The Shipping Industry Needs to Deliver Cleaner Cargo Ships, or We’re All Sunk

Lambert here: We could do a lot more local manufacturing, as one source mentions. Or work out a way to eliminate labor arbitrage, as nobody mentions.

By Maria Gallucci, the 2017-2018 Energy Journalism Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. Originally published at Grist.

The platform overlooking the Panama Canal’s Pacific exit is buzzing with energy on a muggy October afternoon. Tourists cram together, jostling for the best views of the blue container ship gliding by in the gray-green water below. The ship’s crewmembers wave from aboard the 690-foot-long vessel, smiling as they end their eight-hour, 48-mile journey.

An employee brandishing a wireless microphone — the canal’s hype man — leads the crowd in a series of cheers, his voice as bombastic as a sports announcer’s. “Let’s give them a round of applause!” he booms in Spanish and then English. The visitors heartily oblige, clapping for the sailors aboard the Greek ship named Em Corfu.

Next in line is a colossal Japanese carrier that just unloaded cars on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Its blue metal sides block out the sky. Behind that comes a red tanker hauling liquefied natural gas produced in the United States to terminals in Mexico.

Watching ships pass through the century-old Panama Canal offers a glimpse into our modern economy. Every day, vessels converge here to move billions of dollars’ worth of food, fuel, cars, clothing, raw materials, and electronics to the far corners of the world.

It’s awe-inspiring. But it’s also fairly alarming.

About 90 percent of everything we buy will travel on ships like these at some point. And all of these behemoths burn fossil fuel, contributing significantly to the warming atmosphere and shifting climate patterns.

Many cargo ships still use “bunker fuel” — the sludgy dregs of the petroleum refining process. The noxious blend is dirt-cheap, making it possible to charge next to nothing to ship goods internationally. All of which means our unbridled consumerism hitches a ride on some of the dirtiest vehicles on earth. (At least they hold tons of stuff, right?)

The industry’s reliance on high-carbon fuel poses a major stumbling block for global efforts to rein in pollution. A few companies are ramping up investment in pilot projects that use renewable fuels and cleaner technologies. And a vocal minority within the industry is clamoring for a maritime climate policy to spur more innovation. But on the whole, there’s widespread reluctance to adopt meaningful change.

Clean shipping advocates plan to spotlight the sector’s emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which opens today in Bonn, Germany. Known as COP23, the gathering marks two years since the world agreed in Paris on a landmark climate accord — one that the Trump administration plans to abandon. The agreement, however, excluded pollution from international shipping and aviation in its targets to limit global warming. Officials had argued that those industries don’t easily fit into national or regional emissions schemes — and so they were left to regulate themselves.

Experts say regulatory action and big, bold investments will be essential to curbing the shipping industry’s contribution to global warming. Left unchecked, its carbon footprint is expected to soar in coming decades — just as emissions from cars and power plants flatline or decline. That means shipping could cancel out progress in other sectors.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the industry’s main regulator, suggests that carbon emissions from shipping could shoot up as much as 250 percent by 2050 as the world’s population grows and economies expand. At that point, the European Parliament estimates the industry could produce 17 percent of global emissions, up from less than 3 percent today.

But Tristan Smith, a leading shipping researcher at University College London’s Energy Institute, notes companies still have little reason to spend their time and money building a greener cargo fleet. “A very large proportion of the sector is really not interested in doing anything until the very last minute that the regulation hits,” he says.

* * *

From the Panama Canal, a string of heavily congested highways leads to Panama City’s glitzy downtown core. At a high-rise convention center in early October, hundreds of seafarers, naval officers, and industry officials have gathered for an IMO-sponsored event.

Jorge Quijano, administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, tells the crowd the canal is doing its part to “bring about a sense of responsibility with our planet.” In January, he explains, it launched a program to reward shippers that meet high energy-efficiency standards or use low-sulfur and lower-carbon fuels, including cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas. Companies that do so can boost their standing in the canal’s ranking system for determining who gets priority access to the waterway.

The industry finds initiatives like these, which encourage upgrades but not drastic overhauls, generally palatable — they promote good behavior without overtly punishing status quo ships.

But shipping executives like John Lyras bristle at the notion of setting ambitious sector-wide targets for reducing shipping emissions and total fuel consumption. Such efforts, he argued earlier this fall, won’t make any sense until cleaner maritime technologies actually exist at commercial scale.

