Container ship with a system to capture its own carbon emissions – breakthrough or illusion?

Kontenerowiec z systemem wychwytywania własnej emisji CO2 – przełom czy iluzja?

The release into the atmosphere of CO2 in the maritime transport sector accounts for as much as 3 percent. global greenhouse gas emissions. Attempts to reduce this environmental ballast are currently being conducted on a number of fronts. In February of this year, the container ship Sounion Trader completed testing a system to capture its own emissions during a voyage in the Persian Gulf. Will this solution help achieve the planned decarbonization by 2050? There is no shortage of skeptics.

Heavy atmosphere over the ocean

The majority of all goods transported around the world today are carried by sea. International shipping is growing steadily, with a growth rate of more than 2 percent per year. This is done at the expense of the environment, as the main fuel of modern ships is still diesel. Over the past decade, the sector’sCO2 emissions have increased by 20 percent. However, the bad news doesn’t end there . Shipping also generates other harmful air pollutants, accounting for 9 percent of sulfur oxides emissions globally and up to 18 percent. nitrogen oxide emissions. If the shipping sector were a country, it would rank as the sixth largest polluter.

However, the ambitious goal of keeping global warming within a safe limit of +1.5°C relative to the pre-industrial era has motivated the shipping industry to make a bold statement – by 2050. They want to achieve zero net emissions. According to a report published in 2022. by business advisor UMAS, decarbonizing global shipping will require an investment of $1 trillion. Pilot versions of green projects are already being implemented to significantly reduceCO2 emissions on ships.

Container ship with a system to capture its ownCO2 emissions – what does it consist of?

Measuring 240 meters in length, the container ship Sounion Trader was built in 2003. and has since sailed under the Liberian flag. British company Seabound, as part of its decarbonization efforts in the sector, has equipped it with an innovative system to capture the carbon dioxide produced already on board. The project has been implemented on a small, trial scale, with the goal of capturing 1 t ofCO2 per day. The solution offered by Seabound includes a custom-designed system for each vessel that connects exhaust pipes to calcium oxide acting as a sorbent. CO2 emissions are partially stopped, and the harmful gas is imprisoned in pebbles of calcium carbonate stored in a special tank on board. Upon arrival at the port, the coal cargo is unloaded and a portion is recycled.

The system developed by Seabound is expected to eventually capture 25-95 percent of the CO2 emissions. It is fully automated and logistically optimized. The ambitious start-up announces that by 2030. will equip up to a thousand ships in this way. Dutch company Value Maritime is making similar attempts at a green transformation of the maritime sector. In addition to special filters to capture sulfur and particulates from fumes generated by the ship, VM is installing liquid amine tanks on board. The latter absorb gases from tailpipes and bind them for the duration of the trip. CO2 emissions in this scenario are captured at 40 percent. After unloading, some of the carbon dioxide goes into the greenhouse as fertilizer for the plants.

Problems associated with capturing emissions

Unfortunately, although it sounds optimistic, the idea of capturingCO2 emissions on ships comes with a whole host of difficulties and contradictions. The biggest of these is the need to collect sorbent with the gas. Each ton of fuel burned generates three times as much carbon dioxide, which not only takes up space, but also increases the weight of the container ship. As a result, a ship equipped with an emissions capture system takes fewer goods on board and its fuel efficiency decreases. In addition, sorbent tanks reduce stabilization, and increase the risk of accidents and possible environmental disasters associated with them.

Another problem is the processing of the products of the whole reaction. After discharge, theCO2 is separated from the sorbent again and used in various industries or stored in special tanks. This process, however, consumes huge amounts of energy. As a result, fuel consumption increases by about 30 percent, with only half of theCO2 emissions captured. The question of the economic and ecological rationality of the whole project is therefore most appropriate.

Other ideas for decarbonizing the maritime sector

CO2 emissions from container ships, tankers or bulk carriers can be reduced in various ways. Increasingly popular among shipbuilders, for example, is “air lubrication” technology. Devices are installed on the underwater part of the hull that blow air bubbles, which reduce friction and thus reduce fuel consumption. A Norwegian scientific study, the results of which were published in 2023, confirms that this solution can mean energy savings on a global scale of 3-24 percent.

Another interesting idea is to use… sails. In August 2023. The European Commission has announced the completion of the pioneering WindWings project, coordinated by Vaasa University in Finland. The bulk carrier Pyxis Ocean, as part of a project subsidized by community funds, has been equipped with sails measuring nearly 40 meters in height. They are expected to reduce fuel consumption by up to 30 percent.

More than a month ago, we also reported that the container ship Laura Maersk is already sailing on green fuel. Currently, the world is testing the use of methanol, ammonia and hydrogen as alternative ship fuels. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), by 2050, ammonia will account for 46 percent of the total. share of global fuel consumption by the maritime sector, while hydrogen accounts for 17 percent. The development of the technology is being strongly stimulated by restrictions imposed by the European Union – from 2024. Large ships (more than 500,000 GT), sailing between EU ports, are required to purchase carbon dioxide production allowances in community waters. CO2 emissions thus become costly.

What does the future of the maritime sector look like?

Systems for capturingCO2 emissions on ships so far appear to be in their infancy, and the scale of their potential effectiveness is severely limited by the aforementioned logistical difficulties. According to analysts, technology in this area will have to advance rapidly for it to make any sense at all and for investors to want to commit their capital to it. For the time being, the development of green fuels is much more dynamic, and assuming their actual success,CO2 emissions on ships will become an obsolete problem.

Dr. Tristan Smith of University College London points out that decarbonization in the maritime sector has started late and meeting net zero emissions targets by 2050. will be very difficult. According to him, the commercial competitiveness of fossil fuel-powered ships will decline sharply in the coming years, and after 2040. They will become a relic of the past.

The transformation of the maritime sector will therefore be rapid, costly, and for many companies and countries that depend on shipping, also very painful. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has until 2025. develop a model of its expected impact and a strategy of action aimed at balancing the interests of large exporting countries responsible for most offshoreCO2 emissions, such as China and Brazil, and small island nations dependent on shipping, such as the Solomon Islands and Marshall Islands.

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