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Editorial comment

The shipping industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, but the winds are changing. Technology-driven innovations are currently underway to help the industry reduce its environmental impact and cut emissions.

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For example, it is widely known that the International Maritime Organization has set out a sulfur cap of 0.5% on marine fuels as of 2020, which shipping companies may attempt to meet by, for example, purchasing low-sulfur fuel, using alternative fuels or installing exhaust gas cleaning systems (although there is much debate on whether this will be achievable). But there are other developments in the industry that have recently made major steps towards cutting a ship’s environmental footprint.

While typically looked at as the alternative to fossil fuel burning for cleaner industrial power generation, renewables may have the power to also help the shipping industry cut emissions through being used onboard ships for power. Last month, Japan-based Eco Marine Power (EMP) announced it, in cooperation with strategic partners, had begun preparation for sea trials for its patented Aquarius Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) solution. This is an advanced integrated wind and solar power system that consists of rigid (but movable) sails, solar panels, energy storage modules and computer systems that can be fitted to cargo ships and enable them to use renewable energy at sea.

A feasibility study is underway with several large bulk carriers and, once completed, a ship will be selected for the sea trial phase. It is expected that the use of these alternative sources of power and propulsion will lower air pollution and reduce CO2 emissions and fuel consumption. Greg Atkinson, Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Eco Marine Power, believes “Aquarius MRE will pave the way towards the widespread adoption of renewable energy on ships.”

According to the company it is “a major step forward towards a more sustainable future for shipping and is expected to result in the wider deployment of EMP’s solutions on ships ranging from coastal cargo vessels to bulk ore carriers and cruise ships.”

Staying with sustainable shipping, back in May, fertilizer company Yara announced it has partnered with global maritime technology company Kongsberg to develop an all-electric, zero emission cargo ship. Yara Birkeland will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous ship, and is projected to begin operation in the second half of 2018 and will eventually be completely autonomous by 2020. Operating just off the coast of Norway, it will transport product from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik. It is anticipated that it will reduce NOX and CO2 emissions and improve road safety by removing up to 40 000 truck journeys in populated urban areas.

Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of Yara, said the company is “proud to work with Kongsberg to realise the world’s first autonomous, all-electric vessel to enter commercial operation”.

These recent technology-driven innovations are making waves in the shipping industry. While still early days, they show commitment to reducing emissions and are helping contribute to sustainable shipping. It will be interesting to watch these developments over the coming years and see where it takes the industry.