“If we really want to reduce CO2 emissions to zero today we can do it in two ways: We can stop trading, or we can go back to sail,” the Greek shipowner said while speaking on a panel at the International Chamber of Shipping’s conference in London.

The pushback from executives like Lyras comes as more progressive voices are increasingly clamoring for the introduction of so-called “zero-emissions” ships, which don’t directly produce any greenhouse gas emissions. A research consortium comprised of major shipping companies and academic institutes asserts such vessels must start entering the mainstream cargo market by 2030. By 2050, the group says, nearly all operating cargo ships must generate zero emissions in order to fall in line with the Paris agreement goal of keeping global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.

Proponents say it can happen if the industry doesn’t drag its feet. “We’re not saying you have to decarbonize right now,” says Smith of University College London. “You just have to start the process of figuring it out.”

* * *

Over the next two weeks in Germany, U.N. negotiators and thousands of other participants will gather to discuss not only promising ship technologies but also strategies to convince an old-fashioned industry to embrace new ideas.

Diane Gilpin, who’s helping organize a pro-climate shipping event that will take place on the cruise ship Rhine Fantasy, tells Grist about the sector’s reluctance to go green. Gilpin once worked to introduce mobile devices to British corporations. Now, she’s leading an effort to build a 100 percent renewable cargo vessel. She says the shipping industry’s apprehension reminds her of the late ‘90s and early 2000s when many people saw the cell phones they’re now wholly consumed by as frivolous and costly.

“Because we never had cell phones before, we didn’t think we needed them,” she explains. Gilpin describes her current work trying to change the shipping industry as “a human challenge in having people accept change.”

The most prominent options for powering a ship without fossil fuels include hydrogen, batteries, sustainably produced biofuels, and wind-assisted technologies that can reduce fuel use. All of these are being used or tested in small-scale vessels — primarily passenger ferries or supply boats that keep close to shore. But if any are going to gain favor in the mainstream shipping industry, today’s reigning champion — ultra-cheap bunker fuel — will need a price tag that reflects its true environmental cost.

According to a recent report by the global shipping services company Lloyd’s Register and University College London, about 75 percent of companies agree that forcing shippers to pay for carbon emissions is required to make a zero-emissions fleet a reality. The IMO would likely oversee such a program, and it plans to adopt an interim strategy for reducing greenhouse gases caused by shipping in April 2018. But the regulatory body doesn’t expect an agreement on actual pollution targets until 2023.

The IMO is made up of 172 member countries. Getting all of them, as well as the world’s top shipping groups, to sign on to a set of goals would undoubtedly be a hard-fought and controversial process. Take as proof the latest round of IMO talks in October, which included discussion of slashing carbon emissions by 2100. A group of Pacific island and European nations pushed for drastic cuts by mid-century, while Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, and the International Chamber of Shipping proposed a far less aggressive approach.

As country representatives went back and forth, InfluenceMap, a nonprofit that tracks corporations’ impact on climate policy, published a report accusing shipping lobbying groups of holding “unmatched power” over IMO decisions. Those groups resoundingly denounced the report, and IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim defended the organization’s neutrality. But one shipping executive — Andrew Craig-Bennett, who works for the U.K. subsidiary of Chinese shipping giant Cosco — stirred the pot even further in a widely shared opinion piece.

“We can feel nothing but contempt and disgust at the prostitutes employed by our racket to try to put one over on the general public,” he wrote with a sailor-worthy flourish.

* * *

Ultimately, the most effective driver for steering shipping away from its high-carbon path may come from outside the industry. The customers who place their goods on the ships are likely the best lever for forcing the sector to go green.

That’s the solution Maurice Meehan sees as a key way forward. Meehan is director of shipping operations at the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit founded by Virgin’s Richard Branson to promote business-oriented climate solutions. He previously worked with shipping giant Maersk.

As he explains, companies that produce all the T-shirts, smartphones, sneakers, and goods that are shipped around the world have substantial leverage with their logistics providers. If climate-conscious companies push their shippers to do more about reducing vessels’ carbon footprints, the industry would have to change. Dirtier ships would face a competitive disadvantage if manufacturers got serious about slashing supply-chain emissions.

