Maersk orders eight large container ships to run on ‘carbon-neutral’ e-methanol

Image: Maersk Line

Maersk this year announced its intention to operate a carbon-neutral liner vessel by 2023, building on an existing commitment to achieving net-zero emissions across its business by 2050. It then outlined plans for sourcing the e-methanol to power that vessel from European Energy subsidiary REintegrate, which produces the fuel from green hydrogen and CO2 from bio-based sources.

Today (24 August), the firm has revealed that it has placed an order for eight larger methanol-powered vessels with Hyundai Heavy Industries, with the option to place an order for four additional container ships in 2025. The initial order is worth $1.4bn. 

The new vessels will replace old ships which have reached the end-of-life stage and are being decommissioned between now and the first quarter of 2024. Maersk estimates that, once all eight vessels are in operation, it will generate one million tonnes less CO2 annually from its shipping fleet. Carbon savings are attributable not only to fuel switching, but to an improvement in efficiency.

All of the vessels will be capable to run on 100% e-methanol or using a dual-fuel mode. In dual-fuel mode, conventional low-sulfur fuel is used as well as methanol.

Maersk has stated that it will “operate the vessels on carbon-neutral e-methanol or sustainable bio-methanol as soon as possible”. The statement continued: “Sourcing an adequate amount of carbon-neutral methanol from day one in service will be challenging, as it requires a significant production ramp-up of proper carbon neutral methanol production, for which Maersk continues to engage in partnerships and collaborations with relevant players.”

The firm’s head of decarbonisation, innovation and business development Jacob Sterling added in a LinkedIn post that the business would source 100% low-carbon methanol “if not from day one, soon thereafter”.

Maersk has not yet announced whether it plans to use offsetting to address a possible gap between supply and demand of carbon-neutral fuel, or for when it is operating the vessels in dual-fuel mode.

“We are very excited about this addition to our fleet, which will offer our customers unique access to carbon-neutral transport on the high seas while balancing their needs for competitive slot costs and flexible operations,” Maersk’s chief executive for fleet and strategic brands Henriette Hallberg Thygesen said. 

“To us, this is the ideal large vessel type to enable sustainable, global trade on the high seas in the coming decades, and from our dialogue with potential suppliers, we are confident we will manage to source the carbon-neutral methanol needed.”

To Thygesen’s point about customers, Maersk has stated that more than half of its largest 200 customers have either set or committed to setting net-zero targets.

“With logistics and distribution accounting for around 15% of our greenhouse gas emissions footprint, it’s important that we work with partners shifting to lower carbon fuels,” said Unilever’s head of logistics and fulfilment Michelle Grose. Unilever is targeting net-zero by 2039.

Shipping is currently responsible for around 3% of global CO2e emissions, but researchers for the European Parliament believe this proportion could rise to 17.5% by mid-century without a step-change in approach. 

Sarah George

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