Maersk accelerates plans for carbon-neutral shipping

Image: Maersk

Maersk had already committed to achieving net-zero emissions across the business by 2050, with an interim target to reduce the carbon intensity of shipping by 2030.

In the latest step towards these commitments, the business has this week confirmed plans to launch a liner vessel powered by methanol by 2023 – something it had originally been planning to do by 2030.

The new vessel will be fuelled by methanol produced from bio-based sources and from e-methanol suppliers. While most methanol is produced using fossil-fuel-fired processes, e-methanol relies on electricity, which is easier to procure renewably. Maersk will procure the methanol from suppliers than have certified it as carbon neutral and otherwise sustainable.

Maersk claims that the vessel, which will have a capacity of 200 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) and will operate on an intra-regional route, will be the first of its kind to be carbon neutral in operation. It has committed to ensuring that all owned new-build vessels will have dual-fuel technology installed, enabling the use of methanol.

“It will be a significant challenge to source an adequate supply of carbon-neutral methanol within our timeline to pioneer this technology,” Maersk’s chief executive of fleet and strategic brands Henriette Hallberg Thygesen said.

“Our success relies on customers embracing this ground-breaking product and strengthened collaboration with fuel manufacturers, technology partners and developers to ramp up production fast enough. 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.”

Broader innovation plans

Methanol has several properties that make it a good fit for the shipping sector. It is liquid at room temperature, making for easier handling than, for example, hydrogen. It also produces low levels of sulphur, particulates and NOx across the lifecycles.

But there are also a number of drawbacks. Aside from the fact that most production is fossil-fired and that production of more sustainable production methods need to be scaled up, methanol’s energy content is only about half that of traditional shipping fuels at present. This means it is more suited for vessels making shorter journeys.

Maersk has stated that it “expects multiple fuel solutions to exist alongside each other in the future”. Aside from Methanol, it issues ammonia and alcohol-lignin brands as “primary fuel candidates for the future”.

The firm is notably collaborating with Ørsted, Copenhagen Airports Danish logistics firm DSV Panalpina, ferry firm DFDS and airline SAS on a new sustainable fuels facility which could become operational by 2023.

Sarah George

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