“That’s a great approach,” Meehan says by phone from Copenhagen on a call in September. “Now you’ve got shipping going, ‘Whoa, wait, if we don’t have plans to meet the target our customer has set, we’re not going to be in the market in a few years?’”

Meehan says his team is talking with big users of cargo ships, such as apparel companies, to help them target shipping-related emissions. As part of that, Carbon War Room is developing tools to make it easier for companies to choose vessels with lower emissions and better efficiency — or at least ensure their products aren’t loaded onto the worst offenders.

But this approach is still in its early days, Meehan says. Most brands and shipping companies alike remain reluctant to do anything that would raise the cost of transporting goods or the final price tag. That’s largely because end users — you and me — still prefer buying a lot of cheap stuff.

* * *

If the Panama Canal illustrates the shipping sector’s climate challenge, it’s also a showcase for the industry’s progress to date. Alexis Rodriguez, the environmental protection specialist for the Panama Canal Authority, says many of the newer vessels passing through the canal today “have more efficient engines and more efficient designs.”

On a recent morning, he pulled his spotless black minivan into the parking lot of the Cocoli Locks, the Pacific entrance to the newly expanded canal system. The $5.25 billion, nine-year expansion can accommodate colossal “mega ships,” like the 1,200-foot-long Theodore Roosevelt, that couldn’t pass through the original locks.

We’re here to greet a forest green container ship named Ever Living. The vessel, which is bringing Asian-made goods to ports on the U.S. East Coast, has an “optimized” hull design made from lightweight steel that makes it easier to move through water and thus cuts down on fuel use. Once docked, the ship can plug into shore-side electrical power and turn off its oil-burning engines, a process known as “cold ironing” that reduces local air pollution. Thanks to its larger-than-average size, Ever Living can also, in theory, burn less fuel and release fewer emissions for every unit of goods it carries, compared to smaller vessels.

Such upgrades are positive signs, but green fleet advocates like University College London’s Tristan Smith say a bigger, sustained push is required. Recent shipping data shows that efficiency gains might not be enough to offset rising fuel consumption and emissions in a growing industry.

Better designs and data analytics barely move the needle when it comes to decarbonizing the global shipping industry, Smith explains. “I would call them marginal improvements in efficiency, which do a tiny amount to get us nowhere near where we need to go.”

For shipping to play its part in fighting climate change, vessels crossing this canal and traversing the world’s waters will need a more radical redesign — and in just a few decades’ time. Delivering on demand for lower-emissions vessels could be the industry’s most arduous journey of all.

Print Friendly
Tweet about this on TwitterDigg thisShare on Reddit0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn1Share on Google+0Buffer this pageEmail this to someone
This entry was posted in Commodities, Energy markets, Environment, Globalization, Guest Post, Technology and innovation on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

41 comments

  1. Thuto

    Localized manufacturing would solve all this, but that horse, and the eliminate “labour arbitrage” horse, have already bolted so locking the barn door now would seem futile. As the author points out, end users of the apparel, electronics and other goods transported on these vessels could in theory bring massive pressure to bear on the industry to decarbonize, were it not for the desire to buy cheap being so deeply entrenched and overriding. (I can hear the retort from readers being “yeah but their wages are either suppressed or they’re jobless from all the labour arbitrage taking place so buying cheap is often not a free choice, but a necessity). Ain’t being hemmed in a b***h…

    Reply
    1. Thuto

      Speaking of consumers bringing pressure to bear on industry, I can only speak for South Africa but I know here the whole “Buy Local” campaign designed to keep local manufacturers afloat has met with lukewarm responses from consumers, who despite passing “closing down” signs on the doors of manufacturing businesses (and knowing that buying local would arrest all this) still buy cheap foreign made wares. Cheap is a powerful force against any widespread collective action. I suspect the story is the same in other countries.

      Reply
      1. el_tel

        I think your experience is probably not unique to SA. Poor Brits around here go for cheap without regard to origin…. there’s been 40 years of neoliberalism and it is not quickly or easily undone.

        A lot of people following BREXIT are going to have to start choosing between food and those fortnightly nail /pedicure jobs in the ubiquitous salons here.

        Reply
      2. Synoia

        When I lived in ZA, local manufacturing behind tariff walls was the policy.

        Hard? Yes. Possible? Yes. Reqires leadership, leadership sadly lacking in the world.

        To lift 40 million out of poverty requires more in you r economy than exporting porting minerals.

