Propulsion and energy system company MAN Energy Solutions has commissioned a new independent study on decarbonizing shipping, and it has concluded that in order to reach ambitious emissions targets, the industry “may have to discuss a ban on fossil fuels” – and perhaps sooner than might be expected.
According to the results of the study – compiled by MAN Energy Solutions and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) – a fossil-fuel ban for newbuilds could be necessary in the latter half of the decade. The study examines four different scenarios: 1) achieving the IMO 2050 goal of cutting emissions in half by midcentury; 2) a market-driven continuation of business as usual, with a large-scale transition to LNG but limited further progress on emissions; 3) outright failure of IMO decarbonization objectives, with an increase in total emissions by 2050; and 4) a near-complete transition, cutting GHG emissions by 90 percent by 2050.
“Here are my three key takeaways. First, we need society’s advocacy to make the maritime energy transition a success. The underlying change process required is much bigger than our industry. Second, global growth can be an important driver for decarbonization – and vice versa. And finally, at some point down the road we may have to discuss a ban of fossil fuels, which takes us right back to the first insight,” wrote Dr. Uwe Lauber, CEO of MAN Energy Solutions.
To get to an ambitious emissions reduction scenario, public buy-in and global regulation will be required, ISI concluded.
“If there is no international agreement that adopts a stringent climate change mitigation policy in the short to medium term, current emissions legislation for NOx /SOx will lead to the growth of LNG as an alternative fuel,” the study found. “A comprehensive shift toward carbon-free fuels will not take place. Climate targets will be missed.”
The study noted that LNG is not a “blind alley investment” and could serve as a near-term bridge to green alternatives – but it is not a “green” end point in itself. “Decarbonization cannot stop with LNG or any other fossil resource. Bigger CO2 reductions via synthetic carbon-free fuels are required to reach carbon neutrality,” ISI cautioned.
According to the study, achieving decarbonization means acting rapidly to make low carbon fuels the “technologies of choice” for most ships by 2035, phasing out fossil fuels for newbuilds and launching a robust market for propulsion retrofits.
In terms of specific technologies, ISI predicts that aviation will outcompete shipping on price for limited supplies of sustainable biofuels. This leaves power-to-liquid fuels like green ammonia, green hydrogen, green methanol and green methane. The competitiveness of these fuels would hinge on global regulatory limits on cheap, widely available fossil fuels, as the “maritime energy transition does not stand a chance against low oil prices if there is no global regulatory framework.”
“With shipping, everyone always talks about the technical side. Technically, however, the maritime energy transition has long been feasible. For years, the challenge has been at the political and an overall, societal level,” said Dr. Lauber. “Today, we can build engines that run on zero-emission fuels, but making the decision to ramp up synthetic fuels in the market is not something we can do alone.”
Action on decarbonization could also be to the shipping industry’s benefit: ships are big enough to carry bulkier alternative powerplants and less energy-dense fuel supplies, and they are inherently more energy-efficient per tonne-mile than air or rail. These factors could see a larger share of the transport mix shift to shipping in years to come.