Electric motors and new fuel cells powered by ammonia or hydrogen offer the best potential for the shipping industry which is seeking to become carbon neutral, a Swiss study has found. Shipping accounts for 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) studied shipping activities in the North and Baltic Seas on behalf of the German shipping company Reederei Nord to investigate solutions towards creating zero-emissions maritime operations.
Lead author Petrissa Eckle and her ETH Zurich team said zero-emission propulsion systems in the form of electric motors, fuel cells or combustion engines powered by ammonia held the greatest potential in the near future.
They said the most suitable source of energy depends on the type of ship and the length of the route.
“In the North and Baltic Seas, ships with electric propulsion systems are already being used for short distances, which makes sense,” Eckle said in a statement.
For long distances, ammonia would be a suitable option but due to its toxicity, its use as a fuel is not permitted. Testing will soon begin on the first cargo vessels to investigate the possibilities of liquifying and transporting hydrogen.
“The next step is to run pilot projects to find answers to all the unresolved questions. We need shipping companies to test vessels with emission-free propulsion systems,” Eckle said.
The ETH Zurich report was based on external studies and expert interviews, focusing on the North and Baltic Seas, to investigate routes, the existing infrastructure, sustainability and the cost of new fuel options.
Shipping currently accounts for around 3% of global CO2 emissions, making it one of the biggest emitters alongside road and air transport. International merchant ships and large cargo freighters are responsible for most emissions.
An alliance of 70 companies within the maritime, energy and finance sectors, known as the Getting to Zero Coalition, supported by governments and international organisations is seeking to introduce zero-emission vessels by 2030.
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