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Mechanical sail? Battery? Shippers are building 'green corridors' to track faster clean technologies

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It is home to one of the world’s busiest container shipping routes – a stream of ships loaded with furniture, automobiles, clothing and other goods that cross the Pacific between Los Angeles and Shanghai.

If the plans come to fruition, the corridor would become a showcase for reducing planet-warming carbon emissions from the shipping industry, which produces about 3% of the world’s total. It’s less than cars, trucks, rail or aviation but still a lot — and it’s growing.

The International Maritime Organization, which regulates commercial shipping, wants to halve its greenhouse gas releases by midcentury and could call for deeper cuts this year. “Shipping must embrace decarbonization,” IMO Secretary-General Kitak Lim said in February.

Meeting agency goals will require significant vessel and infrastructure changes. It is inspiring plans for “Green Shipping Corridors” along major routes where new technologies and methods can be fast-tracked and scaled up.

Of these, more than 20 partnerships have been proposed. They are largely on paper now but are expected to take shape in the coming years. Mission: To unite marine fuel producers, vessel owners and operators, cargo owners and ports in a common effort.

runner up

Los Angeles and Shanghai entered into their partnership last year.

“The vision is that a container will leave a factory on a zero-emissions truck (in China),” said Jean Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

“It will arrive at the port of Shanghai, be loaded onto a ship by a zero-emission cargo handling equipment unit, and sail to the Pacific Ocean on a zero-carbon emitting ship. Once it reaches Los Angeles, The reverse happens,” with carbon-free handling and distribution.

Los Angeles signed a second agreement in April with nearby Long Beach and Singapore. Other works include the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River; a Chilean network; and several corridors in Asia, North America and Europe.

C40 Cities, a global climate action coalition of mayors, advocates for green corridors, “tools that can turn ambition into action, bringing together the entire shipping value chain,” said Alisa Krenes, a deputy director .

But Crayons cautioned: “I can’t help but wonder how much of this is PR and how much of this is actually going to become practice. There needs to be a cultural shift in thinking about how we get from point A to point B.” Reach out.

John Bradshaw, technical director of environment and safety with the World Shipping Council, said the new approaches developed in the Green Corridor could bring faster results. “I am confident that the industry will deliver zero emissions by 2050.”

pressure builds

From tea to tennis shoes, the stuff in your pantry and closet spent time onboard.

Roughly 90% of merchandise moves on water, some longer than four football fields, each carrying thousands of containers with consumer products. About 58,000 commercial ships ply in the sea.

Their emissions are less noticeable than those of onshore haulers such as trucks, although harmful fumes from ships attract complaints in port communities.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the volume of seaborne trade is expected to triple by 2050. Studies estimate that the industry’s share of greenhouse gas emissions could reach up to 15%.

Yet the 2015 Paris climate accord exempts maritime shipping, partly because ships trade around the world, while the accord includes nation-by-nation targets.

“No one wants to take responsibility,” said Alison Brown of Pacific Environment, an advocacy group. “A ship may be flagged in China, but who owns the emissions from that ship when it is transporting goods to the US?”

The IMO responded to mounting pressure with a 2018 plan for a 50% emissions reduction from 2008 levels by midcentury. An update scheduled for July could set more ambitious targets in favor of the US, Europe and small island nations. Opponents include Brazil, China and India.

The Biden administration wants a zero-emissions target, a State Department official told The Associated Press.

But less than half of large shipping companies have pledged to meet international carbon targets. And there is no consensus on how to fulfill them.

Proposals range from slowing ships to charging them for emissions, as the European Union did last year.

“Decarbonizing global shipping is hard … because of the energy needed to move long distances with heavy cargo,” said Lee Kindberg, head of environment and sustainability for Maersk North America, part of AP Moller-Maersk, which includes There are over 700 ships. “It’s a stretch but we consider it doable.”

But how?

Mechanical sail. Battery. Low- or zero-carbon liquid fuel.

They are among the propulsion methods known as a replacement for the “bunker fuel” that powers most commercial ships – the rough residue from oil refining. It spews out greenhouse gases and pollutants that threaten human health: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, soot.

The priority will be to explore alternatives for green shipping corridors.

For now, liquefied natural gas is the runaway option. Worldwide, it is used by 923 of the 1,349 commercial vessels powered by conventional fuels, according to a study last year by DNV, a Norway-based maritime accreditation society. Vessels with battery or hybrid systems are in second place.

Many environmentalists oppose LNG because it emits methane, another potent greenhouse gas. Defenders say it is the fastest and most cost-effective bunker fuel option.

DNV reported that of the 1,046 alternative-energy vessels on order, 534 are powered by LNG while 417 are battery-hybrid. Thirty-five others will use methanol, which analysts see as an emerging clean alternative.

Moller-Maersk plans to launch 12 cargo ships next year that will use “green methanol” produced from renewable sources such as plant waste. A biodiesel from used cooking oil fuels some of its ships.

The company is collaborating on research that could lead to ammonia- or hydrogen-powered ships by the mid-2030s.

“This is the first step towards making our fleet business more climate-resilient,” Kindberg said.

Norsepower offers a new twist on an ancient technology: wind.

The Finnish company has developed “rotor sails” – composite cylinders about 33 yards (30 m) long that are mounted on a ship’s deck and spin in the wind. Air pressure differences on opposite sides of the whistling instruments help propel a vessel.

An independent analysis found that a rotor sail installed on a Maersk oil tanker in 2018 saved 8.2% fuel over a year. Others have reported savings of 5% to 25%, depending on wind conditions, vessel type and other factors, said Norsepower CEO Tuomas Riski.

Riski said thirteen ships are using the devices or have them on order.

“Mechanical sails have an essential role in the decarbonization of shipping,” he said. “They can’t do it alone, but they can make a great contribution.”

Fleetzero argues that electric ships are best suited to decarbonize the industry. The company was founded two years ago in Alabama to build cargo ships with rechargeable battery packs.

CEO Steven Henderson says it envisions a fleet of smaller, nimble vessels than giant container ships. They will call at ports that have fresh charged batteries to exchange low-life batteries. Fleetzero’s prototype ship is set to begin delivering cargo later this year.

who goes first?

Before building or buying low-emission ships, companies want assurances that clean fuel will be available and cheap.

Meanwhile, companies producing the fuel want enough ships to guarantee strong markets.

And both need port infrastructure that accommodates the new generation of ships, such as electrical hookups and clean fuel delivery systems.

But the ports are waiting for demand to justify such an expensive upgrade. Officials say switching onshore cargo handling equipment and trucks to a zero-emissions model would cost the Port of Los Angeles $20 billion.

“Once you put a[green]corridor on the map, at least they’re going in that direction,” said Jason Anderson, senior program director at the nonprofit ClimateWorks Foundation.

Jing Sun, a University of Michigan marine engineering professor, said success will require support from shipping industry customers as well as government regulation and corridor funding.

“Shipping is the most economical way to move things,” Sun said.

An organization called Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels has pledged to use only zero-emission shipping companies by 2040. Amazon, Michelin and Target are among the 19 signatories.

“When large corporate buyers come together and say we need to do this, the rest of the chain has the confidence to make the necessary investment,” said Ingrid Irigoyen, an assistant director at the nonprofit Aspen Institute, which assembled the group. helped to do.

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Follow John Fleischer on Twitter: @JohnFlesher

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Associated Press climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative. AP is solely responsible for all content.