Easier ways to clean up ships in European waters

Decarbonising Europe’s ships will be much easier by making them battery-powered or based on hydrogen than by using synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, a T&E study has found. The report on reducing shipping’s climate impact says powering ships with batteries, hydrogen or ammonia will need only half the renewable electricity compared with using synthetic methane or synthetic diesel. In a separate development, the European Commission has published the EU’s decarbonisation strategy, which acknowledges the potential of electrification for short-sea journeys.

Shipping has traditionally been a cheap mode of transport for non-urgent goods, but this has been at the cost of using cheap and highly polluting fuels. Shipping currently emits 3% of global CO2 and would be the sixth biggest emitter after Japan if it were a country. EU-related shipping is responsible for about 20% of these emissions.

In advance of the EU shipping decarbonisation strategy, T&E last month published a Roadmap to Decarbonising European Shipping, which looks at the impact of different technologies to reducing the climate impact of ships. It makes various assumptions about the volume of shipping in 2050, and tests them by comparing how much electricity would be needed under each technology in relation to Europe’s total electricity requirement in 2015.

It concludes that battery-powered ships offer the most efficient and immediate solution to reducing shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions for shorter distances. For longer journeys, liquid hydrogen and liquid ammonia made with zero-emission electricity will be needed. Powering ships calling at EU ports with a combination of these three options will require around 25% more energy between 2015 and 2050, but the electricity needed to produce enough synthetic diesel and methane would be around 50% more. In addition, leakage of synthetic methane can reduce greenhouse gains as methane has 28-30 times the global warming impact of CO2.

Faig Abbasov, T&E’s shipping officer, said: ‘Shipping is the neglected stepchild of EU climate policy. We need progress at international level coupled with practical steps in Europe. Those practical steps must avoid wasting lots of time and money on solutions that can’t deliver shipping decarbonisation, notably biofuels which are unsuitable for shipping.’

In publishing the report, T&E called on the Commission to set out in the EU 2050 decarbonisation strategy how it will end the use of fossil fuels in shipping, including marine fuel oil and liquefied natural gas. The strategy, published on 28 November under the name A Clean Planet for All, does not propose anything specific for maritime transport, but action on short-sea shipping is specifically singled out with the sentence: ‘Electrification of short-sea shipping and inland waterways is also an option, where the power-to-weight ratio makes it feasible.’

Abbasov described the inclusion of this statement as ‘a limited but significant signal in the right direction’ and concluded ‘Europe should now adopt a short-sea shipping decarbonisation strategy and force the technological shift through regulatory incentives’.