How to Achieve Maritime Decarbonization by 2050. Maritime decarbonization is the process of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the global maritime sector, with an overall goal of placing the sector on a pathway that limits global temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius. This is a crucial challenge for the global economy, as the maritime industry is responsible for about 90% of worldwide trade and 3% of total GHG emissions each year. The sector is also one of the most difficult to decarbonize, due to the wide spectrum of vessel types and sizes, the large amounts of energy they use, and the inherently global nature of maritime transport that necessitates working across geographies.
In this blog post, we will explore the options and actions needed to progress towards a decarbonized maritime shipping sector by 2050, based on the latest research and analysis by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and other sources. We will also highlight some of the benefits and opportunities that renewable fuels can offer for the sector and the environment.
Maritime Decarbonization- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Fuels
According to IRENA, the sector’s decarbonization strategy must involve a combination of energy efficiency and renewable fuels. Energy efficiency measures can help reduce energy demand and thus CO2 emissions in the immediate term, while renewable fuels can enable a transition to low-carbon or zero-carbon propulsion systems in the medium and long term.
Some examples of energy efficiency measures include improving hull design, optimizing vessel speed, using wind-assist technologies, and implementing digital solutions for route planning and fleet management. These measures can reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 40% by 2030.
Renewable fuels are fuels that are derived from renewable energy sources, such as biomass, solar, wind, or hydro. They can be used to replace fossil fuels in existing or new engines, or to power hybrid or all-electric drive trains. Some examples of renewable fuels are advanced biofuels, green hydrogen, green ammonia, green methanol, and green synthetic fuels.
Advanced biofuels are fuels that are produced from non-food biomass sources, such as agricultural residues, municipal waste, or algae. They can be used in conventional diesel engines or blended with fossil fuels. They have lower GHG emissions than fossil fuels, but their availability and sustainability are limited by land use and feedstock supply.
Green hydrogen is hydrogen that is produced from water electrolysis using renewable electricity. It can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity for electric motors, or in internal combustion engines after blending with natural gas or other fuels. It has zero GHG emissions at the point of use, but its production costs are currently high and its storage and distribution require new infrastructure.
Green ammonia is ammonia that is produced from green hydrogen and nitrogen from the air. It can be used in internal combustion engines after cracking into hydrogen and nitrogen, or in fuel cells after direct conversion into electricity. It has zero GHG emissions at the point of use, but its production costs are also high and its handling and safety require special precautions.
Green methanol is methanol that is produced from green hydrogen and carbon dioxide from biogenic sources or direct air capture. It can be used in internal combustion engines after blending with diesel or gasoline, or in fuel cells after reforming into hydrogen. It has lower GHG emissions than fossil fuels, but its production costs are dependent on the availability and price of carbon dioxide.
Green synthetic fuels are fuels that are produced from green hydrogen and carbon dioxide using various chemical processes, such as Fischer-Tropsch synthesis or methanol-to-gasoline conversion. They can be used in internal combustion engines as drop-in replacements for fossil fuels. They have lower GHG emissions than fossil fuels, but their production costs are also dependent on the availability and price of carbon dioxide.
The Pathway to Decarbonize the Shipping Sector by 2050
Based on IRENA’s analysis, a realistic mitigation pathway to decarbonize the shipping sector by 2050 would involve the following steps:
– Starting now, implement energy efficiency measures across all vessel types and sizes to reduce energy demand and CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030.
– In the short term (2020-2030), increase the uptake of advanced biofuels to reduce CO2 emissions by another 10% by 2030.
– In the medium term (2030-2040), introduce green hydrogen-based fuels, such as green ammonia and green methanol, to reduce CO2 emissions by another 30% by 2040.
– In the long term (2040-2050), scale up the production and use of green hydrogen-based fuels, especially green ammonia, to reduce CO2 emissions by another 20% by 2050.
This pathway would result in a cumulative reduction of CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to a business-as-usual scenario, and bring the sector closer to net zero emissions by mid-century. It would also require a significant increase in the production and consumption of renewable fuels, especially green ammonia, which would account for 60% of the total fuel mix by 2050. This would imply a global demand of 183 million tonnes of green ammonia for international shipping alone by 2050, which is comparable to today’s ammonia global production.
The Benefits and Opportunities of Renewable Fuels in maritime sector
The Maritime Decarbonization using renewable fuels would not only help mitigate climate change, but also create multiple benefits and opportunities for the sector and the society. Some of these are:
– Reducing air pollution and improving health. By replacing fossil fuels with renewable fuels, the shipping sector would reduce its emissions of criteria pollutants, such as SOx, NOx, and particulate matter, which have adverse effects on human health and the environment. This would also help comply with the stricter emission regulations imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other authorities.
– Enhancing energy security and resilience. By diversifying the fuel mix and relying on domestic or regional renewable energy sources, the shipping sector would reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels and their price volatility. This would also increase its resilience to external shocks and disruptions in the energy supply chain.
– Creating new markets and jobs. By increasing the demand for renewable fuels, the shipping sector would stimulate the development of new markets and industries for renewable energy production, distribution, and consumption. This would also create new jobs and income opportunities along the value chain, especially in rural and coastal areas.
– Fostering innovation and collaboration. By adopting renewable fuels, the shipping sector would spur innovation and research in new technologies, processes, and standards for fuel production, storage, handling, safety, and performance. This would also require collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders, such as ship owners, operators, builders, fuel suppliers, ports, regulators, researchers, and policymakers.
Maritime decarbonization is a vital challenge for the global economy and the environment. The shipping sector needs to adopt a combination of energy efficiency and renewable fuels to achieve a low-carbon or zero-carbon transition by 2050. Renewable fuels, especially green hydrogen-based fuels such as green ammonia, offer multiple benefits and opportunities for the sector and the society. However, they also face several barriers and uncertainties that need to be overcome. Therefore, taking early action is essential to accelerate the pace of change and raise the ambition beyond the climate goals.