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While some ship owners and operators are being criticised for a ‘head in the sand’ approach on making compliance decisions over the 2020 global sulphur cap, the carbon timeline agreed by the IMO will task shipping with making further tough choices on marine fuel – and 2020 fuel and other compliance options may not necessarily pass the 2050 test.
 
The ground-breaking decision taken at IMO MEPC 72 last week to work towards cutting shipping’s GHG emissions by 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels, may not have satisfied the more hard line IMO Member States, such as the Pacific Islands and countries in the European Union (EU), but it is concrete progress with a clear goal – a position that many on the global stage feared may not happen for a good while yet.
 
The stated ‘ambition’ at IMO to cut CO2 emissions per transport work by at least 40% by 2030, compared to 2008 levels, with an aim of reaching 70% by 2050, may be closer to the EU’s stated position, for example, but for the shipping industry as a whole it may prove to be a step too far.
 
However, the IMO’s decision to issue a revised GHG strategy in 2023, which will be informed by the information gathered from its mandatory fuel consumption data collection initiative, seems a sensible way forward, if not all a little late in the day.
 
Some in shipping may view the 2050 carbon reduction target as a world away from where they are sitting right now – faced with hard and costly choices over 2020 compliance options. But the IMO decision will force the sector to confront an issue that many stakeholders have long flagged up as having a much deeper impact on shipping than sulphur regulations. To date, many in the industry have not really wanted to confront the enormity of the carbon problem on their future operations and their fuel strategies.
 
2050 may be 32 years away but finding solutions to the carbon mandate is going to take a very long time.
 
And could it potentially be that those long-considered compliance choices with the 2020 regulation may prove to be no more than interim solutions?
 
LNG is gaining some ground as a marine fuel, but it is a fossil fuel and its detractors point to the problem of methane slip. According to some experts, the global warming impact of methane can be 25 times higher than that of CO2.
 
Methanol, which is just beginning to gain attention and traction as a marine fuel, is also largely synthesised from natural gas, although methanol produced from biomass could be a way forward. Similarly, bio-LNG could significantly reduce its carbon footprint compared to its fossil-derived counterpart.
 
Biofuels, now proving to be of better quality than the first generation products, certainly look to have the potential to be mainstream bunker fuels in the decades ahead
 
Hybrid or electrical vessel propulsion is making inroads but has some way to go. Energy storage technology may well be sufficiently innovative and cost-effective by 2050 but, from the standpoint of 2018, a long road lies ahead if it is to be a solution for deep ocean maritime transport.
 
As for HFO, if 2020 doesn’t indicate its likely demise, then surely 2050 signals a final death knell – and also begs the question of whether the IMO agreement on a carbon timeline may influence the more short-term (2020) decisions of refiners on HFO availability for the maritime sector? And scrubbers can’t bale HFO out on the carbon front, either, with their operations also said to exacerbate the carbon problem.
 
Perhaps last week’s decision taken by the IMO may push refiners to pull the plug on HFO soon rather than later?
 
 
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