        Reply
        1. Thuto

          Very hard when a “paid-for by neoliberal corporate overlords” official opposition party has crafted a narrative that discredits any form of protectionism (e.g high tariff walls that you mention) aimed at giving local manufacturers a fighting chance ( and said narrative is faithfully amplified and spread by a captured media). The ruling party is pounded unceasingly with a constant barrage of neoliberal drivel dressed as solutions to lack of growth, unemployment, poverty etc and they cower. It took our new finance minister less than six months to morph from pro-people to pro-capital in his tone. You’re right, good leadership is sorely lacking in the world today, and given where the world is today, good leadership will increasingly have to be radical, bold and courageous if there’s any hope of dragging us back from the slippery slope we are on.

          Reply
          1. Synoia

            paid-for by neoliberal corporate overlords

            Talk to the Afrikaners. Not neo liberal at all. I can introduce you to a past Minister of Finance.

            Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      I would have been one of the readers retorting just as you have said. But since you pre-torted what I would have retorted, I don’t have to say it. So thank you for that.

      I would still add yet another layer of pressure to buy the foreign thing instead of its domestic equivalent. And that is that for many things, the domestic equivalent no longer exists at all. An example: Stanley Thermos used to make good heavy highly-heat-retaining thermos bottles at some plants in Tennessee. I remember reading that some fancy little offshoring investors bought Stanley Thermos in order to close all the Tennessee factories and open factories in China. I went out and bought four or so Stanley Thermoses so I would have a lifetime supply of real Tennessee Stanleys. When I saw the Chinese ones, I could feel they are a lot lighter and junkier. I don’t know how well or badly they retain heat.

      Another example: Etch-a-Sketch was made for decades in a town in Ohio by a company called Ohio Arts. I had an Ohio Arts Etch-a-Sketch when I was a young kid. Some years ago a fancy investing-and-offshoring company bought Ohio Arts and closed the factory and opened a factory in China. So if you want an Etch-a-Sketch, China is the only choice you have, now that Ohio Arts was carefully exterminated.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etch_A_Sketch

      “Buy American. If you can find it.” ah ha ha ha.

      Reply
    1. hemeantwell

      For some reason the author didn’t directly cite the incredible impact these suckers have, so I’ll pull it from one of his links.

      In fact, the amount of pollution generated by a single cargo ship is equivalent to that produced by about 50 million cars.[2] This means that only 15 cargo ships can produce the same amount of pollution as all of the cars in the world. These ships emit so much sulfur because they require so much fuel, nearly 289 million tons per year.[3] They are also designed to use the cheapest fuel possible, heavy fuel oil (HFO), which has a very high sulfur content of 3.5%.

      Reply
      1. baldski

        I do not think the stats are right, Ships vs. Autos. If we take the Emma Maersk, one of the largest containerships working today develops about 109,000 Horsepower from her 14 cylinder engine burning about 0.26 lb./shp-hr., which will equate to about 300 tons of fuel per day. If we take an average car developing 150 hp and burning 0.5 lb. of fuel/shp-hr., we get about 375 cars equal to 300 tons/day fuel consumed. These are long tons – 2240 lbs.

        Reply
        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think the difference comes down to what sort of pollution you are measuring. Ships are far dirtier when it comes to sulphurs and other nasties because of the fuel they use and they don’t require scrubbing plant. However, in comparison to road transport they are far more efficient when it comes to CO2.

          Reply
    2. cnchal

      If you got those numbers from the Bloomberg link – the readers are being grossly misinformed. i couldn’t get to it. For professionals only was the message.

      They are off by a factor of approximately 80. It is about 100 tons per day, and that is for a 10,000 + TEU ship at the slowest shipping speed which is called “minimal cost” at 12 to 15 knots. “Normal” is 20 to 25 knots.

      https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch8en/conc8en/fuel_consumption_containerships.html

      The numbers are still bad, but it helps to be accurate.

      One cubic meter of bunker fuel weighs about 1000 KG at 15 deg C and at 15 knots, the ship’s fuel mileage is 4 KM per cubic meter of bunker fuel. By my calculations anyway, and not to be trusted. I could be wrong. But not as much as Bloomturd.

