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Maersk takes biggest step yet to decarbonise container shipping

Container shipping updates

Maersk is taking the biggest step yet to decarbonise the shipping industry by ordering eight new vessels capable of carrying 16,000 containers each that can run both on traditional bunker fuel and “green” methanol.

It is the first vessel order from the Danish shipping group, the biggest container liner in the world, in six years but Maersk said the new ships would replace older ones rather than add new capacity as freight rates soar.

Maersk expects to take delivery of the eight ships from Hyundai Heavy Industries in early 2024 and has an option for four more the following year, making it the first container shipping company to order large carbon-neutral vessels capable of sailing from China to Europe and across the Pacific. It ordered a small carbon-neutral feeder vessel in February.

Each vessel costs about $175m, about 10-15 per cent more than a traditional ship as it will be able to run on both bunker fuel and carbon-neutral methanol.

Carbon-neutral methanol costs about double bunker fuel, but Maersk executives said they thought customers such as Amazon and H&M were willing to pay up for green transport.

“We are putting our money where our mouth is. We do feel sufficiently secure that the technology is there to order this series of vessels,” Henriette Hallberg Thygesen, head of fleet and strategic brands, told the Financial Times.

Maersk said in 2018 that it needed carbon-neutral ships by 2030 to reach its net-zero goal for 2050 given the 20- to 25-year lifecycle of a vessel.

But in the past few years, the technology advances at shipbuilders have increased so that the Danish group now expects only to order new vessels with dual-fuel or single green fuel technology, including its largest vessels that can carry more than 20,000 containers.

Thygesen said the biggest challenge was to secure enough green methanol for the vessels.

“We need a significant ramp-up in production. We do feel there has been a lot of chicken and egg. So we find by going out with this announcement that we can break this cycle,” she added.

Maersk has not made a new order for a large vessel since 2015 after it emerged from the financial crisis by building some of the biggest ships ever made, although it exercised an option for two additional ships in 2017.

Other container shipping lines have been rushing to place new orders as freight rates rocket amid a shortage of vessels to deal with the large demand following the Covid-19 lockdowns last year, even though building them takes several years.

“We would all love to have more capacity today, so we could alleviate some of the pain customers are feeling. But that is not solved by vessel ordering in the short term,” Thygesen said.

She added that it was Maersk’s “clear ambition” that the new ships run purely on green methanol in which case they would displace more than 1m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, but that as “risk mitigation” each vessel would have the dual-fuel technology.

“The vessels will last 20-25 years. We don’t yet know what will be the winning technology,” she said.

Some critics argue that green methanol makes little sense because CO2 is first absorbed in production and then emitted again when burnt, instead of sequestering the greenhouse gas.

Maersk said last week that the green methanol for its feeder vessel would come from “biogenic” CO2, which means from natural sources, as well as renewable energy.


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