Shipping must look beyond the engine – the real challenge is an industry transformed, says ABS chief

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Shipowners conference, Posidonia, Athens 2018 Trade Winds

Shipping must look beyond its current focus on engine technology and address the widespread disruption introduced by the clean energy transition. That was the keynote message for the industry from Christopher J. Wiernicki, ABS Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, at the SHIPPINGInsight 2023 event held in Stamford, CT outside New York this week.

“The real action is far beyond the engine,” Wiernicki said. “We have just seen MEPC 80 redraw the compliance performance of most alternative fuels by moving from tank-to-wake to well-to-wake, introducing the activities and complexities of an entire supply chain to emissions calculations. And that is just the beginning.

“Consider all the new players now impacting shipping, with new relationships, technologies, boundary conditions and operational strategies combining to disrupt and utterly transform the industry. Looking down the road to 2050, it is clear to me that shipping will move to a multi-dimensional world, where fuels, technology and data must unite to provide the hybrid solutions required to achieve net zero.”

While the technical hurdles on the path to 2050 are significant, it is the availability and scalability of alternative fuels and associated infrastructure that will prove to be the defining challenge of the transition, said Wiernicki.

“The scale and magnitude of the clean energy shipping challenge before us is daunting. But you can pretty much boil it down to our ability to drive-down costs and drive-up efficiencies in two critical technologies: electrolyzers and carbon capture.

“Ultimately, our ability to harness clean energy to split water into oxygen and green hydrogen via electrolysis at scale and to efficiently trap CO2 from fossil fuel emissions and produce blue hydrogen via carbon capture technology are going to be the defining challenges,” said Wiernicki.

“It is arguable that the decarbonisation of shipping is increasingly a question of the ability of alternative fuel providers to deliver green product at affordable prices – and it is here that electrolyzer costs are going to be key. And since we can’t build enough ships to magically replace the global fleet, retrofitted carbon capture is going to be centre stage, along with energy efficiency technologies,” he added.

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