      Reply
      1. Expat

        I don’t know the container ship market as well as I know tankers, but I can assure you that a VLCC carrying 275,000 metric tonnes of oil at 15 knots burns around 80 metric tonnes of bunkers per day. So 8000-8200 MT of bunkers is grossly wrong.

        Bunkers will be reduced to 0.5% sulfur in 2020. This does not eliminate sulfur pollution but it is a huge step from 3.5% sulfur. Some ships will install very expensive scrubbers but that entails managing a cocktail of nasty chemical by-products. Most vessels will switch to diesel.

        The market, by the way, doesn’t really believe this change will be put into effect. They think it is too soon and too expensive. Judging by forward swaps, oil traders don’t have a firm view either. The only ones who are confident and have repeated the 2020 deadline are the chaps at the IMO.

        This deals with sulfur. CO2 remains an issue. It is not useful to debate whether or not ships pollute less per tonnne-mile than cars. We need to be beyond that, pardon the expression, puerile argument. We need to rethink commerce or come up with more clever ways of moving goods across the oceans. LNG is possible but still a very strong greenhouse gas (emisssions plus leakage make LNG and natgas worse than oil).

        Reply
  2. cnchal

    . . .As he explains, companies that produce all the T-shirts, smartphones, sneakers, and goods that are shipped around the world have substantial leverage with their logistics providers. If climate-conscious companies push their shippers to do more about reducing vessels’ carbon footprints, the industry would have to change.

    Humorous. If they were climate-conscious in the first place, they wouldn’t be shipping goods all over the world.

    Globalization is a disaster, no matter how you look at it.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      The long narrow strands of our present supply chains — characteristic of Globalization — are extremely fragile. A natural disaster across the ocean can shut down assembly plants in the U.S. We have dismantled and exported our ability to be self-sufficient. Globalization expands our exposure to political economic and natural risks worldwide. And these are but a few of the many detriments of Globalization

      Ocean freighters are a fundamental support for continuing Globalization. Passing regulations to lend them a green patina is nice but tends also to shift concern better focused on other detriments of Globalization. I believe freighters should be made to burn cleaner fuels and become more efficient just as I believe our War Machine should be compelled to reduce its carbon footprint. But pollution is far from the worst detriment of Globalization and our Endless-War.

      As we drive headlong into societal collapse — or more likely a societal implosion — Globalization and the fragile logistics we’re constructed to support our society work to greatly worsen the extent and deepen the impact of the coming implosion — the “Great Imp”.

      Somewhat elliptical to the issues this post raises but related to a return to local manufacturing — I wonder what scale is required to achieve economies of scale [true economies of scale — not the economies of monopoly or monopsony]. Another question — how do transportation costs affect the that scale?

      Reply
      1. cnchal

        I would like to give you a smart answer to your questions, but mostly I am a smartass that tries to figure things out.

        Economies of scale depends on the product and how many potential customers there are. I would think that continent size trading zones for are big enough, excepting Australia.

        So far, economists appear to have lost their tongues when asked how is it possible that one country ends up making all the mass consumer electronic widgets? Was that a normal expectation by them, hidden from the public when trade deals are discussed? When Larry Summers wrote his “pretty air” letter, was that the only hint by economists of things to come? The silence is deafening, when economists are quick to talk down to the peasants about other topics. If they admit they didn’t see this coming, then all their education, their self proclaimed greatness at creativity and intelligence, their claim that they are simply the best of the best is horsecrap. If they admit this was the expected outcome, and the destruction of manufacturing in the “west” was planned and we were all rubes and suckers, hangman’s nooses and lamp posts look like the appropriate response.

        Here is an astonishing quote by David Graeber about what happened at Yale.

        . . . One question that never ceases to intrigue me is tenure. How could a system ostensibly designed to give scholars the security to be able to say dangerous things have been transformed into a system so harrowing and psychologically destructive that, by the time scholars find themselves in a secure position, 99% of them have forgotten what it would even mean to have a dangerous idea? How is the magic effected, systematically, on the most intelligent and creative people our societies produce?

        Colossal conceit. No matter how many books he writes. His second last sentence puts the lie to the last. Furthermore, creativity comes from within and to put it in the context of production, as if a factory produces a thing called creativity and intelligence, and bestows it on economists first and foremost, makes me gag.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Not quite sure what to make of your answers to my questions nor can I grasp the central argument of this response to my comment.

