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Sustainability Innovation

Sustainability in the Shipping Industry: 4 developments to watch

With the need for more sustainability on the rise, we've gathered the 4 most important topics for the shipping industry when it comes to the implementation of more sustainable workflows.

The shipping industry is responsible for roughly 3% of global emissions. While in comparison to other sectors this might seem relatively small, it’s still a large amount of CO2 emissions being blown into orbit every day. Especially when thinking about the used fuel in shipping there is a lot of potential to reduce or even avoid emissions. Not only could a fuel switch help, but there are also several improvements that can be made with a little help of technology and software solutions.  As Hapag-Lloyd we strive to reach climate-neutrality until 2045 and constantly work, to make our fleet a bit more sustainable. 

And for that goal, we've launched our digital tool Ship Green. It enables you to reduce the emissions caused on your shipping's ocean leg by either 25, 50 or even a 100%.


But not only at Hapag-Lloyd changes are becoming more and more visible: the entire shipping industry is shifting and most companies have climate-targets in place. We've gathered 4 key aspects that can be put into place to make shipping more sustainable.


Reducing the friction 

Researchers at the American Institute of Physics have developed a special membrane to reduce friction between ships in water. Some of you may still be familiar with the term "membrane" from biology class at school: It describes a separating layer that is permeable to different substances in different ways. In the case of our research team, the openings of this membrane are to be continuously filled with lubricants. This should create a slimy surface over the entire hull of the ship, which could reduce the friction of long-range tankers in the water by 18 percent. This idea is modeled on the effect that, for example, algae or fish excretions have on the ship's surface when they are deposited there. 

Alternative propulsion

There are already initial approaches and ideas for equipping container ships with electric motors. However, it will be a long time before valid results are available, let alone entire fleets are converted. But other technologies and solutions can make a positive contribution to the climate, as well. One example is the switch to alternative fuels such as biodiesel. With the usage of biodiesel, emissions can be proactively avoided, as the the fuel is residue/waste-based and no virgin materials are being used. In May, we've introduced our additional Service Ship Green. With this solution we enable our customers to avoid emissions even on journeys where no biodiesel is available physically due to the "Book and Claim" approach.

Other propulsions also use Methane, Ammoniak and even fully electric motors that will gradualy reduce the usage and need of diesel and other oil-based fuels. Did you know? In 2022 the world’s first fully electric cargo ship, the Yara Birkeland, has been on its maiden voyage. 

Like a hovercraft 

Meanwhile, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, which has launched its ARES ("Air-Retaining Surfaces") project together with the universities of Bonn and Rostock, is taking the exact opposite approach. This project also involves a special coating on the surface of a ship in the water. However, this coating is filled with air instead of lubricant. The goal stays the same: reducing friction. Specifically, the project leaders want to replace the friction between the ship and the water with one between the ship and the air, which should reduce friction by 20 percent overall. 

By the way, the model for this concept is the Salvinia floating fern. This plant has a hair structure that also encloses a layer of air in the water, which allows the fern to breathe underwater. Under the name "Aircoat", the ARES project is now also being further developed at EU level. 

Less biofilm due to ultrasound 

In our third example, the aim is not to create a layer but to eliminate it – and nonetheless to reduce friction. Hasytec, a company specialized in electrical engineering for marine applications has dedicated itself to the fight against so-called "fouling". This refers to the formation of biofilm and the resulting adhesion of algae, barnacles, or mussels to the outer walls of the ship, which in turn increase the weight and friction of the ships. 

Hasytec has therefore developed its "Dynamic Biofilm Protection", an electronic system that sends ultrasonic waves from inside the ship out into the water. There, they are supposed to prevent the formation of biofilm or remove it in its preliminary stages. Here, too, friction loss and lower fuel consumption are the hoped-for consequences. 

What the future holds

As you can see, a lot of sustainable technologies are being developed. But for a more immediate measure of action, a fuel switch to alternative fuels such as biofuels is a great first step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the most used alternative fuels within the industry are LNG (liquified natural gases) and FAME (fatty acid methyl ester). In the future there will be further alternative fuels based on ammonia, hydrogen-based fuels and even electric engines.  

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