Concluding thoughts

Decarbonization of the shipping industry may be accomplished through the use of alternative fuels (nuclear, ammonia, methanol, and hydrogen), renewable energy sources (biofuels, wind, and solar), the maturity of technologies (fuel cells, internal combustion engines), and technical and operational strategies that reduce fuel consumption for existing and new ships ( cleaning and coating, slow steaming, hull and propeller design, waste heat recovery).
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are produced when fuels are burned in the environment. A green ship would produce the fewest carbon emissions. Green ship technology incorporates practices that reduce emissions, conserve energy, and increase efficiency.

Like the ones mentioned above, green technologies can help the shipping industry eliminate carbon emissions and reach its decarbonization targets by 2050.

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