The shipping industry has a lot of work to do to meet the carbon emission target set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and time is running out until the 2050 deadline.

DNV GL – Maritime CEO Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen said recently that unless action is taken quickly, the shipping industry will not meet the IMO 2050 decarbonization target.

Lack of infrastructure for alternative fuel

Currently, he said that only alternative fuel, LNG — considered by DNV GL as the most adequate bridging fuel to allow the industry to meet at least the 2030 climate goals — has seen significant infrastructure development, but much more needs to be done for other zero-emission fuels to meet the IMO target.

"To reach the 50% reduction necessary by 2050, low or zero-emission fuels are needed, such as ammonia and other carbon-neutral fuels, which DNV GL forecasts will drive the emissions reductions into the mid of the century," DNV GL told around 150 shipping professionals attending the London International Shipping Week.


"Pathway modeling indicates that carbon-neutral fuels need to supply 30% to 40% of the total energy in 2050, to meet the IMO strategy," DNV GL added.


While new technology in shipping will necessarily include a digital element, major changes must come from a collaboration between academia, industry, and government.


Even with such collaboration, Ørbeck-Nilssen said the deployment of low carbon fuels could take a significant amount of time to be realized, and for most alternative fuels the infrastructure has not even started to be developed.


Decarbonization target "off course"

Another classification expert from DNV GL, Øyvind Endresen, said shipping decarbonization is "off course" reiterating that "there needs to be more effort to achieve the IMO's climate goals."


To achieve the 50% cut of carbon emissions by 2050 from 2008 levels, Endresen said that the decarbonization program must speed up by using coastal and short-sea shipping as a testbed for new technologies and fuels.


He stressed that new ships should be "fuel flexible" with a view to "future-proof" the vessels as new regulations are enacted or to meet the challenges of price fluctuations in some fuels.


The DNV GL experts said the steps to achieve this could be: first level fuels are still in the R&D phase and that includes ammonia and hydrogen; on the next step hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and batteries are in use by inland ferries; the third and fourth steps are coastal and short-sea feeder vessels that already use LNG for some time, while on the top step, the deep-sea level, liquefied natural gas now also becomes a valid fuel option.


While the infrastructure for carbon-neutral fuels does not exist yet, this could change rapidly with more R&D efforts and by using coastal and shortsea shipping as a testbed for new technologies, Endresen said.


Mix of alternative fuels 

Meanwhile, despite major barriers still standing in the way of development and uptake of low carbon fuels — including cost and availability —  there are also opportunities with these fuels, according to Christos Chryssakis, DNV GL business development manager

He noted that the fuel of the future will not be a single fuel, but a mixture of fuels, dependent on the shipping sector.


Sovcomflot UK Managing Director Callum Ludgate said among the key challenges is the availability of alternative fuels.

"In reality, there is only LNG by ship available today, in Gibraltar and Northwest Europe; it's coming, but the key is it has to be delivered by ship, you can't wait around for 32 trucks to come and fill you up," he said.