The Columbia Maersk is one of the largest container ships in the Maersk Line fleet. Shown entering the Port of Los Angeles.

Maersk brings forward carbon-neutral shipping plans to 2023

Image credit: Mrsanpedro/Dreamstime

Shipping group Maersk said it is accelerating its efforts to decarbonise sea-borne container shipping by putting the world's first vessel powered by carbon-neutral fuel into operation in 2023, seven years ahead of its original plan.

Last year, the shipping industry, which carries around 80 per cent of global trade and accounts for around three per cent of global carbon emissions, pledged to have ships and marine fuels with zero carbon emissions ready and running by 2030.

“Fast-tracked by advances in technology and increasing customer demand for sustainable supply chains, Maersk is accelerating the efforts to decarbonise marine operations with the launch of the world’s first carbon-neutral liner vessel in 2023,” the company said in a statement.

The consumption of oil for transport is one of the top contributors to the emissions that cause climate change, and Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, faces the challenge of ensuring an adequate supply of alternative fuel.

Maersk’s chief executive, Soren Skou, said: “Our ambition to have a carbon-neutral fleet by 2050 was a moonshot when we announced it in 2018. Today we see it as a challenging, yet achievable target to reach.”

The company said the journey toward carbon-neutral ships will begin with one of its feeder vessels – a relatively small ship that can carry up to 2,000 containers – that will be powered by climate-friendly methanol. The firm stressed it will be able to use fossil fuel as a back-up if required.

Going forward, all its new vessels will have dual-fuel technology installed, the company said.

In addition to methanol produced from plant waste, Maersk said it is experimenting with ammonia, normally used for fertiliser, and other alternative fuels.

Two of the world’s largest fertiliser producers, CF Industries and Yara, said last month they were reconfiguring ammonia plants in the US and Norway respectively to produce clean energy to power ships. 

In January 2020, a study by the University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS) said that decarbonising the shipping sector will cost more than $1tr (£770bn) and require a significant investment in land-based infrastructure. 

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