Jump to Main Content
How to decarbonise international shipping: Options for fuels, technologies and policies
- Balcombe, Paul, Brierley, James, Lewis, Chester, Skatvedt, Line, Speirs, Jamie, Hawkes, Adam, Staffell, Iain
- Energy conversion and management 2019 v.182 pp. 72-88
- biofuels, carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, economic feasibility, economic incentives, ecosystem services, environmental law, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, hydrogen, international trade, issues and policy, liquefied natural gas, methane, shipping
- International shipping provides 80–90% of global trade, but strict environmental regulations around NOX, SOX and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are set to cause major technological shifts. The pathway to achieving the international target of 50% GHG reduction by 2050 is unclear, but numerous promising options exist. This study provides a holistic assessment of these options and their combined potential to decarbonise international shipping, from a technology, environmental and policy perspective. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is reaching mainstream and provides 20–30% CO2 reductions whilst minimising SOX and other emissions. Costs are favourable, but GHG benefits are reduced by methane slip, which varies across engine types. Biofuels, hydrogen, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS) could all decarbonise much further, but each faces significant barriers around their economics, resource potentials and public acceptability. Regarding efficiency measures, considerable fuel and GHG savings could be attained by slow-steaming, ship design changes and utilising renewable resources. There is clearly no single route and a multifaceted response is required for deep decarbonisation. The scale of this challenge is explored by estimating the combined decarbonisation potential of multiple options. Achieving 50% decarbonisation with LNG or electric propulsion would likely require 4 or more complementary efficiency measures to be applied simultaneously. Broadly, larger GHG reductions require stronger policy and may differentiate between short- and long-term approaches. With LNG being economically feasible and offering moderate environmental benefits, this may have short-term promise with minor policy intervention. Longer term, deeper decarbonisation will require strong financial incentives. Lowest-cost policy options should be fuel- or technology-agnostic, internationally applied and will require action now to ensure targets are met by 2050.