Is the Shipping Sector on Track to Meet Climate Targets?

in Decarbonization, Research, Trends by

FleetMon supports ETH researchers to find the answer.

Fighting climate change demands action in all sectors. International shipping faces the challenge of long lifetimes of vessels compared to other modes of transportation. Decisions on energy carriers and propulsion technologies that are made now have a long-lasting impact on the emissions of the sector. 

A research group at the Institute of Energy Technology at ETH Zürich led by Prof. Dr. Konstantinos Boulouchos developed a fleet turnover model for the shipping sector to estimate its future CO2 emissions up to 2050. Thereby, the CO2 emissions of existing ships and those of new ships entering the fleet yield yearly emission figures. However, up until recently, a missing puzzle piece for such models has been how long existing ships will actually still be in service. Missing or prohibitively expensive data has prevented analyses on this topic.

This research gap has now been closed at ETH Zürich. Within the doctoral project of M.Sc. Maximilian Held, a new method to estimate the survival rates of ships has been developed that requires substantially less data input.

Within this project, M.Sc. Boris Stolz (ETH Zürich) initiated a collaboration with Dr. Jan Hoffmann from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Dr. Hoffmann leads the “Review of Maritime Transport” report that provides annual statistics and market insights on the global shipping sector. He applied the algorithm created at ETH Zürich to raw data from Clarksons Research Services, and found that the average lifetimes of ships differ significantly dependent on the ship type. While oil tankers comprise of average lifetimes of roughly 24 years, ferries and passenger ships show lifetimes up to about 40 years. They also found that larger ships usually have shorter lifetimes.

Feeding this new information into their fleet turnover model revealed that many ships of the current fleet will still be in service over the next decades. This range spreads from 19% of the current container ship fleet up to 58% of all offshore supply ships still being in service by 2040. This entails high committed (locked-in) emissions of the existing ship fleet. Even if all newly built ships from 2020 on would be powered by carbon-neutral fuels, the existing ship fleet alone will exceed the 1.5°C carbon budget, i.e. the allowed emissions to reconcile the shipping sector with the target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Other CO2 reduction measures like retrofits, blended carbon-neutral diesel, or operational measures like slow steaming will be needed to close this gap. Foremost, however, a rapid switch to renewable energy carriers will be required.

The ETH researchers presented their insights about the lifetimes of ships and different technology pathways at the 7th International Symposium on Ship Operations, Management & Economics. Currently, these emission scenarios are only a first step in their research. In the future, AIS and ship characteristics data from FleetMon will enable a refinement of these first-order approximations.

Download the Original Conference Paper to know more.