All about technology and forces shaping the energy transition in shipping

‘Climate Positive’ Holiday Greetings!

December 22, 2023

Let’s dive right into the math and geeky details behind the emissions footprint of my AI-assisted ‘holiday greetings’ LinkedIn post!

1. Firstly, the post and its reach:

  • The size of the LinkedIn post, including the text and image is estimated at 142 KB. For ease of calculation, I’ve rounded it up to 150 KB.
  • As it is the festive season, I decided to work with the best case reach scenario:
    my best performing LinkedIn post ever had 43,631 impressions, 292 reactions, 26 comments and 7 reposts. This totals to 43,956 interactions. I’ve rounded this up to 44,000 to account for any reactions to the reposts that I might have missed.
  • For the purpose of this exercise, all reactions have been considered equal; i.e., they consume the same amount of energy and consequently produce the same amount of emissions.
  • ChatGPT roughly estimated that the energy required for loading a 150 KB social media post on a smartphone with average efficiency might be around 0.3-1.1 Wh (considering device energy, network energy, screen energy and idle energy). I’ll work with the average of these two values, 0,7 Wh per impression/interaction.
  • Loading the social media post on a computer with average efficiency would require between 1.25 and 6.3 Wh. I averaged these two values to arrive at 0.57 Wh.
  • Assuming 85% of the interactions are on a smartphone, and 15% on a computer, the weighted average energy consumption per interaction of the 150 KB post is 1.16 Wh.

2. Onto the ‘network’:

  • I have a global network, and I assume that the geographic distribution of where the reactions have come from is a simplistic extrapolation of the location of this network.
  • I asked ChatGPT to estimate the carbon intensity of 1 Wh in different countries and then calculated the weighted average carbon intensity per interaction.
  • Based on these two elements, I calculated the Weighted Average Carbon Intensity of one interaction from my LinkedIn network. This cames up to 0.18 gCO2e/Wh.
GeographyAverage Carbon Intensity per Wh
(gCO2e/Wh)
LinkedIn Network DistributionWeighted Carbon Intensity contribution
(gCO2e/Wh)
Netherlands0.4040%0.16
EU0.2420%0.05
Norway0.0110%0.00
US0.4110%0.04
India0.6310%0.06
Singapore0.382.5%0.01
UK0.237.5%0.02
Total 100%0,18
Weighted Carbon Intensity of an interaction from my LinkedIn network
Calculated based on data provided by ChatGPT on grid intensity. Data years 2020 or 2022

Based on 1. and 2. above, the emissions from this post would be 1.16 Wh*0.18 gCO2e/Wh*44,000 = 9.13 kg CO2e

3. Thirdly, the energy consumed during the production of this post:

  • The work on this post took about 8 hours.
  • I used a MacBook Air for ~87% of the time, a recent iPhone for ~11% of the time and a Windows laptop (older than the other two devices and less efficient) for about ~2% of the time.
  • After failing to get DALL.E to remove the smokestack and smoke from the original graphic of the cargo ship, and not succeeding in doing it convincingly without installing heavy software programs that were not yet on my MacBook, I had to use Paint 3D on the Windows laptop to hide the smokestack and the smoke. I don’t see smoke in Shipping’s future 😉
  • I assume that the lower energy consumption of the iPhone balances out the higher energy consumption of the Windows laptop, and therefore ignore the difference in energy consumption of these devices.
  • 8 hours of work at 50Wh (energy consumption of a MacBookAir, moderate use) would produce 0.16 kg CO2e (using NL grid intensity from above table, even though I have an all-renewables electricity plan).

Total expected GHG footprint of the production + LinkedIn interactions of post:
9.13 + 0.16 = 9.3 kg of CO2e

This website is hosted by GreenGeeks and powered by renewable energy. But I do not yet have the functionality to estimate the impact of you reading this detailed analysis. To account for this, I decided to compensate for 10x the above-calculated amount.

4. Compensating for the emissions:

  • I purchased 100 kg of CO2 from Climeworks’ Orca project in Iceland, which captures CO2 directly from the air and stores it underground.  
  • This is only one example of the many sci-fi-like mitigation, removal and alternative fuel solutions that needs to be developed with care and deployed responsibly in order for our planet to endure and prosper in the years ahead.

