Why the internal combustion engine is here to stay

Its obituary has been written repeatedly of late but the current power part of a ship is not going to disappear anytime soon, writes Marc Sima, the CEO and president of FUELSAVE.

The writing is on the wall for shipping. By 2030 the IMO has committed the industry to a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions per transport work, as an average across international shipping, pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels of emissions. Recently, both the European Parliament and European Commission have brought shipping into their emissions targets.

From a market perspective, there are growing calls from consumers and wider stakeholders to reduce the impact of maritime transport on the environment. Corporations are leading the charge with Unilever announcing new measures to ensure net zero emissions from all its products by 2039 with profound consequences for shipping.

The industry can’t afford to wait for the present fleet to reach the end of its life, or just concentrate on building a new highly efficient fleet when faced with such immediate targets. Short term measures to address emissions reductions from the current fleet are crucial for the shipping industry’s journey to full decarbonisation.

To achieve the targets set by IMO and EU, among others, will require a combination of design and technical measures, operational measures and rapid innovation in alternative propulsion systems plus the introduction – and agreement on – viable alternatives to carbon-based fuels – for usage in internal combustion engines (ICEs).

“Unless something completely unexpected turns up, ICEs will be around for many years,” noted classification society DNV GL. It makes sense therefore, with IMO 2030 looming large on the horizon and alternative marine power sources decades away, for the shipping industry to not overlook established solutions such as ICEs. When used in combination with clean drop-in fuel alternatives, they could prove invaluable. DNV GL’s views are backed up by new academic research, including the University of Manchester’s study Shipping and the Paris climate agreement: a focus on committed emissions which highlights the potential benefits of using the existing fleet as a vehicle to achieve decarbonisation targets, as opposed to delaying until new more sustainable ships come online.

Economic viability essential

While the technical feasibility of burning clean fuels such as biodiesel, biomethane, and synthetic natural gas in ICEs is important, we must not lose sight of the fact that only economically viable solutions will drive sustainable change. ICEs can compete if appropriate low-carbon fuels can be reliably procured – at the right time and the right price. However, this task becomes more challenging with the drop-in oil prices, which has made the clean fuel transition more expensive, relative to the price of fossil fuels.

One way of countering these challenges and making clean fuels more competitive is through the use of advanced combustion conditioning, which tackles inefficiencies in the combustion process to drive cost savings and emissions optimisation, including Co2 and Co2-e, for asset owners and charterers, all while reducing engine wear and tear.

This is possible thanks to the technology’s ability to facilitate a leaner and cleaner combustion with an increase in thermal and volumetric efficiency of an engine. The solution also allows some of the dirty and/ or expensive primary fuel to be substituted with a cheap and clean burning alcohol distillate, delivering real net costs savings and fuel economies.

Action and tangible progress needed

While investment into decarbonising future technologies is vital, shipping must adopt a balanced approach. We must make considerable progress in the short-term, and it would not be prudent for shipping to overlook the simplicity and capability of the internal combustion engine.


  1. Marc Sima, you are on the wrong side of History, or simply in the wrong business.
    One day you’ll wake and realise you have no as much job as you expected!
    Batteries breakthroughs are much bigger than you think. Inverters will get even more efficient thanks to gallium and silicone carbide.
    Motors are already around their peak efficiency.
    It’s just a matter of time before every ice motors are replaced or on their way to a museum.
    You remind me the windmill association a long time ago that managed to temporarily ban steam power.

    1. The ICE will be around longer than you and I will be alive. Batteries these days are badass, to say the least. But unfortunately, it electric cars plug and play methods are rather hendered until infrastructure and the world’s ability to form a cleaner way to produce electricity is available worldwide. You realize the how much money that will cost and how much time that will take? The average car on the road is 12 years old, and the ICE isn’t far from being discontinued. It would take years to even filter out the ones still running the roads today.
      I disagree and agree with you in many ways here, but I believe you’re wrong saying the ICE is close to maximum efficiency. I believe we may even see a day with zero net emissions from a ICE vehicle. They are running better, lasting longer and burning cleaner than ever. We live In a fast paced society. Unless we can figure out a way to charge batteries faster and last longer (aside from hydrogen fuel cell) EVs may just be more of an oddity than a reality.

  2. The push for electrification of transport is surely doomed.
    The reason is simple. It is based on a lie that CO2 is a pollutant.

    Nature needs more CO2 not less for growth of plants food crops.
    It Is also untrue that CO2 is causing global warming. How can it at 0.0004 parts of the atmosphere when water vapor is a much stronger ‘greenhouse gas.’ The contribution of warming effect of the weak greenhouse CO2 is below the measurable by about a factor of 100. Measuring earth’s temperature below one decimal point is ridiculous. 1/100 of a degree es truly negligible. CO2 can do much less at best.

    Besides, warmer climates have always been a blessing for humanity that nature offers occasionally. Past warmer climates occurred naturally as it appears to be the case at present. Thank you, mother nature. Warmer climates in the past hundreds and thousands of years ago certainly were not caused by the internal combustion engine. Think about that. I am looking forward to warmer and more satisfying weather periods and much more CO2 for a healthy environment.

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