Picture: REUTERS/EDGAR SU
Picture: REUTERS/EDGAR SU

Houston — A century after the global shipping fleet ran largely on coal, the world’s largest shipping line is taking a historic step towards not using fossil fuels for propulsion.

All newly constructed vessels owned by AP Møller-Maersk will have to be able to use carbon-neutral fuels, such as clean methanol and ammonia, as well as traditional oil-based products, the company said in a statement. The shift comes just three months after the industry’s main regulator set new decarbonisation rules that were criticised for their lack of ambition.

“If you don’t do this, 10 years from now we risk becoming irrelevant,” said Morten Bo Christiansen, vice-president and head of decarbonisation at Maersk. “Our customers need us to do this.”

As well as ammonia and clean forms of methanol, Maersk said alcohol lignin blends were another primary candidate for future fuels. Liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has been embraced by some other shipping lines, is not part of Maersk’s strategy: “We don’t need another fossil fuel,” Christiansen said.

About half of Maersk’s 200 biggest customers have set science-based or zero-carbon carbon targets for their supply chains, or are in the process of doing so. The firm wants to have net-zero emissions from its operations by 2050, and has helped found a research centre focused on decarbonising the industry.

While the new Maersk-owned ships will still be able to run on very low-sulphur fuel oil — the product widely used by vessels — the firm will strive to use carbon-neutral fuels, Christiansen said. That’s despite them likely costing significantly more than oil-based options. Still, if marine fuel costs were to double, the price of a flat-screen TV in a shop would only rise by about 50c to $1, Christiansen said.

Getting hold of enough carbon-neutral fuel will be Maersk’s biggest challenge, given the current lack of availability.

The firm also plans to have a small container ship capable of running on e-methanol, or, bio-methanol on the water in 2023, which it hopes will offer fuel suppliers an incentive to scale up production of clean alternatives.

“Our ambition to have a carbon-neutral fleet by 2050 was a moon shot when we announced it in 2018,” said Søren Skou, Maersk’s CEO. “Today we see it as a challenging, yet achievable target to reach.”

Bloomberg

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