The world’s second largest shipping company for container ships, Maersk from Denmark, has just sent a clear signal. The shipping group says goodbye to the important industry organization, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) based in London. Maersk justifies the step with a reference to the Paris climate goals. “Our choice to resign from the ICS executive committee should be seen in this context,” the company said. The organization’s stance on climate change does not align with the company’s goals.

For the first time, the German shipping industry is now also campaigning for faster action. “The international shipping organization IMO is too slow. Your plan to decarbonize shipping by 50 percent by 2050 is taking too long, it can be done much faster,” says Uwe Lauber, CEO of MAN Energy Solutions. On the other hand, the European Union trusts itself more when it comes to climate protection. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations based in London and closely linked to the ICS organization.

But there is a lot to be done: After all, the global shipping fleet uses around 350 million tons of fuel a year, the so-called bunker. It is currently still almost exclusively a viscous heavy oil made from residues from the refineries.

That should change as soon as possible. In the opinion of the MAN manager, it would make sense to first establish regulations at EU level with which emission values ​​ships are allowed to enter European waters. “The technology for this is available, and CO2-neutral shipping in European waters by 2045 is technically feasible,” says Lauber. In the joint study “PtX Roadmap for the Maritime Energy Transition”, which is available to WELT, the Association of German Mechanical and Plant Engineering (VDMA) and the Association for Shipbuilding and Marine Technology (VSM) make specific demands and show ways of implementation. Lauber holds several positions in the VDMA and is a member of the Federal Government’s National Hydrogen Council.

The study describes in a detailed plan how shipping can move away from fossil fuels. “The maritime energy transition can only succeed through the use of hydrogen. This is the only way to produce large quantities of synthetic fuels,” says Lauber.

To achieve this, the shipping industry would have to replace fossil fuels such as LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) with a synthetic gas. The engines on board the ships are suitable for both types of fuel. Some of the recently built cargo ships are suitable for propulsion with LNG. This reduces carbon dioxide emissions by around a quarter.

But the effort is great. “The electricity for the electrolysis of hydrogen has to be generated in the world’s sunbelt, for example in Qatar or in North Africa,” says MAN manager Lauber. The VW subsidiary is the world’s largest manufacturer of marine engines. In addition to hydrogen, carbon dioxide is required for the production of synthetic methanol, for example. This substance can also come from Germany and be shipped to the countries mentioned. “We have to create a circular economy that allows these fuels to be produced in large quantities,” says Lauber.

However, the dimensions are enormous. According to the calculations, nine gigawatts of electricity and eight million tons of carbon dioxide are required to replace just one percent of the 350 million tons of heavy oil that is burned annually in ship engines with green energy in the form of synthetic hydrogen-based fuels.

The price is also comparatively high. Synthetic fuel is currently about four times more expensive than heavy fuel oil. “Costs will fall due to economies of scale. At some point, fossil fuels will hardly be cheaper,” says Lauber. The transformation does not come by itself and it costs money. “Perhaps now is the right time to move forward with the implementation. After all, the shipping companies are currently earning well,” says Lauber.

However, targets and obligations should be equally binding for all shipping companies. “The shipowners pass the costs on to the customers. The only important thing for them is that the same general conditions apply to all competitors,” says Lauber. Therefore, the inclusion of shipping in the emissions trading of the European Union is the right way to trigger changes. Behind the announcements and demands is also the hope of a gigantic deal for MAN. After all, the machine manufacturer has 20,000 ship engines in use worldwide.

In fact, the shipping company Maersk is doing much more to convert its own shipping to zero-emission types of propulsion than large parts of the shipping industry. The group from Copenhagen is already using liquid methane gas as a fuel in its first container ships, which is produced from organic waste and is largely free of carbon dioxide emissions. Above all, however, Maersk is urging hurry and does not want to wait until the middle of the century to operate green shipping on the seas.

The largest German container shipping company, Hapag-Lloyd from Hamburg, has also set itself higher goals. The carbon dioxide emissions of the company’s own fleet are to be reduced by 30 percent by 2030 compared to the 2019 level. From 2045, Hapag-Lloyd wants to be climate-neutral on its ships. However, it is still completely open with which types of drive this is to be achieved.

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