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World's largest shipping company to become carbon neutral

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The world’s largest container shipping company, AP Moller Maersk, has announced that it intends to get its carbon emissions down to zero by 2050.
Maersk is a major player in global freight, containing one in five containers on the ocean.
(Image via AP Moller Maersk).

With Maersk currently controlling one in five containers on the ocean, they’re a major player in international maritime transport, and their commitment to reducing their carbon emissions will require substantial investment in their shipping fleet. 

The company is aiming to develop a carbon neutral vessel by 2030 in advance of its 2050 target. 

“The only possible way to achieve the so-much-needed decarbonisation in our industry is by fully transforming to new carbon neutral fuels and supply chains,” says Soren Toft, Chief Operating Officer at AP Moller Maersk.

He continues, “The next 5-10 years are going to be crucial. We will invest significant resources for innovation and fleet technology to improve the technical and financial viability of decarbonised solutions. Over the last four years, we have invested around $1bn and engaged 50+ engineers each year in developing and deploying energy efficient solutions. Going forward we cannot do this alone”.

In decarbonising the global shipping industry research and development will be key. By setting this ambitious target Maersk is clearly hoping to generate a pull towards researchers, technology developers, investors, cargo owners and legislators that will activate strong industry involvement, co-development, and sponsorship of sustainable solutions that are yet to be seen in the maritime industry.
Carbon emissions from increased shipping could grow by as much as 250 percent by 2050.
Legislation as a trigger of change

Approximately 90 percent of consumer goods travel on ships at some point during their journey from manufacture to consumption. 

With global trade and consumption expected to increase exponentially, the International Maritime Organisation (the organisation responsible for regulating container ships) has estimated that carbon emissions from increased shipping could grow by as much as 250 percent by 2050.

In order to tackle this anticipated increase in carbon emissions the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has set a global limit for the amount of sulphur in fuel oil used on board ships of 0.50% m/m (mass by mass) from 1st January 2020.

The majority of container ships churn through vast volumes of ‘bunker fuel’ during their voyages. Bunker fuel is effectively the dregs of petroleum from the refining process, but is the least expensive fuel available. The trade-off is as follows- the use of ultra-cheap bunker fuel keeps the cost of consumer goods down, but at the cost of making container ships the dirtiest form of transport in history.

In order to meet the IMO’s 2020 target, shipping companies will have to follow Maersk’s lead in developing lower or zero carbon emission fuel options.
The move to low-sulphur fuel in shipping could lead to huge changes to the refineries sector.
The downstream impact

With the IMO’s decree that shipping companies must move to lower-sulphur fuels from 2020, what impact will this have upon the global refining industry?

For starters there’s likely to be a surplus of high-sulphur low grade oils washing around the global oil markets. Secondly, there’s going to be a vast rise in demand for the sort of light sweet crudes that can yield high volumes of low sulphur distillate. Naturally, with rising demand will come rising prices. Unless shipping companies can create a fossil-fuel free alternative fuel source, the cost of shipping consumer goods across the globe will rise commensurately. 

The age of cheap freight transport could be over.

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