I learnt a lot while writing this, and I hope it gives you some new insights.

Happy holidays!!

Cover image: DALL.E
Cover image compression: Optimizilla
Research: ChatGPT

Disclaimer: This GHG accounting exercise was just a fun way to explore working with AI tools that have been at the top of our minds in 2023. It does not follow prescribed standards for specific industries or guidance frameworks (like the GHG Protocol), but attempts to emulate the accounting logic for the activity at hand.

3 A’s for maritime decarbonisation: Ambition

July 1, 2023
Figure 1: Overview of the targets and ambitions being proposed by different groups.
EU, Japan, Island nationsUSA, Ocean Rebellion, Trafigura, MMMCZCS


The IMO is set to convene next week for MEPC 80. Many anticipate more ambitious 2050 goals as well as interim targets. New milestones will affect everything – the fuels that vessels will run on, the technologies that are on board and most likely, the way we fundamentally do business. It’s a fitting time to pick up on where I left off with a previous post and talk more about Ambition for maritime decarbonisation.


Why is deep decarbonisation of shipping necessary?

Almost every discussion that brings together climate and shipping provides these statics: over 90% of traded good are transported by sea, and shipping accounts for about 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions. But what do these really numbers really mean?

Though out of sight for most people, the maritime industry is massive. Over 10.6 billion tons of cargo is moved by ships annually. That is a whopping 1.3 tons of goods – about equal to the weight of 6,500 medium weight cotton t-shirts – for every single person on our planet, every year. The physical footprint of all the cargo transported by vessels in 2020 was 58,865 billion ton-miles – that is equivalent to shipping 1 kg of potatoes from the earth to Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to us after the sun, over 42 times. Consequently, shipping also has an enormous impact on climate. Each year, shipping emits over 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. If the shipping industry were a country, it would be the 6th largest polluter, with a footprint lower than that of Japan and higher than Iran.

The types and sizes of vessels, the goods they carry and the routes they ply will change to reflect changes in the global economy. But shipping will continue to underpin life as we know it. We would be doing ourselves, our planet, and the future of humanity an immense disservice by not thinking big in the context of shipping.


Where did the 1.5°C target come from and where do we stand today?

The idea that temperature could be used to guide society’s response to climate change was first proposed by an economist half a century ago. In a 1975 paper on the economics of climate change, William Nordhaus (winner of the 2018 Nobel prize in economics), pondered about what might constitute a reasonable limit of global temperature rise for humanity to achieve. Subsequently, the 2°C limit he proposed was alluded to by the Stockholm Institute in 1990, and later found itself referred to frequently in political settings. As warming continued and researchers delved into its effects on climate, the implications became clearer, and it has come to be widely recognised that the ‘acceptable’ limit is 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The first UNFCCC document to refer to this limit was the Cancun Agreement, adopted at COP 16 in 2010.

Using temperature rise as a metric is simple and sticky, but also deceptive. We often forget that an average of 1.5°C means that several areas on the planet will see much higher rises in temperature and witness far-reaching changes in biodiversity and natural capital. Uncertainty increases with global warming; events like earthquakes, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and the Covid pandemic have already started to become unnervingly common. The average warming over land and ocean stands at +0.86°C today. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is at a global average of 417.06 ppm, 50% higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution. The ocean has absorbed enough carbon dioxide to lower its pH by 0.1 units, a 30% increase in acidity. Earlier this year, researchers published an update on the planetary boundaries which showed that in seven of the eight cases, thresholds for a safe and just world have already been crossed. The word ‘polycrisis’ is beginning to be used to describe the world we’re living in.

If shipping’s emissions remain constant at 2018 levels, we will burn through the remainder of the industry’s share of the global 1.5°C-aligned carbon budget in just 7 years from now.


What should shipping’s ambition be?

Different countries, coalitions and organisations are backing different targets and ambitions (see Figure 1 above). The key underpinning questions are:

  • What will the level of ambition be?
  • Will well-to-wake or tank-to-wake emissions be considered?
  • Will targets refer to CO2 emissions, GHG emissions or CO2e (including black carbon)?
  • Will there be mid-term measures?
  • Will the plan represent commitment to a just and equitable transition?

