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Energy Transition | Transporte marítimo

Maersk plans to operate first carbon-neutral container ship by 2023

Energy Transition

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Maersk plans to operate first carbon-neutral container ship by 2023

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Container will have 2,000 TEU capacity, powered by methanol

All newbuild vessels will now have dual-fuel technology

Primary alternatives are methanol, alcohol-lignin blends, ammonia

London — AP Moller-Maersk, owner of the largest shipping company in the world, is aiming to operate the world's first carbon-neutral vessel by 2023, seven years ahead of schedule, it said Feb. 17.

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The container giant said the feeder vessel, which will be powered by carbon-neutral methanol, will be launched in 2023 and will have a capacity of 2,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU).

"While the vessel will be able to operate on standard VLSFO, the plan is to operate the vessel on carbon neutral methanol or sustainable bio-methanol from day one," Maersk said.

This is part of a pilot program for the company as it looks for a scalable carbon-neutral product for customers and fuel suppliers.

The shipping sector, which represents around 3% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, according to industry estimates, has come under a lot of pressure to decarbonize.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set the ambition of reducing the shipping industry's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared with 2008, and reducing the carbon intensity of emissions by 40% by 2030, and 70% by 2050 compared with 2008 levels.

"Our ambition to have a carbon-neutral fleet by 2050 was a moonshot when we announced in 2018. Today we see it as a challenging, yet achievable target to reach," said AP Moller-Maersk CEP Soren Skou. "[Our] ambition is to lead the way in decarbonizing global logistics."

Maersk said it is also ensuring that all of its newbuild vessels will have dual-fuel technology installed, enabling either carbon neutral operations or operation on standard very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO).

Maersk is targeting a 60% relative CO2 reduction from shipping by 2030 and hopes to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

Henriette Hallberg Thygesen, CEO of Fleet & Strategic Brands at AP Moller-Maersk, did however say that there would be significant challenges to sourcing an adequate supply of carbon-neutral methanol.

"We believe our aspiration to put the world's first carbon-neutral liner vessel in operation by 2023 is the best way to kick-start the rapid scaling of carbon-neutral fuels we will need," Thygesen said.

Multiple alternatives

Maersk said it will continue to explore several carbon-neutral fuel pathways and expects multiple fuel solutions to exist alongside each other in the future.

"Methanol (e-methanol and bio-methanol), alcohol-lignin blends and ammonia remain the primary fuel candidates for the future," it said.

Methanol is considered to be one of the most viable marine fuels for shipping.

The shipping industry is moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to meeting its energy needs and methanol is emerging as a popular alternative.

Methanol can be produced as a biofuel or synthetically, and it can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 15% compared with conventional marine fuels.

But scaling up supplies of the fuel and overcoming its much lower energy density than current shipping fuels are major hurdles for methanol.

Methanol has a ready-established infrastructure, but the fuel's price competitiveness is prone to fluctuations, which could blunt some of its appeal.

Supply infrastructure is often in place for methanol as it is already available and shipped through many ports around the world, and there are over 100 ports where methanol bunkering capacity is available, according to material from the Methanol Institute.

Alternative shipping fuels are in early phases of development and oil-based fuels could remain the dominant choice for many years to come, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.

The International Energy Agency has said that biofuels, ammonia, and hydrogen could meet more than 80% of shipping fuel needs by 2070, using around 13% of the world's hydrogen production.

The AP Moller Foundation controls the AP Moller Group, which consists of AP Moller-Maersk, Danske Bank, Maersk Drilling, Maersk Tankers, Maersk Product Tankers, KK Wind Solutions and AP Moller Capital.