(U.S. Navy photo)

U.S. Must Lead on Difficult Path to Carbon-Free Maritime Industry, Shipping Leaders Tell Congress

The United States should urgently lead in taking the maritime industry carbon-free, an effort that will take engagement with stakeholders along with investment, research, and development already prioritized by global competitors, industry leaders told Congress.

“We face a huge challenge,” John Butler, president and CEO of the World Shipping Council, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation at a hearing last week. “Over the coming decades, we need to convert the world’s international fleet to low or no-carbon fuels and associated technologies. And we have to do that in a way that does not undermine the essential transportation services that make the global economy function.”

Butler said that “although there are some promising low- and zero-carbon fuels and technologies under consideration, we simply do not yet know which of these options will end up being viable for the long haul.”

“This is not a matter of simply picking an available fuel and getting on with it,” he said. “The fact is that all of the future fuels under consideration have significant issues that have to be overcome in terms of safety, energy density, life-cycle carbon profile, and other challenges.”

To arrive at “much greater technological certainty about what fuels and technologies will turn out to be truly sustainable from an operational, safety, environmental, and economic perspective,” Butler added, “we must accelerate the necessary research and development now.” The shipping industry proposed in December 2019 that the International Maritime Organization create the International Maritime Research and Development Board to spend $5 billion over 10 years to identify alternative fuels and move them toward commercial viability.

The shipping companies’ proposal has been co-sponsored by 10 IMO member countries. Butler, who said they envision U.S. research institutions participating in the R&D that would be funded by the IMRB, “strongly” urged the United States to back the proposal when it comes up before the IMO in June.

“It is critical for the United States to engage actively, both at the IMO and with other nations. Decisions are being made today that will affect the industry and the country’s international trade for the foreseeable future. And we have to get this right,” Butler said, noting that a European Union proposal to apply its internal carbon pricing scheme to ships operating well beyond EU waters “raises trade and sovereignty concerns and it threatens to undermine the ability of the IMO to implement a global solution.”

Kristin Decas, CEO and port director of the Port of Hueneme in Southern California, said last year her port’s trade with the world reached $10.85 billion with over $1.7 billion in economic impact. “California ports are the only ports that require refrigerated cargo ships to electrify at berth, making them zero-emission at port complexes,” she noted.

“We are currently engineering and installing new electrical infrastructure to power-hybrid electric mobile cranes, zero-emission trucks, and zero-emission yard tractors,” Decas said. “Our board approved the purchase of the first two zero-emission, heavy-duty port trucks in Ventura County. These American-made, Kalmar battery-powered trucks will move containers of fresh produce around the port while producing zero pollution.”

Decas told lawmakers that “there needs to be an understanding of all the complexities of a paradigm shift to decarbonization,” requiring “the development of a blueprint to effectively transition to a new fuel economy, which includes a nationwide feasibility and cost analysis.”

“Invest in maritime and transportation infrastructure,” she urged. “For California ports alone, experts forecast the cost to replace current equipment with zero-emission or near-zero-emission equipment to exceed $23 billion and $35 billion to replace current equipment with electrified, high-density equipment and supporting infrastructure all prior to utility upgrades.”

Glosten president Morgan Fanberg told committee members that creating a carbon-free maritime industry is “an unprecedented challenge that creates a unique opportunity for you as technology developers,” yet “foreign competition is better funded and is currently leading the decarbonization technology race.”

“So how can the U.S. lead when we have less than 3 percent of the world’s ocean-going fleet? Well, we can make the greatest impact by focusing our decarbonization efforts on the U.S. domestic fleet, which is one of the world’s largest consisting of ferries, tugs, dredges, coastal tankers, and other vessels,” he said.

Fanberg called for “a national strategic initiative plan with a focused vision and an urgent timeline,” led by MARAD and the Department of Energy. “This plan should include the following three actions to accelerate U.S. progress. First, DOE should increase port and terminal infrastructure funding for electric vessel charging and alternative fuel bunkering,” he said. “…Second, MARAD has experience to bring together academia, government, technology providers, and vessel operators. By funding consortiums such as Washington State’s Maritime Blue, we can pilot, demonstrate, and commercialize carbon neutral and carbon-zero technologies for our domestic fleet.”

The third and final step, Fanberg said, is “development of a streamlined regulatory process that encourages new technologies, provides certainty from design through construction, and prevents project time delays” — critical to the “success of any U.S.-led effort.”

“The global maritime industry has not faced a more daunting challenge since vessels moved from sail power to steam,” he said. “Action must be taken now to tackle the amount of scientific and engineering work required to move the industry to carbon free in the next 25 to 30 years. We have the key resources ready to meet this challenge. But if we delay, we will watch as foreign countries develop future technologies and equipment, fuels, and infrastructure.”

Lee Kindberg, head of environment sustainability for North America for Maersk, said that since 2008 the shipping giant has reduced emissions by 47 percent per container moved, and “today’s customers are actually paying a premium for our carbon neutral eco-delivery shipping service that is new just in the last year.”

“It’s small but it’s growing. We’re also already testing bio-based fuels, batteries, and other technologies on commercial vessels. And we’re evaluating other fuels,” he said, noting development of a new renewable fuel using ethanol and lignin from agricultural and forest wood wastes. “This work is supported in part by several of our major customers. So again, the support from our customers is critical.”

Kindberg said that their first carbon-neutral container vessel would be operational by 2023, seven years earlier than the company’s vow to do so by 2030. “This will be the world’s first carbon-neutral liner vessel and this and all of our new vessels have been committed to be capable of using those new carbon-neutral fuels,” he said. “This particular vessel will be powered by green methanol, a fuel which is not available on this scale today. The limited supply of fuels like green methanol is a bottleneck for decarbonizing the industry.”

International Council on Clean Transportation Director Dan Rutherford said he expects “full-sized, deep-sea, zero-emission vessels running on hydrogen fuel cells or burning renewable ammonia to be possible as soon as 2030,” and “hybrid or fully zero-emission regional cargo ships will be available even sooner.”

“The production and sale of zero-emission marine fuels in particular is a major opportunity for U.S. businesses,” Rutherford noted. “Today, the largest vessels visiting us ports are often fueled abroad, not here at home. Producing zero-emission marine fuels like electricity, hydrogen, and ammonia domestically will provide new economic opportunities for Americans while protecting vulnerable near-port communities.”

Rutherford said the U.S. should work with key trading partners, including Canada, Mexico, the EU, and China, “to establish zero-emission vessel corridors and associated infrastructure,” and should also lead in “negotiating ambitious international standards for larger ships at the International Maritime Organization.”

“These actions can reduce climate and air pollution from shipping, improve the health and well-being of port communities, and help unlock new markets for zero-emission vessels and fuels,” he said.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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