Back in 2018 Maersk announced that it would have 100 percent carbon-neutral shipping network by 2050. At the time the announcement was a moonshot and deemed borderline impossible. While it’s still a long way from reality, it seems like the Danish shipping giant is taking the first huge steps toward such a solution by placing an eight-ship order for new flex-fuel Hyundai Heavy Industries oceanliners. The ships will be delivered in 2024, with an option for four more in 2025.
As our global economy continues to grow its insatiable hunger for inexpensive Chinese-produced goods, the emissions for transporting them over the oceans continues to rise. These new ships will replace eight current-fleet machines as they are decommissioned, meaning it’s possible in the near future that some of the things you buy from Amazon and Alibaba will have been shipped without incurring any extra carbon creation. The new ships, capable of carrying 16,000 containers each, will be built to run routes from China to Europe, and across the Pacific ocean.
“Maersk’s ambition is to lead the way in decarbonizing global logistics. Our customers expect us to help them decarbonize their global supply chains, and we are embracing the challenge, working on solving the practical, technical and safety challenges inherent in the carbon neutral fuels we need in the future,” stated Søren Skou, CEO, A.P. Moller-Maersk.
The ships will be built to burn “green methanol” which can be made by combining hydrogen and captured CO2 from the air. Some consider hydrogen itself to be the fuel of the future for large scale shipping like this, but it’s much more difficult to transport and store onboard a cargo vessel. So-called green methanol doesn’t need to be treated any differently to traditional methanol, and doesn’t require pressurized tanks or cooling.
There is one big hurdle to overcome with green methanol, however, and that is cost. Maersk competitor DFDS (also based in Denmark) says green methanol won’t be used in shipping, maybe ever, due to the extreme price. “The limited availability of sustainable carbon combined with the vast potential demand from the aviation and cement industries makes green methanol less financially attractive for shipping in the long term, as other the other industries will be able to pay more than us, but we are still investigating it,” says DFDS.
These new Maersk ships will also be able to run on traditional “bunker fuel” gasoil.
Maersk has been the largest shipping company in the world since at least 1996, and according to Electrek it ships one in every five cargo containers. Over 90 percent of the world’s international cargo is shipped by sea freight, and the industry is responsible for between 2 and 3 percent of global carbon emissions. If the company commits to refining its own green methanol and actually employing it on these ships, it’ll greatly reduce global emissions. If this is all lip service and the shipping giant continues to power its fleet of ships with fuel oil, nothing will change.