The pressure is rising on shipping to accelerate the adoption of green fuels to replace polluting bunker oil in order to meet the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) directive to cut CO2 emissions by at least 40 percent to pre-2008 levels by 2030, rising to a 70 percent reduction by 2050.

The IMO has also mandated a reduction of total annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping of at least 50 percent by 2050 when compared to 2008 mandated 50 per cent reduction in CO2 levels by 2030, compared to 2008 levels.

Rising sea levels and violent storms are causing major problems for shipping and coastal communities around the world, with many ports taking action to protect staff and assets. The pressure is on the shipping industry to accelerate its decarbonisation programmes to slow down global warming.


Under pressure from governments, environmental groups and shippers more carriers are taking intermediary steps, adapting ships to use Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), electricity (energy carrier), Hydrogen, Biofuels, Ammonia, Methanol, Dimethyl ether (DME) and Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG).

For blue water vessels, LNG is most popular alternative fuel and its availability means that it is set to replace bunker fuel. LNG carriers already use dual fuel diesel engines capable of using any combination of LNG and bunker fuels.

In Europe, LNG is the preferred fuel option for vessels in order to comply with new limits for sulphur content in marine fuels decreasing from 1 to 0.1 percent from 1 January 2015 in Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) in the Baltic Sea, North Sea and English Channel as set by the IMO19.

In total this will affect about 5,000 ships which transit between EU countries.


Already we have seen major global carriers setting a benchmark by building ships that can use alternative fuels, such as Maersk which will launch of the world’s first carbon neutral liner vessel in 2023.

The new methanol feeder vessel will have a capacity of around 2,000 TEU and be deployed in one of its intra-regional networks. While the vessel will be able to operate on standard very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO), the plan is to operate the vessel on carbon neutral e-methanol or sustainable bio-methanol from day one.

Both the methanol-fueled feeder vessel and the decision to install dual fuel engines on future new buildings are part of the carrier’s ongoing fleet replacement, enabling either carbon neutral operations or operation on standard VLSFO with an aim to have a carbon neutral fleet by 2050.

Shipping accounts for more than 80 percent of world trade by volume, producing 3 percent of global GHG, contributing to air pollution close to coastal areas and ports, the gradual adoption of alternative fuels by shipping will have an incremental positive impact on coastal communities.

Biofuels have very low sulphur levels and low CO2 emissions, as such they are a technically viable solution to low-sulphur fuels meeting either the VLSFO or ULSFO (ultra low sulphur fuel oil) requirements. The cost implications of producing biofuels are also a challenge and will be far more expensive than bunker fuel.

The infrastructure to distribute biofuels also needs to be built and planned ahead to ensure adequate supply to the major re-fueling ports around the world. It is likely that plant-based oil fuels will largely be used by coastal vessels, currently this fuel some derived from used cooking oil is also used as a feedstock for aviation fuel, putting pressure on supply.


LNG is an intermediate solution, in the longer term there are plans to build floating production platforms for making hydrogen and green fuels such as ammonia from desalinated seawater and air.

One floating green fuels refinery could produce over 1 million metric tons green ammonia per year at a cost competitive with bunker fuel. Global demand for green ammonia just from shipping could hit 150 million tons by 2035.

The orderbook for shipyard construction of these plants is a tantalising prospect. It requires no site license, it is scalable, it is flexible, it is movable, it is exportable and it is surrounded by water and air – all the raw material required to make clean water, green hydrogen and green ammonia. No oil drilling, no smoky oil refining, no combustion and no emissions.

Each of these floating refineries could be a consortium involving an advanced atomic operator, a plant processing operator, a maritime asset manager, a ship manager and maybe even an oil company?

Hydrogen is however, costly to produce and requires an enormous amount of energy to make. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind do not have the energy density needed to make hydrogen in sufficient quantities to meet shipping’s needs. Hydrogen when made with oil and gas, is worse than no hydrogen at all.

Another alternative energy solution is to use modular advanced atomic batteries, which will provide long term energy to power hydrogen and ammonia production with no emissions. This technology is in development and is scheduled to be available in under ten years’ time.


One common challenge, however, posed by the adoption of most alternative fuels are their physicochemical characteristics, typically with associated low flashpoints, higher volatilities, different energy content per unit mass and, in some cases, even toxicity.

The industry needs to prepare by training its engineers and crew how to handle these new fuels safely onboard.

The shift from diesel to green fuels, is similar to the change from sail to steam more than 100 years ago.

The main difference is that the imperative to change is on a tighter timescale in order to meet the IMO directives to reduce CO2 and GHG emissions and ultimately meet global warming reduction targets set by the United Nations.

Pressure is growing from global brand-named shippers for carriers to reduce carbon emissions and pledged to only move cargo on ships using zero carbon fuel by 2040.

Their goal is to pressure the shipping industry, through their ‘aggressive’ plan, to decarbonise faster. Fuel used to hit the target must be scalable and have zero greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis including production. The companies’ initiative rules out using LNG as a fuel.


 As more and more cars on the road are hybrid and electrically powered, it is interesting to note that it is the motorsport industry that has ‘driven’ this development taking innovation from the road to racetrack.

High-octane petrol engines powering many racing cars are being replaced with hybrid and electric reinventions of fan favorites.

The future must become greener and the stalwarts of Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship (WRC) are aiming to become more sustainable. Formula 1 and global partner ARAMCO are targeting an introduction of 100 percent sustainable fuels by the middle of this decade, as part of the move towards being Net Zero Carbon by 2030. Source:

 We have seen exciting new championships spring up that aim to be more environmentally friendly. Take the rapidly expanding Formula E which has taken its all-electric series to all four corners of the globe. While the WRC is rethinking the technology it uses and striving towards sustainable engineering is the 24 Hours of Le Mans with hydrogen powered engines. Source: