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Shipping Industry Needs More R&D to Meet Decarbonization Goals

shipping neds more R&D efforts to accelerate decarbonization efforts
Rendering of a Japanese concept for future hydrogen shipping (Kawasaki Heavy Industries)

Published Nov 3, 2021 6:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

Much of the focus is currently on the legislative efforts and targets being established for the shipping industry’s decarbonization. While these efforts are an important part of the transition, an increasing number of experts are pointing out that the industry is lagging with a dire need to focus on R&D to provide the solutions to make decarbonization possible.

“It has to be all hands on deck for international shipping now,” says Professor Alice Larkin of the University of Manchester. “Immediate action that focuses on operational change and retrofitting existing ships is needed to deliver major emissions reductions this decade, or shipping cannot deliver its fair part in meeting the Paris climate goals. Delay beyond 2023 would mean the future transition for international shipping is too rapid to be feasible.”

In a new research report published last week in the journal Climate Policy, the university’s researchers concluded that shipping emissions under the current programs will be double what’s needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Professor Larkin says that the longer the delay the steeper the subsequent decarbonization trajectories, which are quickly becoming too rapid to be feasible.

While many companies are working on the technologies and the research and development needed to provide the tools for the decarbonization of the industry, much remains if shipping is to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. Data from the International Energy Agency contends that R&D spending in maritime has fallen from $2.7 billion in 2017 to $1.6 billion in 2019.

The International Chamber of Shipping is citing these figures in a new report where they say a massive scaling up of finance for research and development is essential.  The ICS is using the report to again call attention to the proposal for a $5 billion R&D fund that they have been advocating for to assist with the efforts for decarbonization. The ICS has been one of the lead advocates for the fund which would be created by fees charged to the shipping industry.

Prepared with strategic consultancy Ricardo, the report entitled A Zero Emission Blueprint for Shipping outlines the urgent steps that they believe will be required to completely transform shipping’s current dominant propulsion technology and fuels.

To ensure shipping can achieve what the report calls “its 4th propulsion revolution,” they highlight the need for a major scaling up of finance for technology and development in shipping.  They have identified a list of more than 260 example R&D projects needed to overcome key technical and systemic challenges and accelerate the transition to zero-carbon emissions in shipping. They estimate the cost for those projects to be $4.4 billion.

Among the projects are 20 example projects in hydrogen, ammonia, and battery power that they contend could serve as a potential blueprint for R&D projects to be commissioned in the future. The example projects were picked on the basis that they are “high priority” and give the broadest coverage of zero-carbon fuel and technology options available to the sector. Many of the projects identified will take between one and six years to reach commercialization.

At its last meeting, the IMO’s committee agreed to review and consider the proposed fund. It is among the items scheduled for the upcoming IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) session scheduled after the current UN COP 26 conference where world leaders have pledged to work through the IMO to accelerate the decarbonization effort for the shipping industry.