          I am much in agreement with your comments in this thread which leaves me wondering at your tone — at least as I read it. As far as my questions are concerned they are meant to be suggestive and rhetorical. I believe “true” economies of scale occur at relatively small scales. The rest of the economies of scale arguments for the efficiencies of larger and larger enterprises are — I believe — transparent rationalizations of monopoly and monopsony efficiency at extracting profits.

          Combine the question of transportation costs with economies of scale occurring on relatively small scales and you have a nice argument suggesting the local production of goods and services may not incur as much loss in efficiency and productivity as might be expected in the case where economies of scale monotonically increase with increases in scale. I have some qualms about the rents higher transportation costs might enable through geographic monopolies.

          Reply
  3. cnchal

    Or work out a way to eliminate labor arbitrage, as nobody mentions.

    That implies massive wage increases for Chinese sweat shop labor, or massive wage decreases for everyone else. I think since wage stagnation is the reality here and the elite overlords think paying anybody a descent wage is a sin, we will be crushed.

    Prepare to live like broiler chickens in a Tyson cage. It is baked into the future cake.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      It does not have to imply either one of those.

      It could rather imply the restoration of rigid protectionism and the simple prevention of trade between America and China. One could extend that to the rigid prevention of trade between high wage/high standards areas and low wage/low standards areas. Preventing the trade would prevent the arbitrage.

      Reply
  4. Louis Fyne

    wrong, wrong, wrong. the entire implied premise behind the whole article is wrong.

    A bulk of the world’s shipping industry exists solely to support a supply chain made possible by arbitrage of law—whether tax law, labor law, environmental law, corporate registration law (ie flying the flag of Liberia/Panama).

    (as stated by others above) The world needs less ships period. Not more “clean ships.” We’ll also be to solve diabetes by eating more Snackwells!

    The USA absolutely can make a bulk (most?/all?) of its own tube socks. It’s absolutely insane that cotton might travel from Egypt, then to Vietnam, then to America to become a towel at Mega-Lo Mart.

    The idea of Siberian timber shipped to a Malaysian factory then flat-pack shiped to IKEA—only because it’s more affordability due to stagnant bottom 85% real incomes—is nuts too.

    America First on trade. For the climate :)

    Reply
    1. Altandmain

      We need both to be honest. Dramatically reduce the number of ships and manufacture locally. Ensure what ships are out there don’t emit sulfur or other noxious chemicals.

      Reply
      1. nonsense factory

        On the sulfur issue – that’s where the sulfur-rich diesel-grade fuel gets dumped, into the shipping industry. Recall the ‘clean diesel’ effort, to get the sulfur out of diesel fuels and clean up city air?

        This is where cap-and-trade originated. The story also shows why cap-and-trade hasn’t reduced total carbon emissions. The cap-and-trade mechanism merely shifted all the sulfur-rich fuel fraction into the shipping industry. There’s nowhere else for it to go now.

        Probably shifting to natural gas transport, and electric short-haul, is the only plausible option. Natural gas could eventually be replaced by synthetic gas, but realistically, cutting back on the volume of trade, especially in bulky raw materials, is needed. (Nuclear commercial shipping will never be acceptable, for numerous reasons).

        Reply
        1. Ken

          The diesel engines on the ships, both the very large propulsion engine and the locomotive-sized generator engines, burn residual fuel oil. Heavy black bunker fuel. Currently up to 3.5% sulfur except in certain regions where the limit is lower for pollution reasons.

          One major problem is the energy density of each type of fuel. Residual fuel oil, the black heavy stuff, has a BTU content of about 150,000 BTUs per gallon. Liquified natural gas has about 83,000 BTUs per gallon. A large container ship carries about 4 million gallons of fuel. We’d have to almost double that for LNG. The would require almost rebuilding the ship for both the space for tankage and the heavy steel pressure tanks needed to hold the natural gas in a liquified state.

          Then, there are the supply problems. It would cost billions to alter the world’s fuel supply networks, LNG terminals, more LNG ships to bring the fuel to the supply terminals. All this can be done, but it is a huge, decades long job.

          About plugging into shore power when in port—massive undertaking. There must be enough power to run the 200 to 1000 electrically powered refrigerated containers on board. Very large amounts of power are needed for the heaters that keep the shut-down engines warm–a cold diesel engine will not start. Power is needed to heat the heavy fuel oil so it can be pumped, centrifuged, and injected into the engines when it’s time for them to run. More power is needed for heat for the accommodations in winter and cooling in summer. Again, it can be done, but it isn’t cheap or easy.

