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Large CO2 gains obtainable from ocean-going ships

Friday 12 Mar 21


Mette Sanne Hansen
Head of center
DTU Management
+45 26 79 33 91


Anker Degn Jensen
DTU Chemical Engineering
+45 45 25 28 41

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See the recommendations from the report here DTU Mini Sektorudviklingsprojekt om Grønne brændstoffer i Det Blå Danmark - DTU (DTU Mini-Sector Development Project on Green Fuels in Blue Denmark - DTU)
Environmentally and climate-friendly solutions from Danish ships sailing in foreign waters can contribute to the green transition of Denmark. But it requires cross-sectoral collaboration, according to a new report.

Climate gains and jobs can be created if the Danish shipping industry invests in new technology, ships, and energy infrastructure, and coordinates the work across sectors and industries. These are the findings in DTU’s just published report Grønne brændstoffer i Det Blå Danmark (Green Fuels in Blue Denmark). ‘Blue Denmark’ refers to shipowners, shipping companies, shipyards, ports, pilots, and companies that are either directly or indirectly engaged in seafaring activities in Denmark.

In fact, Denmark is in a unique position when it comes to reducing the shipping industry’s CO2 emissions. We are among the world’s leading maritime nations, and ‘Blue Denmark’ is one of our commercial positions of strength. It includes the world’s largest container shipping company, the world’s largest developer and supplier of ship engines, and a leading research environment in mapping and reducing CO2 emissions from shipping.

“A strengthened green profile in shipping can contribute to the green transition of Denmark. In specific terms, it can lead to CO2 reductions and more green jobs. But it can also result in the development of interdisciplinary study programmes that give students the right competences to meet the changes posed by this transition, and it also signals climate awareness at a time when customers are demanding a low carbon footprint when goods are to be freighted by ship,” says Mette Sanne Hansen, Head of DTU Maritime DTU.

Big climate gains
Although shipping companies have significantly streamlined and reduced the fuel consumption of ships in recent years, there is a need to switch to new fuels and means of propulsion to meet the shipping industry’s target of being CO2 neutral in 2050. The reason for this is that the size of the fleet is growing in line with increasing global trade in goods freighted by sea.

In 2018, Blue Denmark was responsible for emissions of 0.8 million tonnes of CO2 from sailing in Danish waters. But the emissions are much higher if you look at Blue Denmark's CO2 emissions from ships sailing in international waters, which include both own and chartered ships. Here CO2 emissions amounted to 52.8 million tonnes in the same year.

“Right now, each country is only responsible for domestic CO2 emissions. However, the major challenge faced by the shipping industry is CO2 emissions for ocean-going shipping. Here big climate gains are obtainable. Shipping is global – just like pollution. Therefore, it isn’t any use only to create solutions for Danish shipping when the ships sail to both Asia and the United States, where they must also sail based on green principles,” says Mette Sanne Hansen.

She points out that climate action requires very large investments, and that there is also still uncertainty about which technologies can be used to reduce the large CO2 emissions. Therefore, her recommendation is to focus both on oceangoing ships and on ships servicing routes to and from Denmark and into the Baltic Sea, as well as on ferries and fishing vessels sailing in and outside national waters to achieve maximum benefit from such cross-sectoral collaboration.

Price must come down
According to the report, there are, in fact, many challenges involved in making transport by sea environmentally and climate friendly. The biggest challenge is to drive down the price of green fuels so that it is competitive with fossil fuels. This must be done through parallel industrialization and upscaling of production and distribution, combined with a development of the market for green fuels, including through regulation. It must also be examined how these fuels can be transported and handled on ports and loaded safely on the ships. The ship engines must also be able to burn the new fuels in a sensible way.

But there will also be obtainable CO2 savings by linking different sectors and industries, utilizing digitalization to drive down the price of green fuels, balancing the energy system and adopting a life cycle mindset.

“Many of the solutions we’re talking about in shipping are also relevant in air traffic, heavy land transport, as well as in industry to a certain extent. Therefore, we cannot simply look at shipping in isolation. Instead, we must incorporate it in the whole green transition that is taking place around us. This requires much more cross-sectoral collaboration than we’ve previously been used to,” says Professor Anker Degn Jensen from DTU Chemical Engineering.

Power-to-X and partnerships

He points out that there are several ways to reduce CO2 emissions in shipping. One of them is Power-to-X technologies, which can convert power from renewable energy sources into hydrogen, usable for production of ammonia, methane, or similar fuels for use in, for example, the shipping industry. Here DTU is in a strong position in research in several key disciplines, including energy storage and conversion, life cycle analysis and sector coupling, as well as digitalization.

Another method that can help exploit green technologies is to establish green partnerships in which researchers and companies are jointly engaged in long-term research and innovation activities. One example is the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon, which has partnered up with a number of industry players to accelerate the development of climate-neutral fuels by studying ceramic fuel cells. The goal is to launch the first CO2 -neutral ship by 2030.

Another example of green partnerships is the Danish Government’s new research strategy which focuses on four green missions: the so-called innomissions. Two of these focus precisely on shipping and Blue Denmark’s need for new climate solutions. They are Innomission 1, ‘Capture and storage or use of CO2 ’, and Innomission 2, ‘Research into green fuels for transport and industry’.

In relation to Innomission 2, DTU works with the Danish Centre for Energy Storage and companies such as Haldor Topsøe, Vestas, trade associations for ships, trucks, aircraft and energy-intensive industry, as well as Approved Technological Service Institutes, clusters of companies in energy, and the other universities in Denmark. The collaboration is to result in solutions that can meet Denmark’s target of reducing greenhouse gases by 70 per cent by 2030.

Anker Degn Jensen looks forward to the collaboration:
“By combining relevant academic competency and professional competences, we can help drive down the price of green fuels, reduce CO2 emissions, and create jobs and exports. All in one go.”

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