Do 25 Ships pollute more than a BILLION cars?

When looking at the emissions, statistics can be a bit blurry. Is the world’s largest polluter in total to blame(China), the world’s largest industrial nation(USA), or largest polluter per capita in the industrial world (Australia). Looking at one of these lists it’s therefore surprising to see that on the 8th place is international shipping. (Emissions not attributed to any country.)

Yes it’s true.

The above is of course a new take on an old headline, and is true when big ships burn unrefined fuel oil. The amount of sulphuric particles and others that burn as part of this process is extraordinarily high. So much so that when ships come close to land as cruise ships do, locals are not happy.

Politics and good policy have made a difference

Politics and business have made a positive turn here. More and more is being done as politicians and bureaucrats ironed out IMO regulation, the most recent of which came into effect for emission control areas (ECA) just over a year ago.

Moving from burning sulphuric oil to diesel has made an improvement in terms of pollution by about 50%. However it’s important to note that moving from one carbon intensive fuel to another which will be banned in at least 4 major cities around the world, as well as being refined from the same source, cannot be a sustainable solution. Roughly 70,000+ shipping vessels account for ~8% of daily oil consumption.

The full picture is more complicated: Shipping is the cheapest and cleanest form of transport

Isn’t it always more complicated? Sea freight is the cheapest form of freight and even with all these numbers shipping is still to date the most energy efficient way to transport your goods — with less than a tenth of carbon footprint of airfreight, a third of road haulage and always less than air freight. (source, in German)

So the future of shipping as a financially and environmentally sustainable future is being solved by the sector itself. Near-term the production of LNG fuelled ships will reduce the carbon footprint substantially, but more can be done. And more is being done. The fact that submarines have been fuelled by electricity for more than a century and recent changes in battery technology and price point is delivering rapid developments.

From Hybrid to Zero emissions at Sea

Siemens Silence at Sea is an interesting take where 35% reduction is attainable through a Diesel Electric Engine. Several cruise operators are also beginning to switch to sustainable and silent sailing by deploying hybrid vessels into their fleet. For longer routes, the technology in 2017 isn’t quite up to the challenge yet. However but for trips that are up to an hour there should be no need to rely on fossil fuels. Electric ferries are currently silently crossing fjords in Norway where the first ferry was put in place in 2015, by 2020 all the 400 or so ferries should have started their electrification. The first commercial all-electric autonomous transport vessel set to start operating in 2020 by Yara and Kongsberg.

Can Sydney become a zero emission city?

Why Sydney? Sydney is in NSW, a state which aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. To go from aspiration to action means change. There are changes needed on a broad scale to achieve this. Success here will be the sum of all required energy, including our seaway transport. Looking past NSW’s coal fired electricity, transport is the second biggest emitter.

One Sydney ferry from the central business district to Manly (Freshwater class, above) pollutes just over 1350 tons of CO2, 700 tons NO2(Section 3.3) . It’s equivalent of reducing emission of 45,000+ cars on the road.

The fuel savings and benefits to society of such a transition are enormous and, as with the electrification of personal transportation and long haulage, passenger ferries should follow suit.