AP Møller-Maersk’s bold plan to put a carbon-neutral feeder vessel into service by 2023 is a game-changer for shipping.
It is an emphatic commitment to decarbonisation from the world’s largest container shipping line by capacity.
Shunning LNG – a popular choice as an alternative marine fuel by other shipowners for the transition to carbon neutrality – APM-Maersk opted for methanol, or more precisely e-methanol and bio-methanol. Plans call for the newbuild feeder ship to operate on renewable methanol from day one, so having enough carbon-neutral e-methanol or bio-methanol will be key. The ship will need about 1,000 tonnes of the fuel per month, Maersk head of decarbonisation Morten Bo Christiansen told us.
“Decarbonising shipping is definitely mission possible, but it requires collaboration and risk sharing across the value chain,” he said.
Maersk’s announcement followed the adoption of interim guidelines by IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee in November on methanol as a marine fuel. Besides methanol, the guidelines cover the inclusion and adoption of ethyl and methyl alcohols, fuel cells and low-flashpoint diesel in the IGF Code. Lloyd’s Register and the Methanol Institute issued a bunkering technical reference on methanol in September 2020.
By pushing forward the clock seven years on its 2030 decarbonisation plans, Maersk wants to speed up the investments and developments made by suppliers, technology partners and government that are needed to support the production and availability of renewable fuels. E-methanol and bio-methanol would have to be scaled up to meet the needs of both Maersk and shipping in general.
Additionally, by increasing production and use, Maersk could lower the cost impact of switching to greener fuels. It spends about US$4Bn on fuel now – those costs could double with green fuels.
Maersk chief executive Soren Skou expects the consumer to foot the extra cost of the fuel bill. As Mr Skou told BBC News, the extra cost of green energy would be billions of dollars for the company but “for the individual consumer, for the individual product, it will be almost nothing.”
“By increasing production and use, Maersk could lower the cost impact of switching to greener fuels”
He added: “In a container with sneakers from Vietnam, [it would] translate into something like six cents per pair of sneakers.”
Potential suppliers of the renewable fuel could be in the Americas, Asia or Europe. Waterfront Shipping’s parent, Methanex Corp, for example, is the world’s largest supplier of methanol. Methanex is a shareholder in Carbon Recycling International (CRI), which operates a plant in Iceland that converts renewable electricity and recycled CO2 emissions into renewable methanol. Marketed as Vulcanol, the renewable methanol is shipped in ISO containers from Iceland to Europe.
In October, CRI announced the joint development of a commercial e-methanol project in Troms, Norway in partnership with Statkraft and Finnfjord. With a planned production capacity of 100,000 tonnes annually, the plant would use CRI’s Emissions-to-Liquid (ETL) technology, sourcing CO2 captured from the emissions of the Finnfjord ferrosilicon plant and hydrogen generated from the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity. The partners would take FID on the plant by the end of 2021, with operation anticipated by 2023.
Maersk wants to cut 60% relative CO₂ emissions from shipping by 2030, with net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The Danish shipping line is putting its full weight behind the ‘moonshot’ effort – all newbuilds in its fleet replacement programme will be fitted with dual-fuel technology to prepare for a flexible fuel future.
And it is not just putting its eggs in the methanol fuel basket. Maersk has also joined in an effort to develop Europe’s largest production facility of green ammonia in Esbjerg, Denmark.
Maersk should be applauded and rewarded for its pioneering efforts. It will be interesting to watch if others follow in its wake.