The Green Grail of the Seven Seas

How sustainable is marine? Well, at least for cruise ships the picture is not all that grim. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, cruise ships represent 0.6 percent of total travel carbon emissions – the least of any sector of the travel industry and far less than aviation (17% of total travel carbon emissions).

Nevertheless, most cruise companies still rely on heavy fuel oil to power their ships’ engines. Hence, finding an energy source that will reduce pollution and greenhouse gases is the “Green Grail” for the industry. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced in 2021 that its goal is to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and, as an intermediate step, reduce emissions 40 percent by 2030.

What’s more, in October 2022 CLIA released the results of its 2022 Global Cruise Industry Environmental Technologies and Practices Report, showing progress in the industry’s low-carbon pursuits.

In the coming years, there is an increasing number of vessels that will be able to incorporate zero-emissions propulsion as well as growing investment to equip ships to plug in to shoreside electricity where available. In fact, more than 15% of the vessels to be launched in the next five years will be equipped to incorporate fuel cells or batteries. As many as 85% of CLIA-member ships coming online between now and 2028 will be able to plug in to shoreside electricity, allowing engines to switch off at berth for significant emissions reduction.

According to the report, transition to sustainable marine fuels remains essential to achieving the maritime industry’s decarbonization goals, underscoring the urgent need for governments to support research efforts to accelerate the development of these fuels. Sustainable marine fuels need to be safe, viable and available for use at scale.

For now, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) holds a key position in the market. According to the report, 61% of new-build capacity will rely on LNG fuel for primary propulsion. LNG is in high demand since its use results in 95% to 100% fewer particulate matter (PM) emissions, virtually zero sulphur emissions, and an 85% reduction in nitrogen emissions. As a transitional fuel, LNG provides real benefits now, but it also allows LNG-ready ships to adapt to a future generation of sustainable marine fuels.

Also, such things as Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS) and Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems are contributing to the more sustainable maritime. As it stands, the cruise industry is investing billions to incorporate new technologies, targeting a fullscale decarbonization of global shipping.


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