Fuel choice is key in decarbonizing shipping

The purpose of Maritime Forecast to 2050 is to enhance the ability of shipping stakeholders, especially shipowners, to navigate the technological, regulatory and market uncertainties in the industry, and set shipping on a pathway to decarbonization

Decarbonization pathways: Timelines for implementing decarbonization measures and achieving targets

DNV GL – Maritime has released the fourth edition of its Maritime Forecast to 2050. The purpose of Maritime Forecast to 2050 is to enhance the ability of shipping stakeholders, especially shipowners, to navigate the technological, regulatory and market uncertainties in the industry, and set shipping on a pathway to decarbonization. When 2020 began, it looked as if this year would become one of the turning points where the future direction of shipping becomes clearer, especially on the issue of decarbonization. COVID-19 in its continuing impact has overturned the industry, though the pressure to reach the target of zero carbon still sits on the horizon. Reducing carbon emissions is currently on the top of the agenda for an increasing number of players in and around shipping, though the ways and means towards decarbonization can be numerous and varied.


“The grand challenge of our time is finding a pathway towards decarbonization,” emphasis Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL – Maritime. “Reducing GHG emissions is rapidly becoming the defining decision-making factor for the future of the shipping industry. The pressure to act decisively is mounting. Perfect is the enemy of good, and so we mustn’t wait for an ideal solution to arrive and risk making no progress at all.” To provide a clearer vision of what the pathways of decarbonization may look like and what may happen along the way, DNV GL have recently published their latest Maritime Forecast to 2050. The report identifies the choice of fuel as the essential factor in decarbonizing shipping, with many potential options emerging alongside conventional fuels. Not only the number of potential fuels is expanding, but the availability, prices and policy measures that could enable or negatively impact each choice make the fuel decision much more difficult. At the heart of the report are the three decarbonization pathways: from business as usual, hitting the IMO targets through to an aggressive effort towards zero-carbon by 2040. These are more deeply examined in 30 scenarios that look at fleet composition, emissions and energy use across 16 different fuel types and 10 fuel technology systems. The fuels concerned are a mix of “electrofuels” made using renewable energy, biofuels and fossil fuels, with or without carbon capture and storage. When it comes to the technology that will be used to power future vessels, Øyvind Endresen, co-author of the report, says that the internal combustion engine will be around for some considerable time yet. Particularly in the deep-sea sector. But he expects that the fuel mix will change. First as LNG starts to displace oil fuels and then new carbon neutral and zero carbon fuels, such as ammonia, begin to dominate towards 2050. In between there will be a period when the fuel mix is wide with many fuels being available, but very much dependent on the location, supply, the owner and the local regulatory and policy environment. A surprising result from the model is the relative limited uptake of hydrogen as a ship fuel, as a result of both the greater capital costs and on-board space requirements for storage, making it a less attractive fuel for deep-sea shipping. Hydrogen, however, plays an integral role as a building block in the production of several carbon-neutral fuels such as e-ammonia, blue ammonia and e-methanol, all of which gain significant uptake under the decarbonization pathways. It may also find niche applications in some vessel types, such as ferries and cruise vessels, as well as in specific regions where investments have been made into local production and distribution.


The short-sea sector will witness an expansion of the number of electric vessels, especially where shore power can be provided in a clean and green manner. Whether from offshore wind, solar power or hydroelectricity, there is very little carbon emissions involved when measured from ‘well-to-wake’. Hybrid battery technology could also play a key role in improving overall energy efficiency in shipping, irrespective of the main fuel and engine technology used. As far as shipowners are concerned, charting the right course to decarbonization could be crucial to thriving or just surviving in these extraordinary times. What is clear, however, is that inaction is not an option.

About Maritime Forecast to 2050
The Maritime Forecast to 2050 is part of a suite of Energy Transition Outlook (ETO) reports produced by DNV GL. The report is based on a library of 30 scenarios which project future fleet composition, energy use, fuel mix, and CO2 emissions to 2050. Sixteen different fuel types and 10 fuel technology systems are modelled in the report.
Please visit DNV GL web page on the ETO 2020 or, download the full Maritime Forecast to 2050. You can watch the ETO 2020 video.