          Reply
    2. Skip Intro

      Another factor mentioned in the article is the low price of bunker fuel, which is like a waste product of other refining operations. This price is put forward as an inexorable reality, because markets, even though it seems like an obvious candidate for substantial taxation to counteract the effective subsidy these ships receive as a byproduct current fossil fuel culture and technology.

      Reply
      1. Expat

        Just wait two years! Heavy fuel oil prices will plunge towards zero. The world bunker market for fuel is 500,000 mt per day. That will drop to 175,000 per day, probably less. Heavy, high sulfur fuel oil will become toxic waste that refiners will have to pay to get rid of!

        Reply
  5. oaf

    Oaf wonders how much fossil fuel our military burns in our overseas *interventions*??? What is the contribution to total annual atmospheric carbon emission? Non-essential/discretionary aviation? How much contribution from that? Also, how about a number, worldwide , for per capita lbs. carbon emission? Compared to by country? (Oaf used to think in terms of BTU per capita as a measure of thermal waste)

    Reply
    1. Eric L Anderson

      In the value equation, the military drops fuel efficiency well below where it is for shipping for obvious reasons. Amazingly the mission has been diluted to allow cleaner emissions, even way back to the seventies, slowing down Knox class destroyers by a few knots in switching from heavy oils to cleaner distillates. The mantra remains clear and repeated for fuel reduction, however, mission dwarfs all in the design down selections. But the proper price for freedom is another discussion!

      Commercial ships are easily more than 10 times as fuel efficient per ton as rail which is equally more efficient than trucking. So the discussion on where value-added takes place, especially for consumables lives on a very flat earth. In the transport trenches, energy science is a dominant theme with continuous advancement but without enough scale to effect change in commerce patterns. More simply put the energy costs of global transport are mostly an irritant.

      Reply
  6. Edward

    This is a bit off-topic, but there is a more literal way in which transportation is not clean. Years ago, there was a report on 20/20 about an illegal practice called “double hauling”. This is where a truck might haul a dangerous chemical one way and then a substance like milk on the return journey without being properly cleaned.

    Reply
  7. Rates

    I think to most people
    Q: “Will it sink during our time?”

    If the answer is yes, it will be followed by accusations of fear mongering, and if the answer is no, then the party keeps going.

    Everyone in the one deserves their fate.

    Reply
  8. hman

    steely, vlcc’s burn around 80 tonnes per day..
    containers are a small percent of sea borne transport, think crude, oil products, iron ore, coal, fertilizer, grain, zinc and copper and other ore concentrates, road salt, etc etc..
    the economics of scrubbers, conversions to lng, installation of bwts, in a very depressed market presents a daunting economic hurdle for ship owners..
    the article is sophomoric and deserves no further comment..

    Reply
  9. baldski

    IMO has a regulation dropping allowable sulfur oxide emissions from vessels going into effect, I believe, in 2020. This will necessitate the introduction of gas scrubbers or the use of low sulfur fuel. Changing fuel over to LNG would drop CO-2 emissions and eliminate sulfur also. I’m of the opinion that this is the way to go.

    Reply
  10. Kk

    Why worry about our great-grandchildren and the world they will inhabit? Our great-grandparents didn’t worry about us, did they!

    Reply
  11. hman

    baldski,
    I agree on the LNG conversion but there are few fueling(bunkering) facilities..
    LNG conversion costs are all over the place depending on existing power plant..
    Scrubbers run about 2mm per vessel..
    For an industry that’s been hemmoraging money for a few years and the banks have shut the window
    it’s currently hard to raise the capital..

    Reply
  12. drumlin woodchuckles

    On a more hopeful note, here is an article from Low Tech Magazine on how a new kind of sail, called “sail-kites”, might assist fuel powered ships in travelling while using less fuel, maybe way less fuel at times, than otherwise.

    Between modern sail technologies like this on the one hand, and the suppression of ocean-borne trade to the “necessary evil” level on the other hand; transocean trade pollution could be substantially reduced.

    http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2007/09/sailing-ship-re.html

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • Keep it constructive and courteous
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Flag bad behavior
  • Follow the rules

Please read our Comments Policies here.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *