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A Zero-Carbon Future for the Shipping Industry is Achievable, New Report

A new study highlights pathways for achieving zero-emission shipping in Central and South America, and the potential benefits for ports that invest in producing green electrofuels.

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Washington, D.C. – As Climate Week NYC begins, Ocean Conservancy releases a new report that presents a compelling case for the widespread adoption of ‘electrofuels’ to transition the international shipping industry from being one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions—sixth, after the nations of China, U.S., India, Russia, Japan—to a zero-carbon future. Electrofuels are synthetic fuels derived from hydrogen or ammonia which are produced using renewable energy.

“The climate crisis is already here and the shipping industry must do its part to transition away from fossil fuels now,” said Dan Hubbell, manager of Ocean Conservancy’s shipping emissions campaign. “A zero-carbon future for global shipping is possible, and electrofuels can play a key role while also delivering powerful benefits for people, local economies and our planet.”

Zero-Carbon for Shipping presents South and Central American case studies that demonstrate how existing technologies such as electrofuels and renewable energy will work together to transition the shipping industry to a zero-carbon future. South and Central America have a lively shipping industry with total imports and exports to the region both around $1 trillion. This region is primed to lead and move the shipping industry away from fossil fuel dependency.

“We need governments to work with and encourage private investors in the region to further develop local infrastructure that will allow a transition from fossil fuels to electrofuels,” said report author Nick Ash, Principal Consultant, Ricardo Energy & Environment. “Ports throughout South and Central America with renewable energy potential nearby are already great candidates to build electrofuel plants for their own uses and ultimately provide zero-carbon refueling along busy shipping lanes.”

In one of the report’s four case studies, the adoption of electrofuels in Porto do Pecém, Brazil would not only decarbonize the shipping industry, it could also provide a carbon-free source of fuel for local steel and chemical manufacturing.

While electrofuels are carbon-free, they don’t contain as much energy per unit volume as fossil fuels, so zero-carbon ships may need to stop at ports more often to refuel. Puerto Shougang Hierro, Peru, located along a busy trade route, is an ideal location to provide refueling for zero-carbon ships. Puerto Shougang Hierro has the ability to significantly expand its wind and other renewable energy infrastructure to supply enough power to support the increased shipping and refueling activity.

These along with the report’s other two case studies are archetypal examples of how ports and ships around the world could draw on existing technology to achieve a zero-carbon future. By doing so, local communities would see reduced costs for renewable energy, opportunities for decarbonization beyond the shiping industry and the emergence of new jobs for people who currently rely on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihoods. If we truly want to mitigate climate change, empower local communities and develop coastal economies, Zero-Carbon for Shipping shows us how.

A study for the Getting to Zero Coalition estimates that the total decarbonization of the shipping industry by 2050 will cost $1.9 trillion. Compared to the total global energy investment of $1.85 trillion in 2019 alone, this represents a modest increase in initial investments that would be split across 30 years and many different sectors.

“We have the opportunity to spend one year’s worth of energy investment to eliminate the equivalent of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions. With that goal in mind, we need to advance the shipping decarbonization models Zero-Carbon for Shipping puts forward,” said Hubbell. “This report shows us  we already have the necessary technology to eliminate emissions and achieve a zero-carbon future for shipping, now we need governments and the private sector, working together, to take action and make it happen.”