Maersk reveals big industry response to its decarbonisation pledge

Maersk has had a huge response from maritime peers keen to join its ambitious 2050 fleet decarbonisation bid. Earlier this month the Danish shipping giant announced its intention to become carbon neutral by the middle of the century.

To achieve this goal, it has said carbon neutral vessels must be commercially viable by 2030, and an acceleration in new innovations and adaption of new technology is required that will require pan-industry collaboration.

While there might be less than two weeks left of 2018, and the year 2050 may seem a long way off, for Ole Graa Jakobsen the clock is now very much ticking. Jakobsen, Maersk’s head of fleet technology, is the man charged with leading this pioneering, climate saving initiative.

In an exclusive interview with Splash, Jakobsen has revealed how his inbox has been “booming” with replies since Maersk’s dramatic call for action was issued on December 5. “Our plans have been very much welcomed,” Jakobsen said.

With carbon neutral ships needing to be in operation in little over 11 years’ time if Maersk is going to meet its carbon pledge, Jakobsen has mapped out how the coming decade will play out. For the coming five years the Danish carrier will look at all possible propulsion alternatives, keeping a wide vision with some pilot projects. Then after five years, Maersk will narrow down its research and follow the technology it believes has the best chance for adoption to move container shipping towards carbon neutrality.

While sister firm Maersk Tankers is trialling rotor sails this wind technology is something that is more tricky for the box sector, Jakobsen said, as it uses deck space where containers go. Similarly, solar is something Jakobsen expects to see huge improvements in over the coming decade, but because it would cover deck space that belongs to customers’ containers, it is only ever likely to be a supporting technology for container carriers.

Hydrogen is being closely looked at by Jakobsen and his team, especially in the wake of news from German engine manufacturer MAN earlier this month that it has developed the world’s first marine liquid hydrogen fuel system.

On LNG, something Maersk has eschewed to date, Jakobsen revealed to Splash that in the last couple of orders the carrier made it looked at gas propulsion but the numbers did not stack up. “We have not ruled LNG out as a solution, although it is not a endgame,” Jakobsen said.

In the interview with Splash, Jakobsen, whose career with Maersk stretches back to the 1980s as a project manager at the company’s now shutttered Odense shipyard, was at pains to stress that his firm’s green 2050 vision is one to share with others

“It is important that we stay in the line that we are openly developing this with the industry,” he said, revealing other lines and a variety of tech firms have been in touch with him since the December 5 announcement.

Writing for Splash last week Dr Tristan Smith from UCL Energy Institute in London noted of the Maersk announcement that it has sent an “unambiguous signal”, not only that the future is zero emissions, but that this future is only 10 years away.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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