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What is the carbon footprint of North American shipping?

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Written by

Nick Blenkey

The Blue Sky Maritime Coalition (BSMC), headquartered in Houston, has released a new report that provides a benchmark for CO2 emissions from the major ship sectors that make up domestic shipping in North America. The Coalition, a not-for-profit corporation, is a strategic alliance formed to accelerate North American Shipping’s (NAWT) transition to net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the study provides insight into what is needed to achieve this goal.

“Having a comprehensive view of the carbon footprint of the North American marine industry helps us better understand the sum of the challenges ahead and the solutions needed to meet those challenges. This report drills down to the industry level, helping us to focus and prioritize our efforts where they can have the greatest impact,” said David Cummins, President and CEO of BSMC.

North American Water Transport (NAWT) Emissions by Vessel Type
Emissions by vessel type

The report found that CO2 emissions from North American water transport (NAWT) were approximately 47 million tonnes in 2018. Of the total North American maritime emissions, the support vessel fleet offshore and inland tug and pushboat fleets account for almost 50% of all emissions. Coastal and harbor tugs and ferries account for a further 14%, and tankers and articulating tugs account for 6%.

“Establishing an emissions baseline that takes into account operational variables and unique sector characteristics is an important step in being able to measure progress toward our decarbonization goals. Sharing this data is critical to building collaboration and trust among our stakeholders and helps chart the way forward together,” Cummins continued.

The study draws some interesting conclusions. Among them:

  • Annual emissions of around 47 million tonnes of CO2 would be eliminated by replacing diesel with an emission-free alternative fuel. This represents 0.7% of total CO2 emissions in North America. The NAWT fleet can reach its goal of net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 by replacing the fuel currently consumed with a fuel equivalent to net zero: bio-LNG, or “e-fuels” which include methanol, ammonia and hydrogen. Reaching net zero by 2050 can be supported through other means such as carbon capture or other methods yet unknown to the study authors, who believe fuel switching is the main route.
  • About 31 million tonnes of “green” methanol would be needed to replace the diesel fuel currently burned by NAWT. Green methanol is produced in limited quantities in North America. For example, Montreal-based Enerkem produces biomethanol from municipal solid waste feedstock, and Maersk announced an investment in a facility in Texas to produce green methanol for its fleet.

Although the potential for emissions reductions is significant, there is no commercial structure or agreement in place that aligns the interests of charterers, owners and investors to decarbonize NAWT activity. The coalition says it is working with key industry decision makers to create such an arrangement.

Download report

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