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Clean Energy and Our Shipping Industry

by Steven Randall

I have made the following comment many times in this forum; that we cannot transition too rapidly from our current fossil fuel power base to a clean energy set up, because there are a multitude of social and economic issues to be handled, and preferably without " blowing up the world " in one go.


Well, never was this seen to be more true than when looking at the global Shipping industry.

While doing some recent research for a new product, we came across some fascinating information about the world's shipping industry, that makes interesting reading. The global Maritime industry is well involved in looking to cleaner environmental standards, and I intend to write a number of articles over the next few months for those interested in Climate change and Clean Energy transport on the planet.

But first lets look at the following details about what's running around the world, as displayed on this World Shipping Map..


  • World shipping fleet numbers around 90,000 ships of 1000 tons capacity or more.
  • 1000 + are over 400,000 tons capacity each - the Very Large Bulk product carriers.
  • This fleet consumes approximately 3- 4 million barrels of oil each day, in fuel products and direct crude fuel.
  • That's 1.1 Billion barrels, or approximately 167 million tons a year.

Now that's a lot of ships burning a lot of fuel, but as they say - wait there's more...

In December 2016, the International Marine Organization brought into law a new set of rules governing toxic emissions from shipping power generation. In simple terms, by the year 2020 all ships (all 90,000 of them ) must have either changed to cleaner burning fuel - and that means

or very expensive low sulfur light oils, or install a type of equipment on current engines to nearly eliminate the emissions.

The modifications to "clean up " a standard heavy oil marine engine will cost between $5 - $20 million per ship, and some fleets run over 1000 vessels. For the very large older ships the costs will be much higher. For several years companies transporting LNG around the globe...

.. have been building their new ships to use the residual gas " boiling off " the main cargo to fire steam turbines; so about 120 ships use this technology, and we will come back to LNG shortly.

Currently less than 2% of the world's shipping fleets are compliant with these emission laws, and over 90 % of global trade is carried by sea. Engine Scrubbers are an option but costly; LNG as an alternative fuel;  but with many challenges to overcome; and finally the worlds oil refineries cannot make the changes to their refining processes in time to produce the Very Low Sulfur fuels needed.

So what would the consequences be if this is not or cannot be resolved in the next 2-3 years. The answer is several, as I note following...

  • Different countries taking different attitudes to the law itself - resulting in huge confusion within the trading world.
  • Trying to shift an industry from the use of 160 million tons of oil, to relatively overnight using a new fuel - nearly impossible.
  • Many countries with strong anti pollution laws may bar some vessels from entering ports and delivering cargoes, resulting in huge chaos.
  • The attempted changeover in this very short period would land a " new fuel " bill of over $60 billion per year on the global fleet.

Now most authorities are saying that a period of grace will have to run alongside the emission laws to give companies time to make these very large adjustments, and this is probably so. But it highlights in stark outline, the fact that we cannot make these changes without thinking through the very significant consequences of these changes.

Over the next few months, we will be publishing a regular stream of articles on the ways the global Maritime industry is tackling the issues, and there are very big strides being made. If you would like to receive these articles, we invite you to simply follow this page, and you can view these articles, along with others we publish on the Clean Energy industry as a whole.

For more information about the Clean Energy Industry, or Business Maps Australia's range of mapping products, please email us at info@businessmaps.com.au or call us on + 61 455 296 533.

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