Sustainability trends have begun to make a major impact on the shipping industry. From low-carbon alternative fuels to innovative ship design, the ways in which shipping companies adapt to new environmental guidelines are many.
Brian Ladin, the CEO of Delos Shipping, breaks down the movement toward environmental sustainability in shipping. He offers ideas to shipping companies that want to increase their efficiency and reduce their impact on the environment.
The Impact of the Shipping Industry
Until recently, the shipping industry has defended itself as the most efficient form of commodity transport. Up to this point, the industry has not taken on extra responsibility to keep our world’s air and oceans clean. The industry did however use slow steaming, retrofitting, scrubbers, and new ship and engine designs. This is beginning to change, and shipping companies are starting to take environmental responsibility very seriously in their course of business.
The international container shipping industry employs over 4.2 million people and handles one-third of the value of global trade. These huge numbers mean that sustainability in the shipping industry will make a significant difference in the world’s environmental health.
The Importance of Reducing Carbon Emissions
Carbon emissions are the primary contributors to global warming and climate change. Carbon emissions and greenhouse gases cause the atmosphere to heat up, leading to the warming of the oceans, melting of the polar ice caps, and higher ocean levels. These conditions are greatly disruptive to human, animal, and plant life, leading to negative ecological impacts and more extreme weather.
Governments around the world have banded together in the Paris Agreement of 2015, setting acceptable limits of carbon emissions to ward off further climate change.
Shipping as an Efficient Form of Transport
Even before making environmentally driven changes, ocean shipping is already the most carbon-efficient form of bulk transportation. Each ton of goods shipped by sea carries only a small fraction of the carbon emissions created by air shipping.
Changes that make ocean shipping more efficient include the better design of engines and hulls. Engines that can make better use of fuel produce lower shipping costs per ton. Hulls that are designed to glide more easily through the water are also associated with lower fuel costs.
New Fueling Choices
Diesel fuel has the reputation of being polluting and inefficient. This fuel has higher sulfur and nitrous oxide emissions than other types of fuel. Bit by bit, diesel engines are being replaced with higher efficiency liquified natural gas (LNG) engines.
LNG has a much lower rate of carbon emissions than marine diesel, making ocean shipping even more sustainable than it is today. Facilities are being built around the world to fuel LNG-powered ships. This means that the ships will have a greater range and will be able to serve more areas of the world.
Together with LNG-fueled ships, new fueling choices are beginning to take over part of the landscape. Hydrogen fuel cells are a particularly efficient form of power, but their use in large ocean-going vessels has only been piloted in a few ships, like tugboats, ferries, and smaller vessels. The environmental impact of hydrogen fuel cells is much less because fuel cells only emit water as their waste product. The possibility of fuel cells means that truly environmentally neutral shipping could be achieved in the relatively near future.
Another innovative type of fuel for ocean-going vessels is Plaxx. Plaxx is a diesel equivalent which is produced from waste plastics. This type of fuel runs in existing diesel engines, so no costly reconfigurations are necessary. This pilot program will produce a fully commercialized fuel within the next several years.
Ballast Water Changes
In addition to the advent of less-polluting fuels, regulations regarding ballast water have also been put into place. In the past, ballast water was taken on in one part of the world and carried throughout the world as the ship made its way. This meant that non-native organisms were deposited in the world’s oceans, in some cases causing severe environmental impacts.
Untreated ballast water is not permitted to be discharged within United States waters. Many other countries also have regulations regarding this discharge.
The new ballast systems use constantly circulating water, meaning that the problem of non-native species is almost eliminated. This new system is positively impacting the world’s oceans.
While ocean shipping is already the most efficient form of transporting goods by the ton, the industry still emits its share of pollution into the environment. The shipping industry can no longer skate by and claim that they are already doing their part for the health of the world environment.
These sustainability trends are showing a way forward for the industry, demonstrating that even a traditional line of business like ocean shipping can take its place among the most environmentally friendly forms of transportation in the world today. Brian Ladin emphasizes the importance of the shipping industry in showing the way toward a greater contribution to environmental health.