Despite this, at the end of the inter sessional working group meeting over the past week, the IMO appears to be heading in a direction that is not 1.5°C-aligned and several of the technical details in the draft text of the new targets are nebulously worded.

The end goal for shipping must be zero emissions and zero negative impacts. If we unfortunately realise, in an unfamiliar and unforeseen world a decade from now that we did not aim high enough back in 2023, it will be too late to change course.

We should set shipping on a rapid and ambitious decarbonisation trajectory towards that end goal and do all that it requires of us. We should do these things – appropriating JFK’s famous words – not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.

Further reading: For details on where discussions stand after the ISWG GHG 15, read UMAS’ overview.

Shipping’s new energy technology ecosystem – 2023

April 11, 2023
To zoom in, hover over the image or press and hold (for mobile devices); single click to open in a new tab.


I published my first overview of shipping’s clean energy technologies at the end of 2021. A lot has changed since then, and decarbonisation has slowly but surely made its way to the top of the maritime agenda. I’ve been keeping tabs on the different technologies and companies that have been making waves in a dynamic, open-source database in the Ship Technologies section of this website.

Here is an updated, non-exhaustive, TRL-agnostic, 2023 overview of the industry’s new on-board hardware technology ecosystem. The top changes during the last 18 months are:

  • The list has grown from 115 to 159 companies and now includes technologies that enable zero-emissions as well as net-zero operations with e-fuels.
  • Some of the new additions just came to my attention after the first overview; others are fresh players jumping into the fray or seasoned maritime-tech denizens responding to market trends with new product announcements.
  • The biggest growth has been in the number of companies working on:
    • Fuel cells in general, and PEM fuel cells (108%) in particular,
    • On-board emissions/carbon capture technologies (100%),
    • Ammonia-cracking and methanol-reforming technologies (100%), and
    • Lithium batteries (42%)
  • Wind technologies, hydrofoils, and many other efficiency technologies suitable for different vessel types have gained visibility and traction.
  • Various companies have taken their tech from feasibility studies and early prototypes into ship-scale installations or live demonstrations.

Do you know of any other company or technology that should be included here next time?
Let me know!

3 A’s for maritime decarbonisation … it’s time to bake!

February 16, 2023

Until recently, I had the privilege of working for a company that has pushed the limits of European inland shipping by going beyond mere feasibility studies and embarking on the journey to build a fleet of zero-emissions vessels. I have spent these last 6+ years steeped in all things shipping and decarbonisation. As I set my sights on the future, and work on finding a new path to contributing to large-scale positive climate impact, I have tried to distil my learnings into a framework for what I think is needed to supercharge shipping’s energy transition, or that of any other hard-to-abate sector for that matter. This will guide my own choice of what I dedicate the next decade of my life to and how. I hope that it will give you something to chew on or inspire you to share your own perspectives.

Ambition

Whether it is because we are caught up in the vagaries of everyday life, or because we pride ourselves on being modest, we don’t often dare to dream big and consider the possibility that crazy, audacious goals can propel us much further than modest ambitions. You know what they say — fortune favours the bold. We begin to think in possibilities and constantly look for opportunities when we believe that the sky is the limit, instead of making peace with the suboptimal.

What might inspire you to take up baking? The hope that you can recreate your grandma’s scrumptious chocolate cake one day, or the need for some bread for tomorrow’s lunch?

SpaceEx created reusable rockets and changed the face of space exploration. Would they have accomplished that if their dot on the horizon had been ‘make a better rocket’ instead of ‘colonise Mars’?

Action

Flour sold out very quickly in grocery stores across Europe during Covid because many of us picked up a new hobby — yes, you guessed right, baking. Accomplished bakers will tell you that it is ‘a science, not an art; it requires precision and planning’. So when we started baking, we looked up recipes, found the right tools, and researched and purchased the appropriate ingredients. All the preparations helped a lot — to a certain extent. Beyond that, they only delayed learning. At some point, you had to actually bake to figure out if your recipe, technique and ingredients worked. When I made carrot cake for the first time, it turned into a smoky carrot biscuit that I bravely ate because curiosity got the better of me.

