Shipping’s future-fuel demand equal to entire current global renewables production, data shows

The global shipping industry will require the equivalent of the world’s entire current renewable energy demand in order to replace fossil fuel use, a new report commissioned by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has shown.

Illustration. Source: Navingo

The report named “Fuelling the Fourth Propulsion Revolution”, authored by professor Stefan Ulreich from Germany’s University of Applied Sciences, highlighted the ‘enormous opportunity’ for investors and governments represented by the global shipping industry’s need for new, green fuels.

According to the report, shipping’s fuel needs would require electricity from renewable sources to increase by up to 3,000 TWh in order to reach the industry’s 2050 net-zero goal. This is said to be the equivalent of the entire world’s current renewable energy production.

The data found that the world would need an 18-fold increase in existing renewables production capacity to achieve the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario.

Based on the global trading of hydrogen as an example, the report identifies potential benefits for exporting and importing countries, particularly in the Global South.

As explained, many African and Latin American countries can generate the electricity needed in the production of hydrogen fuels at lower costs.

Countries such as Germany, Algeria and Chile, which have signed multiple bilateral agreements on the production of hydrogen fuels are seen as the first movers trying to seize these investment opportunities.

The report was unveiled at the World Ports Conference in Vancouver, Canada, and it urgently calls for increased R&D in green fuels and the development of production infrastructure in key geographic locations such as Latin America and Africa.

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According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), at least half of (net) zero fuels traded globally are expected to be moved by ships by 2050.

The “Fuelling the Fourth Propulsion Revolution” indicates that this makes maritime a key enabler of the decarbonisation of land-based industrial sectors, ICS says.

“To meet the enormous demand for hydrogen-based fuels in the Global North, production centres in the Global South are urgently needed. While governments are beginning to realise the need to transition to fuels like hydrogen, little thought to date seems to have been given to how they will actually transport those fuels”, commented the report’s author Stefan Ulreich.

“Shipping must be part of wider energy transition negotiations, and shipping and ports are going to need investment. But with this investment comes huge opportunity for return.”

Stuart Neil, director of Strategy and Communications at the ICS added: “Shipping will be a key enabler of the global energy transition, providing cost-effective and flexible solutions to transport at least half of the net-zero carbon fuels traded around the world. A great deal is talked about the global energy transition to zero-emission fuels outside of shipping. But what we have found in this report is that there is a tremendous opportunity for all.”

Hydrogen as a key for powering ships

Another recently published report by the U.S.-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy and UK’s maritime consultancy UMAS found that green hydrogen and green hydrogen-derived ammonia are the only scalable fuels that can achieve the emission reduction targets set forth in the Paris Agreement.

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E-methanol and e-ammonia are seen as the most promising green hydrogen-based fuels, with particularly e-ammonia set to be the backbone for the sector’s decarbonising by 2050.

IRENA estimates that e-ammonia could represent as much as 43% of the sector’s energy needs in 2050, which would imply the use of about 183 million tonnes of renewable ammonia for international shipping alone, a comparable amount to today’s ammonia global production.

The need for zero-emission fuels to become the dominant fuel source by the 2040s was also highlighted in the report titled “Closing the Gap” prepared for the Getting to Zero Coalition, an initiative for accelerating international shipping decarbonisation.

It presented multiple potential policy options for closing the gap between fossil fuels and zero-emission alternatives.

As outlined in the report, the preferred way to support shipping decarbonisation is to adopt a policy package that combines the strengths of the different policy options whilst mitigating their weaknesses.

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