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Carbon Emissions: An International Shipping Dilemma (4 Ways How To Decarbonize)

Carbon Emissions: An International Shipping Dilemma (4 Ways How To Decarbonize)


Carbon emissions are one of the most publicized causes of climate change, and that’s for many good reasons. The effects of humanity’s combined carbon footprint will be felt by generations to come. It’s important to get companies to rework their processes because they account for most of the world’s carbon emissions. 

Of all of their processes, one of the things they should focus on is the effects of their shipping practices. True, carbon-neutral shipping might be challenging, but it’s a step that companies need to take to save our planet.

Best Ways To Reduce Carbon Footprint For Shipping

Shipping companies need to undergo a lot of processes to stay as safe and efficient as possible. However, the ecological impact of these processes should also be closely looked at as it affects more than just lost packages.

Optimize The Mechanisms Of The Ship

Stay up-to-date on the state of your ship’s inner workings. Unoptimized machinery and generator are some of the biggest resource hogs on the ship, and it’s not only bad for the environment but endangers your entire crew. 

For machinery, make sure to always do the following:

  • Make sure that all ship generators are not running when docked
  • Check for any excess compressed air in the engine rooms.
  • Turn off all non-essential operations when anchored or temporarily docked.
  • Turn off the lights in the engine room when not in use.
  • Make sure your steam traps are inspected
  • Shut down the auxiliary boilers when not needed for a long period.
  • Make sure heat transfer for all boiler room operations is efficient
  • Do not run any motors when unneeded as it may cause damage and waste resources
  • Keep all machinery clean and free of excess moisture

Be Resource Efficient

Shipping is a tremendous amount of work, and sometimes, resources fall through the cracks. It’s important to keep track of your resource output and use only as much as necessary. When not needed, turn off electricity in unused rooms on the ship such as the galley to minimize energy waste. 

It’s not just fuel and electricity that you have to worry about. Make sure to save on simple supplies such as paper, rations, and even laundry detergent. Any excess waste from these activities significantly affects the ocean’s health. Remember, sustainability in shipping matters, and your shipping company can’t be sustainable with excess waste.

Optimize All Essential Operations 

The ship’s machinery may be running fine and your resources are being used appropriately, there’s still a lot of carbon generated if you take inefficient routes.  Keep a close eye on your shipping route and make sure it is optimized for the least amount of fuel consumption and detours.

Always take note of the marine weather situation. Storms can make any trip last much longer than it should, so it’s best to just avoid the waste altogether by rescheduling your shipment. Not to mention, it keeps your crew much safer from danger.

Your autopilot must always be in a setting that prioritizes saving on fuel. When packing all your cargo, make sure that there’s no wasted space to reduce the number of return trips for items left behind.  Coordinate with your crew personally to keep them safe and free from unnecessarily carbon-heavy practices.

Embrace Alternative Power

Cargo ships today are primarily fueled by low-cost, low-quality, and yet highly contaminant crude oil, or “bunker fuel”. The oil used for ships is much higher in sulfur content. Adding to that is the absurd amounts of oil needed to run such a massive ship. 

That means ships are some of the heaviest gas-guzzling forms of transportation on the internet. However, there have been many attempts by entities such as the International Maritime Organization to limit the use of bunker fuel on voyages. Not to mention, the plethora of alternative energy sources being studied right now.

Green Hydrogen

The most fascinating alternative fuel resource being considered right now is a compound called green hydrogen. It combines two renewable sources of energy, solar and wind, to create a new resource capable of powering entire ships with zero emissions. However, there are a few caveats. 

First of all, green hydrogen needs nearly three times as much physical space as normal bunker fuel. More space for green hydrogen fuel means less space for other cargo. Secondly, green hydrogen is currently priced to be 8x more expensive than green hydrogen, which does make it impossible for widespread use at the moment.

However, green hydrogen is a relatively young science, and it’s only expected to improve over time. Even now, ships are being built to use green hydrogen efficiently. Over time, costs are expected to drastically fall. Remember, there was once a time when things we take for granted such as cars and airplanes were considered “impractical for widespread use”.


Research into pure and blended biofuel has been making strides in recent years. Biofuel is essentially any form of fuel that is derived from biomass, meaning stuff like plants, algae, or animal byproducts. 

Blended fuel combines the powerful low-cost energy provided by crude oil and minimizes its impact on the environment. However, the goal is to find a truly renewable energy source for all transportation, and for that, pure biofuel needs to be perfected, and science is well on the way to doing just that.

Wind Power

Another alternative form of power is actually one of the oldest: wind. Advancements in sailing technology are being made to make ships that require minimal fuel, relying mostly on sailing power to move. One such example is the Swedish cargo vessel Oceanbird, capable of holding thousands of vehicles and cargo using only gigantic sails. 

The one caveat is that sailboats are obviously much slower than contemporary cargo vessels. They only use a small engine for maneuvering purposes, and their speed is reliant on the maritime weather. Trips that would take 7 days for a cargo vessel will take up to 14 on the Oceanbird. 

Looking at things practically though, humanity can afford to wait an extra week for their items to arrive if it means saving the planet in the long run. One of the hardest attitudes to shed about reducing carbon emissions is efficiency over everything else. A little bit of patience can save us a lot of trouble down the line.

Read more: Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Low-Carbon Powertrains for Medium-duty Urban Delivery Trucks: A Singapore Case Study