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High costs, lack of available technology among challenges facing maritime sector in decarbonisation pursuit

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26 April 2023

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First published on CNA, 26 Apr 2023.

Singapore is playing host to players from the international maritime community at the Singapore Maritime Week 2023 this week, as they discuss key issues and exchange ideas to bring the sector forward.


High costs, lack of available technology among challenges facing maritime sector in decarbonisation pursuit
Green efforts are being ramped up in the maritime sector, such as the adoption of biofuels and the creation of possible “green corridors”. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)


High costs and the lack of available technology are among challenges facing the maritime industry in its pursuit of its decarbonisation targets, said experts.

However, green efforts are being ramped up in the sector, such as the experimentation and adoption of biofuels and the creation of possible “green corridors” for clean-energy vessels to ply.





Collaboration between the public and private sector is also being emphasised as part of the maritime sector’s green push.

Singapore is playing host to players from the international maritime community this week, as they discuss key issues and exchange ideas to bring the sector forward at the Singapore Maritime Week 2023.

Currently available alternatives


to provide confidence and transparency around using biofuels is really important.”


As the industry pursues a 50 per cent reduction target set by the International Maritime Organization in 2018, one solution already available is biofuels.

Ms Lynn Loo, CEO of the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD), told CNA’s Asia First that “biofuels is something that is lower in carbon emissions that you can use today”.

Ms Loo noted that the ecosystem is coming together quickly, with 70,000 tonnes of biofuel bunkered in Singapore last year.

Singapore is also working on putting together provisional national standards to specify what marine biofuels should be, said Ms Loo, adding that a director from her organisation is part of a working group on the matter.

“Biofuels are blended with fossil fuels to lower carbon emissions, and this is something you can do with existing ships (and) existing engines,” she explained.

Biofuels can already be used with existing ships and engines. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves, File)


To create truly sustainable biofuel, Ms Loo said feed stocks that compete with agriculture and food consumption should not be used. 

Instead, materials such as corn stocks and the dry parts of vegetation should be utilised, along with waste products such as animal fat and discarded cooking oil.

“They are important because they have reduced carbon content, because you are reusing them. And by using those instead of fossil fuel, you can reduce carbon emissions from marine fuel,” she explained.

With insufficient biofuel options available, the aim is not to get all stakeholders on board, but to spread the idea of cleaner alternative fuel adoption.

“So having this framework, for example, to provide confidence and transparency around using biofuels is really important,” she said.

Currently, methanol is another alternative fuel used in the shipping industry, with the supply chains and infrastructure already available.


“If you look at the order book for vessels, you see an increasing number of orders for vessels that are dual fuel (and) that can burn methanol as well,” said Ms Loo.


Challenges to cleanliness


So if Apple is to decarbonise, they need shipping to decarbonise, otherwise they are not able to meet their own goals under the ambition set out under the Paris Agreement,”

GCMD trialed two supply chains of biofuel blends for vessel bunkering in February this year, and found that transparency of the supply chain process was a key issue.


“When you source biofuels from the producer and as the biofuel comes down the supply chain, there are many points of intervention and contamination,” explained Ms Loo.

Through the pilot programme, which involved some 150 stakeholders, the GCMD traced biofuels from their source until they got bunkered and combusted on the vessels, while keeping track of the quantity and quality.

“This allows the users to have confidence that they are getting what they paid for, since biofuels command a green premium,” she said, adding that the price point is another factor.

Ms Johannah Christensen, CEO of the Global Maritime Forum, also told CNA that green fuels that are targeted to replace fossil fuels are significantly more expensive than what is used by the industry today.

Green fuels that are targeted to replace fossil fuels are significantly more expensive than what is used by the industry today. (REUTERS/Stringer)


To close that cost gap, levies can be imposed, along with more measures to support first movers in the industry who get the relevant technologies in place, she added.

“A lot of it depends on investment on land. The fuels that are in play that can scale up to the degree that we need, are going to be based on renewable energy,” Ms Christensen told CNA’s Asia First.

Much investment will be poured into building new bunkering facilities and infrastructure to produce those fuels and make them readily available, along with creating new vessels and engine technologies, she added.

Noting that shipping is not included in the Paris Agreement, Ms Christensen said that for other sectors to decarbonise, the shipping industry needs to play its part due to its role in the global supply chain.

From raw materials such as iron ore or other chemical products, to consumer goods, many products are moved around the world by shipping, she said.

“So if Apple is to decarbonise, they need shipping to decarbonise, otherwise they are not able to meet their own goals under the ambition set out under the Paris Agreement,” she said, citing the American tech giant.

While shipping is not included in the Paris Agreement, the industry needs to play its part due to its role in the global supply chain. (Photo: AFP / Roslan Rahman)


Ms Christensen also highlighted the importance for private companies, industry experts and policy makers to work together to discuss the specific challenges such as the technologies, financing structures and necessary regulation needed to take the sector forward.

Future solutions


We’ve moved from an era of declaring ambition to taking action.”


Moving forward, the sector is also working on using ammonia as a potential new fuel, but there are many technical and operational gaps, she said.

“The supply chain doesn’t exist (and) the infrastructure doesn’t exist. It’s a new fuel, in fact, engines that burn ammonia don’t exist today. Ships that use ammonia don’t exist today,” explained Ms Loo.

“That said, I think the ecosystem is quickly coming together as well. We’ve moved from an era of declaring ambition to taking action.”

Ms Loo added that GCMD will later this week unveil its ammonia safety study for conducting a bunkering pilot in Singapore, to show that ammonia can be bunkered or transferred between vessels while mitigating the risks in the process.

It complements other similar studies done by organisations such as the Global Maritime Forum, the Getting to Zero Coalition and the Nordic Green Ammonia-Powered Ship (NoGAPS) project.

“So it’s by piecing these different kinds of pilots and studies together that again we can move the ecosystem along towards being able to use ammonia as a fuel,” said Ms Loo.

Green efforts are being ramped up in the maritime sector, such as the adoption of biofuels and the creation of possible “green corridors”. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)


Plans are also underway for “green corridors” between major hub ports where zero emission solutions are supported, said Ms Christensen, adding that such a concept has only been developed recently.

“In the next few weeks, we’ll be seeing more and more of these visibility studies being announced and hopefully they will be concluding that there’s a good possibility,” she said.

“And then we will need to see whether stakeholders will be willing to take the next steps, which is to start to form consortia or joint ventures to invest in the deployment of zero emission vessels on these specific routes on these green corridors.”

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