When we put a novel technology on board a ship or in port environments, it is not going to work seamlessly right off the bat. It will take tinkering, adapting, and optimising. Several iterations will be required to build these to top-notch operational and safety standards. We have completed several feasibility studies, tested technologies in labs and conducted numerous cost calculations. It is now time to put technologies on vessels and test them out in maritime environments — whatever your technology of choice, and whatever the scale that fits your budget. We need to give ourselves time for the learning curve that we often tend to forget.

Assimilation

There is an upside to not getting something right — if you learn from it, try to figure out what went wrong, and do things differently the next time around. I learnt from the charred carrot-biscuit fiasco, and tweaked things around for the next attempt. It took a few more tries to get to cake, but I got there.

Introducing a novel technology into the maritime environment is obviously no piece of cake. But if it takes a couple of attempts to even get cake right, we are going to need to work on at least several hundred projects at different scales, and learn from them, to decarbonise the entire maritime ecosystem. The learnings from these projects need to be shared in both structured and unstructured ways through formal and informal channels to kick-off the virtuous cycle that will rev-up shipping’s energy transition.

You might have other things to add; behaviour change and collaboration are probably top of that list. In my book, they perfectly bolster the 3 A’s, and will only help us get to the goal faster. To create meaningful difference within a consequential timeframe, we have no choice but to aim high, act fast and learn rapidly from our failures. And repeat.

My next three blog posts will unpack each of the 3 A’s further and explore ideas and examples that I find inspiring. Stay tuned!

Shipping’s new technology ecosystem

November 15, 2021

The maritime technology ecosystem is evolving quickly and the shipping industry’s future most likely holds a multitude of alternative fuels and energy technologies. What’s already out there? Who’s building which technology and what does this new ecosystem look like? Here’s an overview.


Notes:

  • This overview is TRL-agnostic, and lists (on-board hardware) technologies that are at different stages of development – from lab prototypes to commercially ready systems.
  • Several companies manufacture and supply batteries, fuel cells and other technologies mentioned here, but this overview is focused only on companies that are developing them for maritime deployment. It is also definitely not meant to be exhaustive; it includes companies that caught my attention during my research or ones that I have been following for a while.
  • I am aware that combustion engines, both mono- and dual- fuel options are being developed for different alternative fuels. They have been deliberately excluded as I believe electrification is the most advantageous way forward.
  • I intend to update this overview periodically, to include new technologies and companies.

Comparing battery technologies: Nickel-H2 vs. Iron vs. Li-ion

October 14, 2021


As the world clamours to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets to mitigate climate change and electrify different sectors (especially cars), lithium is fast becoming a hot (pun intended) commodity. A recent outlook by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence mentioned that ‘there isn’t enough capacity within the supply pipeline to meet the demand we’re anticipating over the next decade’ and that ‘the deficit of LCE (lithium carbonate equivalent)* is expected to grow to 50,000 tons by 2025.’ Moreover, soaring lithium demand is expected to exhaust the residual lithium reserve on land by 2080.

The largest producers of lithium today are Australia, Chile China, Argentina, US, Brazil, Zimbabwe and Portugal. In 2020, the total annual production of lithium amounted to 82,000 tons. Total identified (land-based) lithium resources stand at 86 Million tons; Bolivia, Chile and Argentina (the ‘lithium triangle’) are home to > 50% of these. Several initiatives are looking into potentially extracting significant amounts of lithium from seawater. Environmental, social and ethical issues have long been bones of contention in lithium production.

Several companies and researchers are working on different battery chemistries that aim to store energy at lower costs than lithium-ion batteries, have lower lifecycle climate impact, and reduce our dependence on lithium. A few such chemistries that have made big waves recently are EnerVenue’s nickel-hydrogen battery, ESS Inc’s iron flow battery and Form Energy’s iron-air battery. The following table compares these on a few basic parameters to the ubiquitous lithium-ion batteries. It is important to note at this point, that there are several lithium ion battery chemistries in use today, including Lithium-Iron Phosphate (LFP), Lithium-Cobalt Oxide (LCO), Lithium Manganese Oxide (LMO), Lithium-Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC), Lithium-Nickel Cobalt Aluminium (NCA), and Lithium-Titanate Oxide (LTO) and they could use different types of anodes, including carbon (graphite, hard carbon, soft carbon, graphene), silicon, and tin.

