8 Unexpected Ways to Decarbonize the Shipping Industry Immediately

Nick Terran
By Nick Terran

The global shipping industry is responsible for nearly 3% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and despite efforts to switch to cleaner fuels, carbon emissions are still on the rise. However, innovative technologies are emerging to help turn the tide.

Just international shipping alone produces more emissions than the entire 275.5 million strong population of Indonesia (see chart above). That could change!

Here are eight unusual yet promising ways to decarbonize the shipping industry.

  1. Capturing Carbon with Calcium Carbonate
The U.K. startup Seabound is capturing carbon emissions from ships using calcium oxide pebbles, which trap CO2 as calcium carbonate. This captured carbon can be used to make cement, paint, and other products. Seabound’s pilot project achieved a 78% carbon capture efficiency, with plans to commercialize the technology by 2025.
  1. Reviving Wind Power with High-Tech Sails
Wind power is making a comeback with a high-tech twist. Rigid sails, inspired by racing yachts and aircraft aerodynamics, are being installed on cargo ships. For example, Oceanbird and Green Energy Technologies are developing sails that look like tall smokestacks. Then there’s Norsepower’s Flettner rotors, which use the Magnus effect to cut fuel use. A recent voyage by Sumimoto’s tanker with Norsepower’s Rotor Sails achieved a 28% fuel savings, proving the effectiveness of this approach.
  1. Adopting Energy-Efficient Materials and Designs

Lightweight, fuel-efficient materials are transforming shipbuilding. General Dynamics NASSCO is using ultra-thin steel plates for ship superstructures, and the EU’s lightweight composite panels are making decks more efficient. Graphene hull coatings, like those used by Stolt Tankers, reduce friction and save up to 7% in fuel consumption.

  1. Harnessing Solar Power

Solar panels on ships face space constraints, but Voltic Shipping is developing solar-enabled barges with retractable racks that expand above the deck. This setup maximizes solar panel area while leaving space for cargo. Electric tugboats powered by solar energy are already in use, pointing to a future where ships run on 100% solar power.

  1. Implementing Seagoing Energy Storage Systems

The high cost of batteries is a barrier to ship electrification, but falling energy storage costs and improved battery performance are changing the game. A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that ship electrification could cut 14% of CO2 emissions for U.S.-based vessels and electrify over 40% of global container traffic, reducing pollution and health impacts on coastal communities.

  1. Using Biofuels

Biofuels made from sustainable sources like algae, waste oils, and agricultural residues offer a promising alternative to conventional fuels. They can be used in existing ship engines with minimal modifications. Companies like GoodFuels are already supplying biofuels to the shipping industry, reducing carbon emissions and supporting a circular economy.

  1. Deploying Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen fuel cells produce zero emissions and are a clean alternative for ship propulsion. While still in the early stages, projects like the Hydrogen One vessel aim to demonstrate the feasibility of hydrogen-powered ships. By using renewable energy to produce hydrogen, this technology could significantly reduce the shipping industry’s carbon footprint.

  1. Leveraging Artificial Intelligence

AI can optimize ship routes, reducing fuel consumption and emissions. For instance, Weathernews Inc. uses AI to predict the best routes based on weather and sea conditions. This technology helps ships avoid rough seas and adverse weather, leading to safer, more efficient journeys with lower emissions.

The Path Forward

Decarbonizing the shipping industry is a monumental task, but these innovative technologies provide a roadmap for significant progress. While the transition will take time, combining these unusual solutions can help make shipping more sustainable, reducing its impact on the planet. By embracing these changes, the industry can steer toward a greener future, one voyage at a time.

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