Cargo with wing-sails

Shaping trust in sustainable shipping

The global shipping industry is on the path to decarbonization, exploring and de-risking alternative fuels to help cut carbon emissions before 2030 – and beyond.

The shipping industry is the blood supply of the global economy. Ships support vital industries by transporting commodities, manufactured goods and people, and servicing the energy sector. Today, the global shipping industry represents 90% of global trade. CO2 emissions from shipping saw a year-on-year gain of 4.9%1 in 2021. And, with trade volumes predicted to triple2 by 2050, shipping is facing increased scrutiny and tighter regulation aimed at decarbonization.

The United Nations agency responsible for the safety, security and sustainability of international shipping, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set its initial carbon reduction targets:

  • Cut carbon emissions of all ships by at least 40% by 20303
  • Cut carbon emissions of all ships by at least 70% by 20504

As 2030 approaches, reducing the carbon emissions from shipping has become an industry priority. As a trusted partner of maritime industry stakeholders, Bureau Veritas (BV) is guiding its clients through this pivotal evolution. While shipowners and yards explore innovative technologies to achieve compliance with stricter regulation, BV Marine & Offshore experts accompany them in reducing risk and ensuring these measures are implemented safely.

Shaping trust in alternative fuels

Like so many industries, shipping is undergoing its own energy transition, moving away from heavy fuel oil to embrace more sustainable options. As yet, there is no ready-to-use solution that will get shipping to zero-carbon, but there is a host of possibilities to explore. Among alternative fuel options, some are widely in use, such as Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). Some, like methanol, are starting to break through. And some are under development, such as ammonia or hydrogen.

LNG is the frontrunner of alternative fuels, and is well known to shipping. It has taken more than a decade to ensure a secure and sustainable value chain to establish an LNG supply for shipping. BV classed the first-ever LNG bunker vessel , facilitating ship-to-ship refueling. Now, with increasing investment in storage and bunkering facilities, it is widely available, and therefore a more affordable option for shipowners, with 30% of new vessels on order in 2021 designed to run on LNG5.

Although it is a fossil fuel, LNG is nevertheless a low-carbon option and an essential part of the future fuel mix. When used with a combined cycle diesel/carbonate fuel cell, LNG vessels could emit 80% less CO2. However, it is also a solution that requires specific attention to limit other harmful emissions such as methane.

Achieving zero-emissions on low-carbon fuel vessels may require additional solutions such as onboard carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS)6 technology. Although CCUS has been employed by other industries for many decades, its arrival in the marine industry is comparatively recent. After being captured onboard through specially adapted exhaust scrubbers, carbon can be recycled into synthetic fuels at onshore drop-off points, closing the loop in a sustainable fuel supply chain.

Methanol is another favored option, with a strong level of established infrastructure in ports. Sustainably produced green or e-methanol—derived from hydrogen, captured CO2 and renewable electricity—drastically reduces emissions compared to traditional fuels. To ensure onboard safety, BV has developed dedicated Rules for the use of methanol as a fuel.

Achieving zero-carbon shipping

Intrinsically carbon-free fuels, such as ammonia and hydrogen, are under development to become the basis of zero-carbon shipping. If sourced renewably, both fuels produce no CO2 emissions, and both can be used in internal combustion engines or in fuel cells. Use of these potentially volatile fuels entails considerations for onboard safety.

As one of the most widely-used chemicals in the world, sustainably produced ammonia has potential as a zero-carbon fuel for shipping. However, its use presents a significant number of safety challenges from its toxicity and caustic properties. Ultimately, these issues will be addressed through regulatory requirements and mitigation measures. Already, the shipping industry is beginning to explore ammonia’s potential. In December 2021, BV witnessed the signing of a memorandum of cooperation for the world’s largest ammonia-powered very large integral green ammonia carrier (VLAC). To assist shipowners on their journey to adapting ammonia as a viable fuel option, BV published a dedicated notation and Rule note in 2021.

Fitting vessels to store and use hydrogen represents a significant cost, as its energy density is 4-8 times lower than fuel oil, depending on its state. Furthermore, hydrogen is potentially flammable and explosive, so seafarers must receive training on how to use it safely. Technology providers are working on specific tank designs as well as fuel cells for use with hydrogen. Common in onshore technology, fuel cell power systems are being redesigned for use on ship. BV is supporting providers in this venture with Rules for fuel cells (including the use of hydrogen), and is preparing to release additional notations for hydrogen fueled vessels in 2022.

Repurposing past technology into new innovation

While the use of sails is almost as old as shipping itself, wind-assisted propulsion technology is once again on the cutting edge of innovation to reduce shipping emissions. Still in the early stages of development, next-generation sail technology has produced several interesting pilot projects. For instance, the CANOPÉE, a wind-propelled cargo ship, will transport the Ariane 6 satellite launcher from Europe to French Guyana. The vessel’s design was approved by BV according to its Rules for wind propulsion systems,

Securing a decarbonized future for the shipping industry

While several of these innovations are under development, in many ways the marine sector is prepared to progress towards its climate targets. The industry is under a transitional phase, from traditional fuel to alternative fuels, and from discussions of “how” to decisions of “when.” Early innovators have established a host of options for the decarbonization of shipping, and the next step will be to scale up these low- and zero-carbon technologies for widespread use.

Change is on the horizon, driven by a growing global consensus alongside legislative support and incentives. At the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, 22 governments signed the Clydebank Declaration, with the commitment to create green corridors through major deep-sea routes and thus sustainably link major ports by 2030. The EU has integrated shipping into its carbon reduction legislation for the first time in its proposed Fit for 55 package, suggesting the introduction of a carbon cap among other Greenhouse Gases limiting measures. Additionally, there is now a broad consensus amongst shipping industry leaders that zero-carbon emissions by 2050 is the necessary target, overhauling the IMO’s current agreed ambition.

Partnering with stakeholders to shape a more sustainable maritime world

Testing, Inspection and Certification (TIC) companies have been an essential driver in shipping industry innovation, and therefore in its progress towards a greener future. BV has partnered with shipyards and ship owners to shape a safer and more responsible industry for almost two centuries.

Shaping a more sustainable, better maritime world will mean more than decarbonization. It requires collaboration and unity among shipping industry stakeholders and regulatory bodies, assisted by TIC and classification services. It requires a shift in perspective, to enable the ocean to take center stage as a stakeholder in its own future. Concretely, it implies taking a long-term, sustainable approach to every aspect of the shipping industry, from materials and technology, to fuels, to people. As such, BV’s work also includes promoting onboard safety and wellbeing, limiting other emissions, and even reducing noise pollution from shipping to safeguard the marine environment.

BV is in a strong position to support our clients through our BV Green Line of services and solutions dedicated to sustainability, and thus help them navigate to a more sustainable world. Furthermore, at this critical juncture, BV marine experts have developed extensive Rules and guidelines to guide clients in applying alternative fuel technology sustainably and in complete safety.


1  https://www.ssyonline.com/media/2016/ssy-2022-outlook-final.pdf
2  https://www.oecd.org/ocean/topics/ocean-shipping
3  https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/pages/DecadeOfGHGAction.aspx (Compared 2008 baseline)
4  https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/pages/DecadeOfGHGAction.aspx (Compared 2008 baseline)
5  https://www.offshore-energy.biz/sea-lng-orders-of-lng-fueled-vessels-grew-30-in-2021/
6  Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) is the process of trapping carbon before it can reach the atmosphere, either to be reused in industry or permanently stored.