Guest Post: Carbon Neutral Boats? We are blown away!

While we all take small steps to a sustainable future, let's take some inspiration from a tricky industry to decarbonise!

2020 saw momentum for sustainability explode. Whether peoples’ eyes were opened by the world shutting down – allowing nature to breathe a sigh of relief – or by the fact that our treatment of the planet and the beings on it is almost definitely linked to the outbreak of Covid, it would seem people are really waking up.

Just by chance, I stumbled across some seriously interesting individuals well-connected in the maritime industry with a key focus on decarbonisation. Di Gilpin and Gavin Allwright are involved with organisations looking to accelerate progress towards low or zero-carbon solutions in shipping, liaising with companies across the globe to facilitate the transition. Ideally, we could clone them to spread the message further and louder!

Wind powered boat

A lot of industries will struggle to decarbonise and in shipping, freight ships built today generally need to be operational for around 30 years to see reasonable returns – and as much as saving the planet shouldn’t be about money, it is. Right now, the technology for entirely carbon-neutral ships isn’t mature. The only fully carbon-neutral ships that we have the capability to build today use wind power and backup motors for when the elements aren’t favourable. Sailing on wind power alone can muck up logistics so it’s not something we can switch to immediately, even an additional day at sea can have hard-to-measure knock-on effects for companies and consumers alike. But it’s important we research wind-powered solutions as the real impact could be realised very soon.

While Sweden’s Wallenius Marine are looking to build fully carbon-neutral boats like their “Oceanbird”, the short-to-medium term wins for decarbonisation may come in the form of wind-assistance. That’s to say, installing sails (noooo don’t get carried away picturing Vikings!) to current freight ships to reduce their emissions by up to 30%. Do that across an industry which contributes almost 3% of total global emissions and the impact could be huge, buying vital time – as well as generating interest and conversation around the topic and saving companies money as the solutions become cheaper through process, manufacturing and construction improvements – for the industry to complete its net-zero transition.  

So, there’s hope – and from what I can see, a lot of it. Some of the biggest shipping companies in the world, such as Maersk, have committed to R&D fully carbon-neutral solutions and be carbon neutral by 2050 across their operations, establishing timelines, partnerships and setting long-term funding plans. Many others are jumping aboard the wind-assist movement installing multiple sails to existing assets, some examples; Sea Cargo AS and Norsepower Oy collaboration to install rotor sails which can reduce fossil fuel emissions for a ship by up to 25% - with more to come! Also, Boomsma Shipping installing VentiFouls by Econowind!

Spotted any cool news or stories along this theme? Spread the word and let us know 😊


Written by Ben Williamson

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