The cost per kWh is compared below without taking into account the balance of plant (all the components surrounding the battery cells) and the integration specific to each chemistry or application (automotive, marine, etc.). These additional costs can be quite significant, especially in the case of maritime batteries. For marine applications, batteries are required to meet more stringent safety and operational parameters when compared to batteries used in cars or for stationary applications. They also tend to be much larger, as even the auxiliary power systems of inland or short sea cargo vessels would require far more capacity than a Tesla model S for example.

The number of vessels operating with batteries on board has grown rapidly over the last decade. The Maritime Battery Forum’s ship register estimates that there are > 400 vessels with batteries on board, either in operation or on order in 2021.

It might take a while for nickel or iron batteries to be mature enough / ready to be deployed in the maritime space. Some of them may not even be suitable for onboard applications given conditions like salt water, humidity, vibrations due to currents, etc., or their physical footprint. But they are interesting developments to follow, as they could be combined with Li ion batteries to offer more economical, optimised and sustainable solutions to decarbonise port operations or increase access to shore power.


*Lithium carbonate as well as lithium hydroxide are both required for batteries. But other other lithium compounds are typically produced from lithium carbonate, making it the reference point for measuring production.

**Data from: BNEFESS Inc.TechCrunchRecharge NewsRedefining Energy Podcast — Long Duration Energy Storage: The “Final frontier”Form Energy.

Post first published on 3 October 2021, and updated on 14 October 2021.

Decarbonising shipping: From theory to technology deployment

April 25, 2021


I regularly run into innovators and inventors who are interested in deploying their zero-carbon or energy optimisation/saving technologies in the shipping industry. These conversations usually end up being pitches for the alternative fuel in question, or the ‘macro’ merits of shipping’s decarbonisation. But what I, or any potential user of the technology (who ultimately needs to foot the bill), really want to understand are the technology’s capabilities, the inherent risks and challenges to implementation, and barriers (or not) to scale.

Over the last few years, I’ve analysed several technologies for their potential to decarbonise the shipping industry and made decisions on whether or not they are worth investing — money and effort — into. This blog is a summary of insights gained over that time, which I hope will help teams working on new technologies understand some of the nuances of building for this all-pervasive but under-the-radar industry.

  • Systematically de-risk implementation
    The key to ensuring uptake of your technology and/or accelerating its progress, is to de-risk implementation and make it easy for a vessel owner or port to start using the technology. This could be done by preparing the groundwork in advance and where possible, securing permits and regulatory approvals which can take up a significant amount of time. Leverage the certification process to identify technical loopholes and operational and safety risks and mitigate them. Having individual technologies certified can make integrating them on board a vessel, and bringing them into commercial operations much easier and faster.
  • Deploy the lowest possible configuration of your technology into real operations (‘sea-test’ it) at the earliest possible
    The ‘lean’ approach works in shipping too, and no amount of lab testing is a substitute for actually putting your technology to work in the industry. Something that works perfectly on land still needs to be adapted to function seamlessly on a ship. The technology will have to perform through different conditions of temperature, humidity, withstand greater vibrations, etc. The sooner you implement, the faster you’ll learn about all these aspects and can factor them into your technology development process.
  • Your technology needs to come up trumps in a simple, full-picture, cost benefit analysis What are the increased costs of using your technology on multiple levels — CAPEX, OPEX, maintenance, extra time for performing some necessary tasks, different operational needs, infrastructure, upskilling/training crew and staff?
    What advantages does your technology offer in addition to reducing emissions? And would those advantages compel someone to pay more or expend additional effort?
  • Set yourself up for scale
    A single ship can have installed power requirements and energy needs that are significantly larger than smaller vehicles like cars, buses and trucks. ‘Scale’ in the multi-MW level can come from just one ship. Start building your product and sourcing your materials — from core components to peripheral equipment — for scale, right from the beginning.
  • Deliver long-term solutions
    Sea-going vessels stay in service for 20–25 years and inland vessels for over 40 years. Think about how your technology can cater to this asset longevity. What is maintenance or refurbishment going to look like? Can you embed your technology in a powerful business model that can convince a vessel owner to make an investment decision in your favour in the face of regulatory and fuel-type uncertainty? Think leasing, pay-per-use and buy back options. Also provide end-of-life recycling/refurbishment options; customers interested in sustainable solutions are also conscious of the entire lifecycle of the technology.
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